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5 Reasons Why Business Can’t Afford to Ignore Psychology For Another 100 Years!

September 9, 2010

 

“The problem with business is that it is afraid of dealing with the business of people.”

  W. Edwards Deming

Honestly, we don’t get it.

Why is business still so ignorant about the basics of human dynamics?

Awareness of human psychology as it applies to work has evolved at a glacial pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light.

What’s taking so long?

Well, part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.

Little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time.  Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford who complains, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”

Sorry Henry – that’s just how we work – we fussy human beings. WE need things like meaning, security, purpose, pleasure, novelty and rest to “perform” at our best.

Sadly, the machine metaphors of Messrs Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time are still driving the management behaviors of most business leaders today.

It’s still not uncommon for business leaders to ask questions like:

Are emotions an asset or a liability in the workplace?

Shouldn’t we be removing emotions from the decision-making process?

These questions defy basic Brain Science 101 knowledge in the year 2010!

You can’t separate one part of the human brain from another.  They work together in concert – for a purpose. The old shibboleth that personal life is separate from business life is simply wrong in light of what we now know about the human brain.

When you shut down a feeling, it comes at the cost of the prized function of another part of the brain, the neo-cortex (“working memory”).  Working with the new neural science, however, we can educate a person to use cognitive strategies to address their strong feelings and return to a more balanced brain state.

What Business Says It Needs

When you ask business leaders what is needed to survive and thrive in today’s complex economic and global marketplace, the list is long – leadership, creativity, collaboration, innovation, motivation, trust, teamwork, partnerships, learning organizations, rationality, quality decision-making and problem solving skills, accountability and resiliency.

But even though there is often consensus on what’s needed – there doesn’t appear to be any real understanding of how you get these things from people  – or where they come from.

The basic view of how the brain works is still a mystery to most business leaders (reflecting the lack of knowledge in the general populace). There is an over reliance on the so-called “rational” region of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) and a fundamental lack of understanding of how the “emotional” side of the brain works.

What’s even more baffling is that many business leaders don’t even recognize the need to understand how people function – what makes them tick.  These management mindsets are completely out of step with the growing body of science of the past two decades that illuminates the how and why of what we think, feel and act!

The amazing information coming from research on neuroscience, physiological responses and emotional processes form the basis of a new blueprint that should be driving every management model.

Unfortunately – most managers are still operating out of the old, ineffective, unproductive models that have shaped how we “manage” people.

Why This Thinking Has to Change

Brain science research of the past fifteen years has significant implications for the way that we work now and can work in the future.  Based on the work of many leading thinkers in this area, like David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work and Quiet Leadership, brain science knowledge can and should influence how we work.  Ignoring the realities of how humans function at their best – and their worst – is an expensive and foolish decision that no organization or business should risk.

5 Reasons Business Can’t Afford to Ignore Psychology

  1. Stress levels are at an all time high. Exacerbated by the recession and the realignment of work, the performance of employees will continue to decline. The myth of productivity is based on the effort of workers who  continue to override their physiological needs by using an already exhausted part of their brains to “push through.” This is not sustainable.
  2. The “legacy” of command and control models must end.  Technological speed, globalization, economic imperatives, cultural diversity and generational change all signal  the end of management as we have known it is inevitable.
  3. Fear is not sustainable.  If brain science illuminates anything, it is the knowledge that fear brings out the worst, literally, in the brain. While the “threat response” is a part of our neural make-up, it saps brain power and taxes the body heavily. Bottom line – using fear as a motivator or management tool is a recipe for long-term failure.
  4. Creativity, sorely needed if business is to succeed, needs a different environment to incubate new ideas. The on-demand, 24/7 culture that most workplaces have created often does not support the generation of new thinking.  New neural research demonstrates that the intuitive brain needs “quiet” to allow for new insights. In fact, the creative process is supported when the thinker employs learned strategies to disengage from old thought patterns.
  5. The New Workplace is in dire need of emotional intelligence.  It’s not that we have to separate emotions from business; it’s that we need to develop a far greater capacity for emotional self-management.  New brain knowledge reinforces that the concepts of emotional intelligence are on the right track for helping us to address challenging emotions – and learning how to reframe our thinking to get access to more of the feelings that energize and enliven our work.

The challenges and complexities of re-inventing the world of work as we know it may seem daunting.  As a culture we are in the in-between of the old ways of knowing and doing things and a future that is unfolding with the lenses still out of focus.

One thing most of us can agree with is that the old models are not working. Human beings aren’t widgets, feelings aren’t expendable and workers can’t do the work of a new century with the old, tired routines of the last.

Brian science knowledge is showing us a path to understanding our psychology – the dynamics of how to bring out the best of how we think – and how we work.

Maybe it’s time, we listened.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. N.K.A permalink
    March 15, 2013 5:52 am

    Fear in the organization no doubt create stress in the minds of the employee which in turn leads to not putting their 100% in the work.It is only through love ,respect and trust that we can get good quality of work .

  2. February 17, 2014 11:58 am

    Some great points here. I for one have certainly found companies extremely responsive to thinking about psychology, but I can’t help but think it is all in the way in which you talk to them, and the language and how you chose to communicate which makes them take note and listen.

    • February 17, 2014 5:46 pm

      Hi Simon,
      I agree. I find greater receptivity when I speak to organizations about human, interpersonal or social dynamics – it doesn’t have the “baggage” the word psychology carries. But generally I have found that most business leaders find the topic worrisome – too akin to “therapy,” too concerned that discussions will lead to emotional acting-out. I think some of those fears are legitimate (especially if the group or org is sitting on unexplored conflict or low-trust issues. Generally, those I think it is just the legacy of fear.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
      Best~
      Louise

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