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Five tips to foster talent, with the brain in mind

I believe that some elementary neuroscience is an essential tool for talent development. Since 2010 I’ve been enthused and inspired by David Rock, who has made neurological findings incredibly accessible to leaders, managers, consultants and trainers. His insights form one of seven foundations in my programs for talent managers.

Let’s start with three findings from research that may shock you:

  1. our ratio is overvalued. In fact, we act irrationally 47.5% of our time and we solve 60% of our problems in ways that we can not explain. Our subconscious plays a huge role here, and it’s computational power compared to that of our ratio, is akin to comparing the galaxy to our solar system.
  2. social issues are of primary importance: our brain is a social animal and social pain has as much impact on us as physical pain
  3. focus changes our brain.

Two brain regions play a key role in our levels of focus, attention and engagement: our amygdale and our pre-frontal cortex. You could see our amygdale (the red dot in the blue picture below) as a switch that toggles between a toward and an away state up to five times a second. In an away state our entire brain goes into “go” state. Our cortex levels rise, our muscles get more energy and our pre-frontal cortex switches off. Yes, you’re reading this right, we’re switching off our higher levels of thinking. Makes since though, since we’re in ‘flight mode’.

AmygdalaFrontal lobe

The challenge for leaders, trainers en coaches is to facilitate other people to embrace a ‘toward’ state, so that our pre-frontal cortex (the brain region marked in red) engages. Because only then and only then can we understand, decide, be creative, remember, and be content (and inhibit our primary impulses).

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 11.22.47


So the key question for this blog becomes, how to help others to switch towards this ‘toward’ state? David Rock, has summarised this neatly in SCARF:

  • Status: Status is all about your perception of your position, relative to another person. A feeling of having a choice dramatically impacts stress levels. When you learn, make progress, appreciate, whether for yourself, or to someone else: your brain gives you a status reward. In learning the key status-enhancing question is: "How can you help people focus on getting better?"
  • Certainty: The brain is a prediction machine. Uncertainty arouses the limbic system and gets us into ‘flight’ mode.
  • Autonomy: The brain likes to be able to predict and have a say in the future. If we have the feeling of freedom of choice, our stress level is significantly reduced.
  • Relatedness: Friend or foe? Trust or distrust? Connect or don’t connect? Sadly enough, foe is the default. What can we learn from this finding? Bring people together and touch upon something that connects them, that they have in common.
  • Fairness: The regions of our brain that are associated with reward - food and pleasant touch for instance - are sensitive to fairness. In other words: brain regions associated with primary rewards – food, pleasant touch or pleasant memories, money, a picture of a loved one - were active when people received fair offers. Unfair offers trigger an ‘away’ state.

So dear readers, I would love to hear from you in the comments! How are you applying neurological insights to the management of the talents in your team? What benefit has it brought you? Let’s share the power of knowledge!

Read more from David Rock:
Quiet Leadership - David Rock (Collins, 2006)
Coaching with the Brain in Mind - Rock & Page (Wiley, July 2009)
Your Brain at Work - David Rock (Harper Business, October 2009)

Other resources by David Rock:
www.NeuroLeadership.com - summit, graduate certificate, journal
www.DavidRock.net - blog, interviews, audio, articles, research

Tags: talent development, high impact learning, leadership development

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