Brain Science and Changing People

Most people assume that executives can go to a presentation or be exposed to models, and if they understand those models, the logic and reasoning, they will be able to apply the needed changes.

Brain science says otherwise.

In the last ten years neuroscientists discovered that there are two very different systems in the brain: one for processing knowledge, called explicit memory, and one for processing experience, called implicit memory. Because of the way the brain is designed, only things that are encoded as experience translate into lasting application. Understanding and reasoning are two very good examples of acquiring more knowledge. Just because executives and teams better understand models or tools does not mean they are going to use them.

We do know that in some cases knowledge can be translated into application through a process called cortical consolidation.

We don’t know enough about cortical consolidation. We know it happens often during sleep and that 2%-10% of the population can intuitively use it to “translate” changes from the knowledge system to the experience system, but we don’t yet know if it is possible to accelerate this process or influence it directly in any way.

Thanks to recent research, we do know how to address implicit memory directly. This allows us to bypass the unknown access through cortical consolidation and reach out directly to the system in the brain that can apply change.

That said, creating experience is very different than creating knowledge. It requires engaging a different system in the brain, maintaining different brain frequencies, and basically following the rules of that system.

So far we have identified seven rules for engaging implicit memory directly. A good example is that change efforts must be designed in a way that makes them learner initiated. This means that the people we wish to influence need to generate actions that will promote the change. We can’t remind them to initiate actions, somehow we need to get them to push the process forward. Another principle is that learning must be simulating experience, not exploring knowledge. It can be a simulation of the experience of someone else, but it has to be designed as a story, an example, something we can imagine ourselves going through in our mind.

Integrating the rules that engage implicit memory, the experience-based learning system in our brain, directly leads to applicable changes.

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