Neuro-biz-ology 101

Neurology is the new black (yep, you heard it here first).

With the advent of functional MRIs (brain scans while people are awake) we have more information than ever before about how people think, what parts of the brain light up when shown different things, and How We Decide.

Which is a veritable gold mine of information for everyone from managers to marketers to productivity experts. From Neuromarketing to Brain Rules to Buy-ology – neurology concepts are storming the business world.

But what does it all mean?

By understanding the handful of principles that our brain runs on, you can be a more effective manager, marketer, or productivity expert – without burying yourself in the business section of the bookstore.

Our Busy, Busy Brain

The brain receives millions of pieces of input per second – everything from these words that you are reading to being aware of the light in the room to how the chair feels to any noises that you may be surrounded by (not to mention countless internal sensations you may or may not be aware of). So, with millions of pieces of data to sort through per second, the brain needs to be a highly efficient machine – and takes many shortcuts along the way.

Our Brain’s Shortcuts

  1. Prediction. Predict = ignore. The brain values prediction, because it frees up cycles for other things. Not that any of us would ever do this, but it’s the same hypothetical argument for why you can talk on the phone while driving the same route home from work every day, but once you are trying to find someplace new you likely need to hang up and focus on driving. Your brain can no longer predict the traffic, exit location, geography, etc. The net: What we can predict we don’t need to pay attention to.
  2. Change is pain. Making a change – of any kind – requires more from the brain than holding the course. The bigger the change, the higher the level of pain (literal, emotional, psychological). So, the brain, in it’s need to take shortcuts and be hyper-efficient, discourages change.
  3. Novelty. As a corollary to prediction, if the brain ignores what it can predict, it pays attention to new and shiny (novelty) or what it can’t predict. But, because change is also pain, novelty has to be limited or it becomes overwhelming.
  4. Existing frameworks. We are the world’s best expert on our own experiences, and we are only capable of processing information based upon what we already know. Anything that is too far outside of our current experiences typically ends up being rejected, discarded, or ignored because it doesn’t fit neatly into the existing constructs in our brain (yet another shortcut).
  5. Myelination. This is a fancy word for the physiologic process that happens in our body as a result of habituation – be it processes, habits, or physical activity. What this means in practical terms is that making a change isn’t just about willpower – it’s literally a physiologic rewiring that needs to happen.

These five neuro-shortcuts are a fairly simple overview of how the brain quickly and efficiently processes the billions and billions of pieces of information it receives every day.

Pushing the Boundaries

So, what happens when you try to implement too much change at one time, or too much novelty? Well, the answer is the ever-popular “it depends.” We do know from neurology that “the greater the load, the greater the learning.” So, lots of change or lots of novelty will definitely leave an impression – but you may not always get the intended results.

So, whether you are planning on switching up the physical office space, implementing a new set of corporate flex-time policies, or planning a hot, new marketing campaign – keep in mind these basics. Slow, gradual changes will be easier to adopt, but making a splash will get their attention (for better or for worse).

Armed with your new neuro-biz-ology superpowers, how will you use them?

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

About Jen Waak

Jen Waak is a health, wellness, and fitness coach that works with entrepreneurs and other crazy-busy professionals to help them have the bodies they want without having to give up their lives. Also the author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, Jen lives, trains, and coaches in Seattle, WA. Sign up for her no-cost course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life) at