Neuroscience – the next gen competence for people-people in business?

Everyone is saying it. Work is in paradigm change.

Lately I have been following the discussion of the agile community paradoxically with both great respect and great despair. The gurus in the field have long since started to talk about the people dimension of agile or lean. They try to get the message through: people cannot (anymore) be treated as machines.

It is very similar to the hype about organizational culture, leadership (vs. management), and engagement in traditional “non-agile” organizations. But still today, people in these same organizations are treated like something predictable. Their jobs are considered as something structured that you can break down, plan to detail, measure, reward and manage. The people themselves are treated as resources: something you can break down (oh yes!), plan to detail, measure, reward and manage. And what is the most terrifying of all; people have grown so used to this, accepted this, and normalized it.

I am hearing the concern of the seniors in the agile field. I’m hearing about practitioners taking the methodologies and applying them without understanding the human side of organic systems. The seniors warn about overly eager consultants riding the waves of “Agile X” and “Lean Y”, but heading directly towards the rocks, because they are surfing only the operative landscape and forgot about the social one. At agile conferences a lot of the talks are about how to succeed in people issues, since the leadership and social paradigm is really turned upside down in an agile system. This is where neuroscience can help you with your engineer-rich, rational-thinking, process-oriented audience.

Neuroscience is just a Trojan – but a great one!

The power of neuroscience comes in when you can connect it to the competence and skills you already possess, and apply it creatively and ethically. In my case, with my shallow understanding (compared to neuroscientists) about our brains combined with my work- and people experience, with my professional coaching and facilitation skills, and with my lovely network of highly skilled modern professionals, I feel like I am armed up to my teeth with powerful tools to integrate brain friendlier people practices into an existing organizational system, and doing it in a brain –friendly manner, too.

It is not only about having world-class research, tools or methods available. Neuroscience also opens a door to methodically, scientifically, and credibly bringing in a new paradigm of people thinking for logically conditioned executives, HRs, teams and individuals. But this is not enough. Most people will not create deep insights, change their human view or behavior on information or logic. Neuroscience takes you some way, through the rational door. But neuroscience is just a Trojan horse. A really powerful one. Until you knock on the doors of emotion, experience, personal triggers, status, fears, hopes, needs and irrational behavior of people.

Social hacking requires emotions.

The beauty of having neuroscience in your toolbox is when it all boils together in real organizational development handicraft. It is about knowing how to design something unique and tailor made for each situation, each organization, training, and each group or individual.

What I want to emphasize for the agile community: it is so not about intellect or logic. It is about mixing together the spot-on combination of experiencing, experimenting, safety, stretch, information, application, examples, timing, emotion, energy and integration to what already exists. This is where I think the agile community can, and should step up. Or step down to the level of “hard-value-soft-skills”, not trying to “intellectualize” people skills. What makes me genuinely happy is to see so many brilliant agile professionals so interested and passionate about people issues. Simultaneously I’m hearing the field relies extensively on reasoning and logic, also when it comes to people.

Learning and exchange becomes so much more powerful when you tap into people’s emotional space, and try to make that explicit. But before you do, make sure you have the tools, courage, permission and emotional integrity yourself to do that. It is like walking on thin ice. It is being very humble. It is knowing that you do not know. It is being surprised on constant basis. It is uncertainty and dealing with your emotions of fear. It is about making mistakes (sometimes big ones!). It is about helping to make the implicit explicit in a safe setting. It is about not being attached to an own agenda. And none of this was (is?) taught at Engineering Universities or Schools of Economics.

What can you use neuroscience to explicitly?

Having studied neuroscience and brain-based coaching is like having a helpful people-code-cracker in the back of your head, constantly reacting to “bad people code” in the environment (or in yourself), and after reflection or by intuition being able to come up with “better people code”. When you start applying it with attention and focus, it starts becoming automated. The more experience you get, the better you get at hacking social code, and at creating micro environments where other people can thrive. (Also a warning: you need to have a lot of mercy for yourself, because you start catching yourself on daily basis behaving non-brain friendly, too late).

I have no choice but to follow the field of neuroscience, because I am hooked. It will definitely support me with a rational foundation to develop my social hacking skills. I want to share what I learn, one way or another, on a useful level, to my collaborators and customers. I have no other choice either, but to follow the modern paradigm of work and organizations, because I do not believe old school can bring the benefits to business and people anymore.

The value of neuroscience unveils itself as I go, but currently the direction, velocity and learning have a positive gradient, both for me and my clients. And Neuroscience will continue being a great Trojan.