Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Monday, 20 October 2008

Neuroscience everywhere, plus: fear and hope on the campaign trail

Seems like everyone's talking neuroscience these days...

Neuroscience and osteopathy
Two weeks ago when I was back in the UK, I stopped by the clinic of Steve Makinde who, besides being kind enough to confirm that I had in fact been travelling with two fractured ribs (ouch), mentioned that he's pursuing a Masters degree in Neuroscience at University College London. So why does an expert in osteopathic medicine take a sudden interest in the brain? Well it turns out he wants to explore both the physiological and the neurological pathways of pain to see how best to provide effective patient care - to explore, I suppose, the mind-over-matter dimensions of pain relief and injury rehabilitation. This echoes the work that colleagues of mine in Australia are doing with neuroscience related to diet and body shape, and I plan to put them in touch with Stephen to see what useful conversations might result.

Neuroscience and human behaviour: Hard science + Soft skills
A week ago in Montreal I spoke with my colleague Elizabeth Hirst, communications consultant and coordinator/instructor at McGill University's innovative program in Public Relations Management.

We had a great discussion based largely on the fact that we've been pursuing parallel interests in neuroscience and human behaviour. How gratifying it is to us both that there is now hard science that backs up the of "soft stuff" of managing and communicating with people in organizations, an area to which we've both spent years influencing clients to pay more attention.

Fear and hope
Our conversation eventually turned to the American Presidential race and the way in which McCain's approach is fast, jerky, emotionally-charged and high-pressure, in stark contrast to Obama's more measured, considered messages of hope for the future. It seems to me that the Republican campaign is based on keeping people in a limbic state, where their knee-jerk responses will have a comforting predictability that (McCain/Palin hope) will deliver the White House in a few weeks time.

The limbic, emotional part of the brain makes decisions first, then seeks justification (or rationalization) for the decision after the fact. McCain has said he, like Bush, prides himself on acting fast and sorting out the details later. While to some voters this may seem an attractive trait, a form of real decisiveness, it's exactly the sort of decision-making the produced a war in Iraq with no detailed disengagement plan for the post-"regime change" period.

The rational brain, where our better nature and true talents lie, gathers information first and then makes decisions based on careful analysis and thoughtful debate. It makes it easier to imagine a positive future state, to believe in the fundamental optimism and resilience of the American people and their ability to recraft the American Dream for a new century.

It's the opposite of trying to operate from a locked-down, fear-based state of mind - a space which is fundamentally ill-suited to handling complex situations with multinational repercussions.

The American political process (and, I'd hazard to say, American culture in general) is not famously known for considered thought and examination of the issues at play. It's more about instant gratification and short attention spans - a tendency worsened by media that seek to keep people in a limbic state as well (after all, when you're scared shitless you crave more information, which is a great way to sell newspapers).

For the sake America's future, and for the rest of us in the world outside the USA, let's hope that Obama's message of hope and belief in the common sense of the American people will prevail over the politics of fear and reactivity.

No comments: