Where to find out more about neuroscience?

We are often asked what are good (i.e. accessible and reliable) sources of information about the practical application of neuroscience.  Resources that we frequently find ourselves referring people to include:

Great Myths of the Brain by Christian Jarrett

Neuroscience for Coaches by Amy Brann

Neuroscience News

Sharp Brains

The Brain from Top to Bottom

The Dana Foundation

The Sentis Brain Animation Series

Understanding Neuroplasticity by Rick Hanson

Welcome Trust ThInk blog

Navigating Change workshops

We have been running a unique one-day workshop for a Legal Services client where the majority of participants are lawyers. We have been using the latest neuroscience and psychology along with proven tools and techniques to allow participants to master the ‘head, heart and hands’ elements of change.

The workshop is designed to help participants to:

  • Be familiar with the brain’s key processes, strengths and limitations relating to change
  • Know how we typically react to externally driven changes
  • Understand how to take control of the brain to make externally driven change a more positive experience
  • Know how to use the brain to habituate self-directed change
  • Learn to use a range of tools to support successful change
  • Know how best to support others in times of change

To date over 150 participants have attended the sessions and their evaluations give a Net Promoter Score of 99% i.e. 99% would recommend attending the session to a colleague.

The workshop is a blend of input, group discussion, exercises and personal reflection that allows participants to create their own learning and action points. Participants are invited to define their own context for the workshop i.e. to consider personal, vocational, previous or planned changes as they wish which helps to make the material more personal, relevant and meaningful. The workshop is very interactive and engaging.

This is a small sample of the feedback:

  • Useful insight for all areas of ‘change’ both personal and professional
  • Definitely will strongly encourage other members of my team to attend
  • Very interesting approach to what is often such a negative concept i.e. change
  • Very enjoyable and accessible session
  • A nicely focused session with some very interesting content
  • Interesting and practical
  • Has made me less fearful and given me practical strategies
  • Brilliant, made subject matter engaging and enjoyable
  • Was unsure how ‘cringe worthy’ this would be but a really pleasant surprise and a good day
  • Course was very intelligently presented
  • Very informative and useful, allows me to look at change in a different light
  • An interesting and helpful day. Learned quite a lot. Strategies suggested to manage change were useful
  • Some very useful ideas, with useful follow up reading.
  • Excellent, well worth the day out of work!
  • Very interesting, enjoyable, inspiring course

If you would like to know more about this unique, innovative and practical workshop please contact us

Fixed or growth?

Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets offers some very useful insights into how our mindset can play a really significant part in what we achieve – or don’t – and often without us even being aware of it. Dweck has expanded her original work – which looked primarily at individuals – to look at the role of mindset at the organisational level and how this can impact on performance. Unsurprisingly she concludes that whether an organisation has a fixed or growth mindset culture does make a difference; she refers to ‘genius’ or ‘development’ cultures with talent being worshipped in the former at the expense of effort and continuous improvement which are valued by the development culture. Given that the role of organisational culture is, in part, to perpetuate itself, it is clear that breaking an organisation out of a fixed mindset is a considerable task. This can be exasperated by learned helplessness which can permeate an organisation with a sense of ‘yes, but there’s nothing we can do about it’ when it comes to change and improvement so that in time people don’t even notice opportunities for respite or change.

Getting everyone in the organisation to understand neuroplasticity will be a great first step to changing a fixed mindset culture and informing people about the power of habit and the effort required to consciously change habits will also help. This needs to happen at an individual level but the organisations cultural artefacts such as policies, processes, procedures, politics etc. also need to be changed so that they no longer reinforce a fixed mindset but instead promote a growth culture. The nature of the growth focus is also important i.e. an emphasis on continuously growing bigger may mean more of the same and ‘sweating the assets’ as much as possible, whereas an emphasis on growing better focuses on continuous improvement and development – which is likely to lead to growth.

What a difference a word can make

What a difference a word can make

All of our work at Think Change is based around change; be this at an individual, team or organisation level.  In particular it is about making change more effective, sustainable and positive than the current track record.

