How Neuroscience is Changing the Way We Manage Change

Or, can our organizations be human-oriented any soon?

In four thoughtful articles published on the Association for Talent Development portal, Human Resource PhD Researcher Erika Garms argued that our knowledge about brain science(s) has the potential to transform the way change management is practiced, both on individual and organizational levels. But, is that really happening?

As an organizational designer myself, I have been working with concepts as strategic decision making, learning, motivation, self discipline, performance, and the likes for over 12 years now. And I can claim that there is a huge gab between the cognitive neuroscience literature about human learning and behavior and the practices in the Human Resources and Organizational Development field. It is a two-ways challenge:

A. Learning strategies need human-oriented insights

Consultants and change catalysts of learning & organizational development aren’t much aware of the significance of cognitive neuroscience to their field, and academics in the brain sciences aren’t moving towards minimizing this gab and bridging it.

I build my claim on various indicators:

  • The scarce amount of academic papers on the topic.
  • The limited or nonexistent opportunities for cognitive neuroscience graduates in management consultancy firms ( Nick Wan touched this issue in his piece:Alternatives to academia for cognitive neuroscience: Where are they).
  • The apparent misalignment between the goals of cognitive neuroscience research centers and the goals of organizational development consultancies.
  • And finally, the isolation of outcomes in each. If research doesn’t go out from the caves of these departments, and if the learning and development practice in the market isn’t guided by mind and brain research, we should ask ourselves: What are we doing & why?

If research doesn’t go out from the caves of these departments, and if the learning and development practice in the market isn’t guided by mind and brain research, we should ask ourselves: What are we doing & why?

Over a hundred management and marketing books are published annually with words like “Neuro-” , “Brain” or “Mind” in their titles, yet, and from a personal experience, most of their content has little or nothing to do with updated findings from Mind & Brains science(s).

I have read tens of these top-selling books before pursuing a Masters in Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience a few year ago. Today, I can differentiate science from pseudoscience in this matter, but that isn’t enough. The responsibility now is to transfer this knowledge to where it can be useful and to the sector where shouldn’t be abused: learning and development.

B. Can social neuroscience comprehensively model organizational behavior in the lab?

A paper by Daniella Martinez et al provides a critical discussion and evaluation of the possibility of adapting neuro-scientific techniques to understand managerial decision-making, its antecedents, and its deep processes. Cognition and learning are also central to discussions on strategy as debated in a couple of papers by corporate strategy professor Daniel Lavinthal. Many more efforts are needed from both sides.

The challenges and opportunities of tying the knots of cognitive neuroscience and organizational topics are only one dimension to the issue, another dimension has to do with the funding trends. A reduction of flow from research funding agencies to the cognitive neuroscience departments has been witnessed in the last 5 years, especially in UK and USA. Have a look at Jon Simon’s article on that.

It can be an alarming signal that those cognitive neuroscience departments are not perceived as significant providers for tangible return on investment and this has to change if we want insights from the real mind and brain scientists to improve our practices.

The consequences of marrying these two fields have a great potential, yet there is so little done so far.

However, the question I posed above remains open: What can we and our organizations do to contribute to closing the gab between our work spaces, and making work work again for humans and their mental wellbeing?

An organizational designer dedicated to the thrivability of people, communities & orgs, & who is inspired by the challenges of our era! #learning #culture