Latest neural imaging of an adult mammalian brain.
If a response is triggered in a human (positive or negative), noticed by behaviours, or more accurately, a change in the behaviours & language used, there must be a trigger point at which that change in response is provoked.
Before a word is on your lips or a muscle twitches, which can be seen or heard by another, there is a complex process occurring in the brain. Neurotransmitters are firing, synapses are dying and regenerating to reflect the latest experience of the world (Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity). Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) is at work in an algorithmic method of dissecting touch, visual, auditory and olfactory information, sending it off around the brain for analysis before re-combining the data to ensure we can confirm the neural sensory stimulus we’re exposed to is friend or foe (a threat or not - defending), of interest or not (Learning), or of benefit or not (where benefits can be of an acquisition or bonding / socialising nature).
(See Elizabeth Gould on Neurogenesis, Dileep George / Numenta on HTM, Sebastian Seung on 4R’s and Lawrence and Nohria on 4 Drive theory).
From this biological, physiological, electro-chemical process, our brain forms (i.e. it is imprinted by EEE – emotional environmental experience© relative to our PES – Physical, Emotional, Social© conditions). We might call positive impacts through this process ‘events’ and negative impacts ‘accidents’.
This torrent of often ‘accidental’ experience allows our brains to learn two primary fears, the fear of failure and the fear of rejection, particularly through the Bio-survival, Emo-territorial, Semantic and Socio-sexual imprinting phases as well as in adulthood (The Neurogenesis process doesn’t stop, just slows down following adolescent neuronal ‘pruning’).
Through this brain forming life, the negative is learned faster as part of our defence mechanisms pre-design. This is referred to as ‘Negativity bias’.
How ‘scared we are’ in any given situation as a child dictates much if not most of our behaviours in any given situation for the rest of our lives unless we make a concerted effort to overcome our sub-conscious fears and the related behaviours that accompany them. This principle covers a broad range of character traits from levels of OCD (Obsessive compulsive cleaning in response to a fear of germs or social disapproval) to losing your temper with your kids if they challenge your authority, to drinking and taking drugs to drown out the fear presented by life.
The more scary or persistent the original situation, the deeper the imprint, the stronger the memory, the more likely we are to revert to the same behaviours in any situation which provokes fear of failure or rejection, to varying degrees in response to varying intensity levels of stimulus.
And there’s the rub. Our capacity to ‘perform’ in a well-rounded manner, on behalf of the organisations that employ us is inhibited by our fears (as perceived by us – following our own individual life experiences).
Also, as if that isn’t challenge enough for any leader, anything new (new sensory stimulus triggering neural activity) is immediately guilty until proven innocent. i.e. New = threat, if the new experience is not the individuals conscious choice … or even if it is.
Now consider this – Change, to process, to procedure, to tools, techniques, to strategy, to colleagues, to hierarchy, to targets set ….. are ALL NEW! Provoking threat and fear based subconscious human defensive responses, which are overwhelmingly retreat, attack, aversion, avoidance and opposition (blame) type responses.
When we are in fear provoking conditions, stressor hormones are released into our blood stream, priming the adrenal glands for fight or flight, releasing natural chemicals into our system that help us respond defensively in the short term (Adrenaline) but which damage other cells and brain related mechanisms in the longer term. (Too much long term exposure to defence mechanism related neural chemicals detrimentally impacts Brain derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), thus reducing the brains capacity for adaption and change in relation to our external conditions).
To ensure the adrenaline gets turned off a cancelling drug called cortisol is released, it is this release of cortisol from which we experience a ‘Rush’. It is addictive seeing people do sports and pursue scary pastimes like base-jumping, bungy jumping and pursuing activities that feature speeds the human body is not designed to achieve independently of mechanical aids (Skiing, Cycling, Driving etc.).
This is great for us when we do a base-jump that lasts 20 seconds or go fast on a motorbike for a few minutes. Our reactions are heightened, our muscles become temporarily stronger, twitch fibres more responsive, vision and hearing capability increases, we survive the danger and our system ‘Calms itself down again’. All good.
Unfortunately, in conditions where the fear related ‘stress triggers’ are constant, for example, at work where people are exposed to the judgement of a set of accounts derived KPI’s, this mechanism is always working and doesn’t get turned off, damaging us at a cellular level. This ‘cellular level damage’ from stressor hormones can lead to heart conditions & cancer over time as well as psychological, or ‘mental health’ problems.
To make matters worse still, where threats/ fears are contributing factors to the human condition, various elements of the brain are inhibited while others are primed for action. E.g. Glucose energy is diverted to the amygdala (emotional cortex) and reduced in the pre-frontal cortex (inhibiting our capacity for rational thought and exacerbating our tendency to respond emotionally). When in this condition, innovation and problem solving is at it’s worst.
Yet we implement change and systemic control mechanisms (ERP / Accounting practice / TPS etc.) in ways which trigger all of these issues, undermining the chances of success from the get-go, while, quite ironically having conversations about engagement and innovation.
Ultimately, this is a philosophical issue. At root of all philosophy is the question, what is ‘good’ (what works), or historically when religion was more prominent than it is in today’s secular society, what is ‘God’ (One ‘Oh’ too few or too many depending on your own life experience and education).
Of course arguments over what is ‘God’ or what is ‘Good’ have led to some of the worst human atrocities in the form of War & persecution by humans holding a belief they consider ‘right’ over others. We must acknowledge, it is the deepest of beliefs about what is ‘Good’, what works and what doesn’t, that leads to such arguments and aggression, opposition between religious faiths, department heads or ‘Lean practitioners’.
When it comes to human beings existing in ways which benefit all, with no one-person gaining at another’s expense (Kaizen) on this planet, aligning opinion about what is good is the holy grail, the Alpha and Omega, at a psychological, physiological and neurological level, as well as at an organisational, social, national and cultural level.
On that basis, with such diverse education and life experience in different cultures, the on-going education of what is good at this level of detail, be it in relation to people and parenting, pedagogy, production or politics is set to be a very long road yet to travel.
What I’m saying, I suppose, is that introducing a new level of education about change, about the formation of people and their brains, following the latest advances in neuroscience, which today allow a scientific view of the way humans respond and react to approaches we currently consider best practice, but which are actually undermining our capacity to change, might lead us to a new and more evolved view of what is good / what works.
A psycho-neurological view of what works, what’s ‘good’, will inevitably lead to different behaviours and responses, new thinking in relation to the design of development programs and a new level of intellectual comprehension at a cultural beliefs level.
I believe a good place to kick start this is through the world of organisational change, such that leaders improve at a psychological level, employees benefit from that new level of leadership effectiveness, those employees who are parents go home and improve their approach to rearing the next generation and leaders upwardly influence the approach taken by politicians such that we see a reduction in the tendency to blame and act like oversized schoolboys arguing in a global playground for power and dominance.
The first step though, is getting a consistent belief about what is good in those leading change, consultants, CEO’s and lean practitioners - a very big ask indeed.
Do we think there is room for this level of detail about the people process in relation to change in the global market of organisational change ....?
Following 40 yrs of tools and techniques, is the world now ready to 'up it's game' and accept there is a deeper aspect to change required, or will this level of detail around change be seen as 'New', a 'Threat' and dismissed as part of the defence mechanisms that exist in those with a vested interest in the current approach?