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Brain Awareness Will Be Essential to the Enterprise of the Future

by Elise Olding  |  October 3, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

Would you be OK with your neurologist surfing the Internet and responding to email while doing surgery on your brain? So why is that behavior the norm in important executive meetings that determine the future of a company?

Beliefs about how we work, and when we work, are being shattered by cognitive neuroscience research. Enterprises that understand the limits and needs of the most valuable and underutilized asset in their organizations — the brain power of employees — will capture a competitive advantage. Profits will follow. The brain-aware enterprise will structure work, configure office space and take into account the holistic needs of employees. It will recognize the many factors that cause unwarranted stress in the organization, decrease cognitive functioning and reduce employee performance.

The path toward a brain-aware enterprise has started with sessions at The World Economic Forum at Davos, and through initiatives at organizations such as Intel, Google, Facebook and NASA that will soon spread to other organizations around the globe.

This Gartner Maverick research was conducted by Jackie Fenn and me. It takes a peek into the future of a company that has based its culture and leadership around brain awareness. It then examines the underlying principles behind leading with the brain in mind, and identifies the opportunities and challenges of creating a brain-aware organization. These are organized into five key principles that will guide the development of brain-aware enterprises:

1. Brain state can be manipulated directly to optimize performance.

· The first step in developing a brain-aware enterprise is to acknowledge that the brain is something that can be actively observed and deliberately influenced. Practices like mindfulness are being practiced at leading organizations such as Google and Intel.

2. Knowing how to categorize brain states is essential to self-regulation.

· In enterprise settings, managers are always (and usually unknowingly) creating threats for their employees, and are experiencing threats as leaders. A key element of self-awareness is having the language to describe one’s own mental and emotional states, and to recognize (and influence) them in others.

3. Brainpower is a limited resource, and requires planning and scheduling.

· The human brain consumes a massive amount of our energy for its size, and tires easily. Structuring one’s day to take advantage of the two to three hours of quality cognitive power, where distractions are limited, is key to optimal performance in the brain-aware enterprise. This will require personal discipline and cultural change.

4. Peak brain performance demands mental, social and physical well-being.

· Brain-aware enterprises are realizing the importance of developing the “3D employee” by focusing on mental, social and physical well-being. The studies that show the relationship of the brain to exercise, sleep, nutrition and social interaction are a growing body of research, and create a compelling case to look beyond just an employee’s job performance. Brain-aware enterprises will look to strengthen social connections between employees, the enterprise and social responsibility. Napping at work will be in vogue: studies have shown that a short nap can reduce errors, and have a refreshing effect that can last a number of hours.

5. Building new neural pathways is essential for long-term change.

· Even when we embrace the principles of a brain-aware lifestyle and workplace, it is extremely challenging to make the long-term behavioral changes required to shift a culture. Leaders need to very consciously go “out of pattern” — even when old management styles are suboptimal, people tend to revert to long-established habits of leading and communicating. The easiest way to avoid old habits is to create new ones, and to reinforce them regularly. As techniques to analyze — and to even influence —brain states evolve further, technology will become an increasingly powerful way for enterprises to drive and to support critical behavioral change and performance enhancement.

Leading enterprises are already beginning to capitalize on this trend and we believe: By 2020, 50% of the highest-performing leaders and employees will routinely monitor and modify their own mental state to optimize their effectiveness.

The fact is that people can really work smarter, rather than harder. The brain-aware enterprise will adopt these techniques and reap the profits.

If you are a Gartner client read our research here. Jackie and I will be glad to discuss with you further.

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Category: employee-engagement  gartner  neuroscience  organizational-change  

Tags: 3d-employee  cognitive-neuroscience  enterprise-of-the-future  future-of-the-enterprise  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

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