An Alternative View for Why So Many Transformation Projects, Business Change Initiatives and Large Scale Projects Fail to Deliver Expected Results: Neurology, the Overlooked Science

Author: Cato Rasmussen from Digital Dexteritas

Introduction

Why are needed business changes, transformation projects, re-skilling and culture so challenging to execute?

Although the coming together of economic pressures, technology impact, climate change, cultural changes started to happen long before the pandemic. While the pandemic hit and real pressure kicked in, and panic arose, it was/is interesting to observe how the human side of organisations struggle to adapt. While all the joints squeak, the electronic side of the organisation coped very well.

For example: during the sudden lockdown last March/April and the 1-2 additional lockdowns later, we all jumped on to Zoom, and it coped very well. However, the approaches, methodologies, attitudes and more did/do not travel very well from meeting rooms to the Zoom room.

This article is relevant for You, Your Business, the industry You are in, schools, universities and Your long-term career impact.

90% of peoples’ thoughts are the same as they had yesterday

In 2018 Hans Rosling launched the book Factfulness. This book is about, in short, the astonishing ignorance people have on basic facts about life on earth. Hans Rosling posed the questions below to nearly 12,000 people in 14 countries:

  1. In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary
    school?
    1. 20%
    2. 40%
    3. 60%
  2. Where does the majority of the world population live?
    1. Low-income countries
    2. Middle-income countries
    3. High-income countries
  3. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty
    has . . .
    1. Almost doubled
    2. Remained more or less the same
    3. Almost halved
  4. What is the life expectancy of the world today?
    1. 50 years
    2. 60 years
    3. 70 years
  5. There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many
    children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?
    1. 4 billion
    2. 3 billion
    3. 2 billion
  6. The UN predicts that by 2100 the world population will have increased by another 4
    billion people. What is the main reason?
    1. There will be more children (age below 15)
    2. There will be more adults (age 15 to 74)
    3. There will be more very old people (age 75 and older)
  7. How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last
    hundred years?
    1. More than doubled
    2. Remained about the same
    3. Decreased to less than half
  8. There are roughly 7 billion people in the world today. Where do they live?
    1. 1 billion in the Americas, 1 billion in Europe, 1 billion in Africa, 4 billion in
      Australia and Asia
    2. 1 billion in the Americas, 1 billion in Europe, 2 billion in Africa, 3 billion in
      Australia and Asia
    3. 2 billion in the Americas, 1 billion in Europe, 1 billion in Africa, 3 billion in
      Australia and Asia
  9. How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some
    disease?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%
  10. Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many
    years have women of the same age spent in school?
    1. 9 years
    2. 6 years
    3. 3 years
  11. In 1996, tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. How
    many of these three species are more critically endangered today?
    1. Two of them
    2. One of them
    3. None of them
  12. How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%
  13. Global climate experts believe that, over the next 100 years, the average temperature
    will…
    1. get warmer
    2. remain the same
    3. get colder

On average the 12,000 scored 2 correct answers out of the first 12. No one got full marks, and just one person got 11 out of 12. A stunning 15% scored zero.

One would think that better educated people would be better, or people who are more interested in the issues. But that was not the case. The audience came from all around the world and from all walks of life. Medical students, teachers, university lecturers, eminent scientists, investment bankers, executives in multi-national companies, journalists, activists and senior political decision makers.

Rosling point out in his book it is not a question of intelligence. Everyone seems to get the world devastatingly wrong or even systematically wrong.

How can so many people be so wrong about so much? How can it be that so many peoplescore worse than the random?

So how can policy makers and politicians solve global problems if they are operating on the wrong facts? How can businesspeople make sensible decisions for their organizations if their world view is upside down? How can each person be going about their life knowing which issues they should be stressed and worried about?

Rosling dug for an explanation, as he would not believe that people lacked knowledge per see. He first found that people who took the test had an upgrade problem, they did have the knowledge, but it was outdated. People had worldviews dated to the time their teachers had left school.

Rosling was invited to TED talks, boardrooms of IKEA, Coca-Cola, Global banks hedge funds, US state department to mention some. Over time Rosling gradually realised there was something more going on. The ignorance he kept on finding was not just an upgrade problem. He found that people who loved to listen his messages were not really hearing them. Well, they heard the messages but after the lecture, they were still stuck in their old reality.

Quote: People have the same thoughts, bringing the same experiences and emotions resulting in the same behaviours and their reality stays the same. Joe Dispenza Neurologist Neurology may provide some explanations to Rosling’s findings. The science of neurology also offers solutions of how to make people actively listen and optimise the learning.

Neurology provides explanation to human ignorance

This year 2021 Professor Andrew Huberman started a podcast on neurology (Huberman Lab) that I find interesting and highly relevant for enabling business change in the current world dealing with change.

Professor A. Huberman explains our nervous system, the full scope including our brain, spine, organs and the constant multidirectional communications between organs, spine and brain. The above is also the source for this chapter.

Neuroplasticity

Is an incredible feature of the human nervous system that allows for the change in response to experiences. Neuroplasticity is arguably one of the most important aspects of our biology. It holds the promise for each and all of us to think differently, to learn new things, forget painful experiences and to essentially adapt to anything that life brings us by becoming better.

Access to your neuroplasticity is dependent on how old you are, and the specific types of changes that you’re trying to create. There are many reasons why the nervous system would change. The nervous system could change in response to a traumatic event, it can develop a sense of fear, uncertainty, disbelief and mistrust. Change can also occur when something positive happens; great coaching, the true feeling of being part of something, or a great performance experience.

