Business execution: Art or Science?

We are all learners by nature, we are masterful learners who learn to walk, speak and have social interactions from the day we were born. This continuous learning journey is powered by our brain. A major differentiating factor between people is the fluctuations in the pace of learning throughout a life time. As a result of that phenomenon we can see noticeable differences in behavior between a person who is dedicated to improvement throughout his/her lifetime and one who is content with the status quo. Empirical evidence shows that the same principle applies for organisations, those which are able to sense the changes in the operating context and LEARN to adjust their actions in response to the change, are the ones that survive and thrive.

It is said that our brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. The average adult human brain weighs 1.5 kg which is only about 2 percent of the body weight, yet it consumes 20 percent of the energy reserves; of which learning and information integration is one of the most energy sapping activity. Based on the science it is very clear; one cannot lead if one is not continuously open to learning, let alone modify their behaviours as a result of that learning. Expressed behavioural modification is what matters, it triggers physiological reactions in others that are surfaced in the form of behaviours. These actions are translated into organisational performance.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” is a very popular definition of insanity, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, a simple albeit powerful concept.

What makes people DO the things they do? How can we get them to ACT more decisively? These questions constitute the essence of leadership. Once you start to unravel the drivers of behaviours your impact is exponentially significant. Getting these answers right is part Art and part Science. When it comes to human behaviours there are 3 major driving forces: the individual’s internal state, environmental factors, and relational dimensions. Science has come a long way to provide meaningful insight as to what are reliable predictors of behaviour in relation to the 3 drivers. As to what could be considered the Art part, is predominantly how a leader is attuned to his own instincts which have in turn been honed by experience. This ability to “naturally lead” is more sub conscious than conscious. The enlightenment that neuroscience brings to society and business is enabling humanity to enter an exciting new era of possibilities in an increasingly interconnected world, where cultures meet and fuse to form new realities. Leaders and organisations have to contend with lightning fast change and the most effective counter measure to rapid change is to develop mental flexibility and resilience to adapt. A neuro based approach to develop these attributes is arguably the most effective.

Due to technological innovations such a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) we now know more about the workings of the brain than the cumulative years of brain research. The knowledge unlocked by the sciences that demystifies human behaviour has a deep impact on business. One such example is the so called “Descartes error”, which is a theory developed by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. This breakthrough reveals a completely new perspective on the belief that logic and rational thinking is what drives decision making.

The initial theory that human beings made decisions based on logic and rational thinking is a central proposition from Rene Descartes, a 16th century French philosopher, scientist and mathematician. This line of thought has been deeply embedded in western philosophy. To this day, it permeates society through schools, public policy making and private organisations. In the 1990’s Damasio disproved the theory of Descartes by scientifically demonstrating that our decisions are primarily a product of our emotions.

To realise that business vision, strategy and culture is the outcome of a collective emotional process which is in turn validated by rational thought, has a very profound impact on how organisations and society flourish. To understand that the emotional input is as relevant, if not at times more powerful than the rational and logical one, is the transcendental conclusion than can make the difference between winning and losing. It is a fundamental change in the way that people see and treat each other, that enterprise sees employees and customers. The term VALUE is seen again in the light of what it truly is: an experience that is felt/perceived by a customer, employee, a fellow human being. Only then can any organisation truly learn how to offer value to their stakeholders. This concept is underpinned by the wise words of Antonio Damasio “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather we are feeling machines that think.”