Video production: Andrew Kennedy Lewis
Dan Cable, a professor at London Business School and author of “Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do,” says learning leaders can help employees ignite the part of the brain that urges us to explore and to push beyond what we already know.
Read the full transcript of Cable’s interview below:
There is a specific part of our brain that urges us to explore, to push beyond what we already know. There are these different systems that the brain has evolved to keep us alive, to basically allow us to stay alive and get resources. So, just like there would be a fear system that would keep us alive by helping us worry when things were threatening and maybe get away from threat, the seeking system would help us learn and explore. It would help us push beyond what we already knew to see if there were maybe different and more resources out there.
There appear to be three triggers. There may be more. The three that I have found and write about in the book… the first one is you allow people to play to their strengths, and you highlight their strengths and you get them to think about what they’re uniquely good at doing. What’s the unique impact that they can create on the teams or the world? That’s one thing. The second one is experimentation and learning. It’s that you encourage people to push beyond what you’ve done in the past, and just look for a different, new way to do things.
And then the third one is the power of the purpose beyond the money. Putting people in direct contact with the people that are affected by their work. It might be the end customer like the end user, but it also might be within the organization. If you put together budgeting or reports, some decision-maker’s looking at those reports. Literally getting together and having a conversation about how does it work when I do that really well, and what does it feel like when I mess it up?
I’d say that the most important advice would be to remember that human beings have a part of their brain that wants to do this. It may be the case that they have been taught to shut that off, taught through KPIs and very tight frames of performance and achievement, taught through punishments when you don’t hit those. You get your raise taken away or a bonus or you lose your promotion. Over the years, they may have learned how to shut that part of the brain off. For a chief learning officer to remember that it is there, and it is ready to serve, but it may have to be reignited, and in the book I talk about how you have to sometimes start with small steps to create some dopamine to get them to want to do even more.