Amongst the change models we frequently refer to are the Change Curve based on the work of Kubler Ross and the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) devised by Prochaska & DiClemente.  Obviously both of these need to be adapted for usage in a work context but they have both proved to be very valuable.

The Change Curve helps people understand our typical reaction to externally mediated change and can help us to plan, lead, manage and embed change more effectively whilst TTM gives individuals a roadmap for making deliberate personal changes.

We underpin these models with the neuroscience of how the brain processes change and why, generally speaking, it is inclined to resist change for both structural and emotional reasons.

In the context of leading/managing others through change the topic of ‘resistance to change’ often comes up; but in discussions about this most people arrive at the conclusion that ‘resistance’ to change is actually a manifestation of anxiety about change. And how, as managers and leaders, we respond to anxiety tends to be radically different to how we might address resistance.  Neuroscience in also helping us to understand ‘the anxious brain’ and identify real, tangible steps that we can build into our change management systems, processes, communications etc. to help make change a more positive and successful experience for all concerned.

Neuroscience and coaching

Who knows if neuroscience will turn out to be the fifth revolution (along with Copernicus, Darwin, Freud and the discovery of DNA) as suggested by Ramachandran but there is already plenty of evidence that it will have significant implications for many aspects of society from Social Policy, to Defence and Security and the Criminal Justice System.

In the domains of Organisation Development and Learning and Development there are undoubtedly practical, valuable changes that we can make to current practices in the light of our greater understanding of the brain’s processes, strengths and limitations. However, one area that may not change significantly is that of 1:1 coaching. Why so? Because effective coaching already plays to the brain’s preferences in many ways and as the understanding of the brain increases it is validating and explaining why ‘best practice’ coaching can be such a powerful tool in bringing about lasting behavioural change. Not least amongst this is helping to explain why ‘external’ coaches are likely to be more effective than ‘internal’ ones.

The jury may still be out on mirror neurons, and it seems unlikely that we will ever really be ‘coaching to the ‘anterior cingulate cortex” but for now, properly structured and delivered 1:1 coaching is the best show in town for supporting change.

You can find out more about Think Change’s approach to coaching at this CIPD Workshop

Email just isn’t working anymore

The fact that email is slowly strangling lots of workplaces was recognised again recently when Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and former adviser for the Government Office for Science about mental health in the workplace spoke at the recent British Psychological Society annual conference.  Sir Carey said that rampant email checking is damaging the mental wellbeing of employees, and in doing so slows them down and damages UK productivity.  This recognition that email may now be doing more harm than good is not a new one, but what still seems to be lacking are practical solutions to turn email back into an effective productivity tool.  For example in their original  study paper Atos Consulting identified internal email as a major drain on productivity and their Zero Email programme has gone some way to address this; although n the merit of, to a large extent, replacing email with alternative communication channels such as ‘enterprise social networks’ may seem somewhat questionable.

Some of the problems, and solutions, related to this email blight can be quite tactical and technical e.g. ensuring that you know how to use features such as, short-cut keys, filters, rules, MS Outlook quick steps, staying up to date with email enhancements such as the many that support the GTD methodology etc.  But the major causes of this communication and productivity log-jam tend to relate to much more challenging areas such as personal behaviour and organisation culture; and changing these tends to be neither easy nor fast.

At an individual level we know that checking email is often ‘just’ a habituated behaviour but sometimes it can also be an ‘addiction’ where the ‘crack cocaine’ of random positive rewards means we mindlessly check email at the expense of our wellbeing and effectiveness.   And at an organisational level ‘conversation-by-email’ and ‘reply-to-all’ is often seen as ‘the way we do things around here’.

So what solutions do we propose to client’s looking to address this?  Some of them include:

For organisations:

  • Clearly distinguish between internal/external and necessary/unnecessary email.
  • Capture and publish data on where internal email is coming from. Challenge people on their internal email usage and get to the root of why they are sending it.  Set targets to reduce internal email volume.
  • Set mail servers to only deliver email during working hours by default; with an opt-in for people to receive email ‘real-time’.
  • Introduce, and stick with, ‘no-internal email’ days.