Before the age of 25 we do or did not have to focus that hard to learn new things. But, about age 25 (give or take a year or two) everything changes. In order to get changes to our nervous system, we have to engage in a completely different set of processes in order to get those changes to occur and for them to stick.

From years in the corporate life, I feal the change mentioned above is vastly overlooked and may be a cause for why Hans Rosling experienced that people loved to invite him and listen to his messages but did not really hear them. Their brains were not processed to learn or access the plasticity.

To access neural plasticity, we have to engage in some very specific processes. This means, we cannot just decide to change our brains, but we have to go through a series of steps to change the internal state in ways that will allow our brain to change – learn, unlearn and re-learn.

Professor Huberman explains (Podcast Huberman Lab) that after age 25 we need to actively trigger organs, whether situated in our body or our brain. These organs produce chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, melatonin Etc. which are vital to gain an understanding of:
• How our brain works & changes
• Mastering sleep and be more alert when awake
• Using science to optimise sleep, learning
• Understand and using dreams to learn and to forget
• How to focus on changing your brain
• How to learn faster by using failures, movements and balance
• Optimise your brain with science-based tool

To mention some. After listening to Professor Huberman’s podcast, I find them highly relevant to businesspeople on all levels. Yes, it is even more applicable to senior executives to adopt better leadership, but not limited to leadership.

As I understand Professor Huberman’s explanations; I also see the correlation between neurology and Rosling’s observations of people getting stuck in the same reality. To build an understanding of neurology (not to become a scientist in any way, shape or form) will greatly benefit businesses, organisations, teams and people. To build a basis for a shared purpose, culture, approaches, methodologies, and need to adopt different tools regardless of change programme being transformational or step change will benefit from better understanding neurology. Not to forget cross-functional and across age groups and gender.

The opportunity of inclusivity of age groups, genders and ethnicity

The current pandemic has uncovered quite a few patterns that we were aware of and saw coming, but we chose to drop in the basked of “being treated traditionally”. Visualcapitalist.com publish an article and infographic showing the increase in media consumption during the UK and US lockdowns. What exactly are people doing, and how are they staying informed?

Global Web Index surveyed almost 4,000 internet users between the ages of 16-64 to determine how the Covid-19 outbreak has changed its media consumptions. The % of who say they have started consuming or are consuming more of the following since the outbreak by age group shown below.

I know this is empirically shallow; however, if we correlate the patterns, the generations consume media differently and closely aligned with what they were exposed to before the age 25. I would state that their sources and reasons for which they access various media to stay informed and learn are significantly different between the different age groups. If not taken into account in working environments, companies risk missing out on possibilities that lie ahead by assessing the future from past memory as opposed to future possibilities.

In short, the access to information and the learning taken from various sources have armed younger generations with the ability to apply critical thinking different to older generations; learn, un-learn and re-learn, are potentially taken to a whole different level compared with older generations. When the more youthful generations enter working life, their ideas and ways of approaching challenges are new and not recognised by older managerial (command
and control) generations.

The older generation (e.g., Boomers) that do not trigger the processes to reach their neuro plasticity are by large acting based on old experiences and emotions, which generally means; behaving and engaging in conversation by packaging words, making them sound very important and heavy lifting-like to the extend it is overwhelming for the younger
generation. However, not always very convincing to the more youthful.

This can easily be avoided by create a level playing-field environment. The older generation, however, carries the burden of responsibility. As such, leadership skills need to be endorsed and new approaches and methodologies incepted making sure the elimination of powerplay.

Investments worthwhile

How can senior business executive and policymakers solve business problems or be tunedto prepare their business for change if they are operating on the wrong facts and old experiences? How can businesspeople make sensible decisions for their organizations if their overall behaviours come from yesterday’s reality? How can each person in the organization going about their work-life and knowing which issues they should be stressed and worried about?

What Rosling found out, I am sure this is the case in organizations as well; it is not that people lack knowledge. What if people/staff have the knowledge, but it is outdated, and are based on what they learned at earlier stages or got from managers who have outdated knowledge about approaches, methodologies and tools to lead people?

Consider the situation that large numbers of senior executives, senior and middle managers and staff are stuck in their old realities. How can solving problems, optimizing operations or providing changes, engaging in innovation or creative thinking be effective?

If significant investments are made available:
• How successful will that investment be if their nervous system and brains are not
primed for new learning?
• If people are not trained on how to prime their brains for new learning, can invest in
sending staff older than 25 years to seminars be optimal?
• If staff aren’t primed for adopting critical thinking, to un-learn and re-learn applied
and aligned throughout all sub-projects, will several $100 mill projects be
safeguarded?

Approaches, methodologies and Tools

By correlating and joining dots will enable us to take a different view of situations, find common grounds and new solutions for executing change for change, optimisation, reduce cross-functional frictions providing better flow of information.

There are plenty of relevant approaches, unique methodologies and proven tools that fit with and better serve the purpose of identifying, prioritizing and execute on new and future possibilities. However, to make sure the full advantage of new approaches, methodologies and tool kits, those assigned to make use of these need to unlearn the old and re-learn the new. To secure the learning, we suggest first adopting processes and techniques for how to activate participants’ nervous system, reach plasticity and prime the brains for learning so that the new learning sticks.

Contact: CXR@DigitalDexteritas.com

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