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The Neuroscience of Organizational Culture

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More importantly these learned cultural beliefs and behaviors are not simply learned cognitive constructs. Rather they are deeper changes in brain structure and neuronal interconnectedness, and therefore much more difficult to change. This implies that corporate culture change initiatives that focus primarily on short term retraining will likely be ineffective. Retraining can be effective at creating new brain function. For example, memory training in elderly subjects in the age range of sixty to eighty seven (Doidge, 2007) can increase auditory memory to function in the range of forty to sixty year olds. However, this kind of training needs to be extensive and prolonged, and in this example was in the range of forty to fifty hours of practice over many weeks. Moreover, this example refers to specific memory skills versus the kinds of learned emotional, fear-based responses noted in the introduction of this essay. Overcoming these kinds of negative emotional-behavioral responses seldom emerge as a priority in companies needing to change culture in response to a change in the competitive environment. Most often organizations change organizational processes, structures and other structural factors, and rely on high level communications and in some cases versions forms of training (akin to re-stacking deck chairs on the Titanic). But these efforts seldom reach the kind of neural changes needed to rewire the way employees think and act.

Neuroplastic-based Methods for Changing Behavior, and Culture in Companies

Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel (2010) describes that the brain changes physically in response to experiences and “new mental skills can be acquired with intentional effort and with focused awareness and concentration”. Experiences, he describes, activate neural firing which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made amongst and between neurons in the process of neuroplasticity. Depending on where we focus our attention (i.e. on what) and how (i.e. eliminating distractions) we focus our attention, neuroplasticity is initiated by this “focused attention”, Siegel notes, particularly when the experience is important to the individual. Siegel’s research focuses on interventions under the broad definition of mindfulness (closely related to meditation) as a set of methods and tools to leverage the science of neuroplasticity. Siegel refers to these as “mindsight” and applies these techniques in psychoanalytic consultation situations.

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