For individuals

  • Refresh your email IT skills and make sure you are making best use of your mail programme’s capability.
  • Take control of when and how you check your email. Check email only at set points during the day and ideally not first thing in the morning. Turn off any audible or visual email alerts.
  • Process email in batches and aim to handle your messages only once.  To quickly decide what to do with an email use ARAFS:  Archive, Reply, Act, Forward, Save.  Use the two-minute approach.  Act immediately on messages that will require less than two minutes of your time.
  • If you are on your third ‘reply’ for the same email then it is time to pick up the phone or go for a visit.
  • Unsubscribe to all of the ‘it may possibly be of use sometime’ mailing lists that you are on, or send them to an email address other than your main work one.

This infographic offers some other useful ideas J

Speaking dates

Speaking season seems to be upon us again and there are a number of upcoming events where we will be speaking or running workshops. These include:

• The NeuroBusiness 2015 Conference Wednesday, June 2015 at The Renold Building, Manchester University where we will deliver a sessin on ‘How the brain informs the design and delivery of change plans’

• The Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) Summer 2015 Members’ Workshop in Streatley on Thames where we will be discussing ‘The Neuroscience of how the brain works and what this means for how we create, store & retrieve ‘knowledge’

• The CIPD Science of Human Behaviour at Work Conference in September where we will run an all-day workshop on Day 2 (23rd) on Using neuroscience and psychology to build better leaders

As well as these public sessions we are also doing a number of similar engagements at organisations’ internal conferences (management, human resources). If you would be interested in us speaking at your event, or, as we prefer to do, running a workshop, then please get in touch.

Smarter people use drugs?

A good in-depth article here about the questions and challenges we will have to face in the light of the increased availability and use of cognitive enhancers. Although caffeine and nicotine have been used to boost performance for a long time the latest incarnation of ‘smart drugs’- typically in the form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) prescription medicines such as Modafinil, Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine – is surfacing as an issue within Universities and it is only a matter of time before this becomes a workplace issue that organisations will need to address. When the evidence shows that taking some pills can enhance workplace focus and efficiency and give an edge over competitors then the pressure to take them may be overwhelming. And in the absence of any long-term studies we are left with ample evidence of their efficacy and none about likely risks.

Organisations using ability tests, assessment centres etc. will before too long need to have formal policies on the use of nootropics (an umbrella term for drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that improve one or more aspects of mental function such as working memory, motivation, and attention). But what then? Drug testing a la the world of sport? I think we will be seeing more and more focus on this topic in the not too distant future.

Warwick Business School Knowledge and Innovation Network

We recently attended an excellent session of the Warwick Business School Knowledge and Innovation Network where we heard some great accounts of how organisations are using technology to help join-up and share information.  The value of networking groups can vary to say the least but this is one is definitely a valuable resource for organisations looking to enhance their knowledge management and innovation capabilities.  We spoke about how neuroscience can inform our approach to individual and organisational learning and in particular how we can design Knowledge Management Systems to help make them more ‘brain-friendly’.

CIPD Annual Conference, Manchester, November 5th and 6th


The CIPD Annual Conference is being held in Manchester on November 5th and 6th and we will be presenting at it on both days.  On the 5the we will co-deliver a session at the exhibition that will highlight the CIPDs new report (due for publication in late October) on the application of neuroscience in the real world.  The research is intended to cut through the ‘neuro-hype’ and showcase where neuroscience can make a genuine difference, and add real value for individuals and organisations.  The report should shed some welcome, objective light on this area.  On the 6th we are delivering a workshop at the conference called ‘Designing Learning Initiatives Using Neuroscience’ (W5, 09.30 -12.00 if you want to attend).  In the workshop we will cover:

  • an introduction to neuroscience in relation to learning and development
  • how neuroscience can inform the architecture, content and delivery of L&D
  • a practical approach to assessing existing programmes and materials for ‘brain friendliness’.

By attending the session you will take away:

  •  examples of using neuroscience principles to plan, manage and embed learning
  • ideas on how to incorporate neuroscience into the design and delivery of L&D offerings
  • a ‘gap analysis’ of how ‘brain friendly’ your current L&D offerings are.