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How electrifying your people could help you adapt to change faster.

Could wearable neuroscience help our employees learn and adapt to change faster? Or are we giving breath to a Matrix-like Dystopia? Get three takeaways in how to give your people space to adapt to change.

Søren Vasø
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I want to bring you along on a thought experiment.

To set it up, I start with one of my favorite movies and the legendary fighting scene between Morpheus and Neo in the sci-fi movie (we hope…) The Matrix from 99’.

It’s a world where Artificial Intelligence won over mankind, but a small group of humans are fighting back. Before connecting to the artificial computer-created world, the Matrix, humans have the ability to learn anything, by uploading new skills to the brain in seconds.

The hero, Neo, sits in a chair while flashing activities happen behind closed eyes. Years of experience, moves, muscle-memory and fighting skills are being uploaded to his brain. He opens his eyes and says: “I know Kung-fu.”

Morpheus replies: “Show me.”

And so begins one of the most epic movie scenes in history.

The real world of neuroscience

What if this was real? Or just a fraction of it? That’s the thought experiment I want to entertain. If we had the ability to learn things at a much faster rate, how would that affect our work?

Could we release the full potential of all humans in their jobs? And if we could – should we?

Meet Halo

I want you to remember the name, Daniel Chao. He is the founder of Halo Neuroscience and has one of the craziest ideas you’re ever going to hear.

His mission is to hack the brain by shooting electricity through it so you can learn anything at blazing speed. Just like Neo learned Kung-fu in seconds.

And now for the crazy part: This is not sci-fi.

You can buy his product, Halo, and it works – and it’s only $299.

The halo is a wearable neurostimulator and looks like a headset. It has electrodes that send electric pulses into your head, or more exactly, to your motor cortex. The part of the brain that controls movement and what we also call muscle memory.

To learn a new skill, you must create paths in your brain (also called neural pathways). The ability to do this is called neuroplasticity and the older you get, the less plastic your brain is.

That means – the older you get the harder it is to form new paths and learn new things – this is what The Halo taps into and changes.

So you again can form new paths as quickly as when you were a child and had to learn everything fast.

Learn Bach much faster

Right now, it’s only affecting the part of the brain that controls muscle memory. And you can’t do it in minutes. It still takes real effort, but it can enhance your training to learn faster or be stronger.

Like Pianist Mario Marzo who learned a Bach prelude 67% faster. Or skiers, who  improved 45% quicker and gained 11% in jump smoothness using Halo.

Dancers, musicians, skiers, football players and other athletes are using the Halo and are achieving great results. All of them people who train their Motor Cortex to become better at their profession.

To stimulate the other parts of the brain, which would allow us to learn a new language or be more creative, much deeper brain-penetration is needed. Right now, the Halo doesn’t have that power, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it. We just need to go into much more drastic measures, like connecting it directly onto the skull. So right now, it’s “just” the motor cortex we can target.

As you might imagine, lots of questions needs answering before we can take that next step. And that’s what Daniel Chao is trying to do.

On the podcast “Should this exist” Daniel is discussing the possibilities and dangers of the vision (and I would really recommend a listen) with host Caterina Fake among others.

While they are discussing it in a general context, I want to keep it on the topic of People-Led Growth. Could neurostimulation help companies empower employees?

How strategy is connected to neuroscience.

Let’s break strategy down and put it into context:

The gap between strategy and behavior is a by-product of our roles and the hierarchy in our companies. Strategy is born at c-level, but the changes in behavior we need happens at the hands of our people. And they don’t know why they need to change, if not told.

And this is why friction happens. No one is going to commit if one doesn’t understand why it’s needed.

So, communication of the strategy and getting everyone on board is key to getting people to do new things. And even if you communicate the strategy perfectly, it’s still hard to make people do the necessary changes.

If we take our new neuroscience knowledge and put it into the equation, it makes sense. The longer you have done a thing, the harder it is to do something new.

The older you are, the harder still.
You have to form new paths in the brain, and that takes practice, which takes energy. So learning new things at work takes up a lot of energy, and then it’s just much easier not to do it and fall back to what you know.

Thats where leadership must step in, motivate, give space to fail, and celebrate progress. More on that later.

That full equation is a massive part of why strategies fail.

System 1 vs. System 2

Let me give you an example of this:

Daniel Kahneman’s thinking and research has been shaped into what he calls system 1 and system 2.

It’s about our way of thinking of things:

We use system 1 when we do something we know how to do. Like pouring a glass of milk, putting our shirt on or perform that work task we have done 1000 times before.

It’s the brains’ fast, automatic and intuitive approach. We can do it, without thinking much about it.

When we are confronted with a problem or something we are not used to, we activate system 2. Like if I ask you to juggle with 5 balls, sing every second line in your national anthem and do the square root of 186, you will be using system 2. You move slow, get analytical, and reasoning starts to dominate. 

Operating in system 2 requires a lot of energy. We have to dig deep into our resources and have to be in the right state to do this.

Being well-fed, rested and without distractions would be optimal. And that is what the following study proves.

How to get a parole hearing go your way

A study was looking into parole hearings and the judge’s decisions. Now, it really eases not granting parole to a convict, because it’s pretty much free. Keeping him or her in prison would harm no one. But if you let someone out who did another crime, then it’s a bad decision.

In other words. The easy choice is to not grant parole and giving it requires a lot of system 2 thinking.

In the study they were looking into how many paroles was granted and on which time of the day. And they found there is a direct correlation between how rested the judge is and how likely it is that a parole is granted.

Look at this chart:

Almost 65% of all paroles are granted just after the judges break (which they have 3 of in a day). 2 hours after the break, just before the next, the number drops to almost zero.

Because it takes energy being in system 2, you are more likely to have the judge listen to you and rule in your favor if he or she is well rested.

You can read more about the study here

If you want to learn more about system 1 and system 2, Daniel Kahneman’s book is called: Thinking Fast vs. Thinking Slow, and you can get an appetizer here.

Now, let’s go back and put these three things together.

Behavior, system 2 and the Halo

When strategy requires new behavior (which it always does) and employees are required to do something differently, it requires a lot of system 2 thinking and thereby energy.

When we know this, could the halo (in future versions) help us ease into that new thing we should do, by letting us learn it quicker trough neurostimulation and let us apply more change with the same amount of energy?

If it could, it would mean we could move faster, be happier, more productive, earn more money and close the gap between strategy and behavior faster.

But even if we could – should we?

Is there value in the resistance of change? Do we appreciate our new skills if we “cheated” on getting them? Do we feel satisfied with our jobs if it’s so “easy” to adjust to new things?

I think I raise a lot of questions that we should answer and start exploring before we start using new technology like this.

Not to talk about how companies could take advantage of it. Could you be forced into using the Halo? Could a Chinese sweatshop force child labor to be even more effective in their job 16 hours a day to make some shady guys more money?

Dystopia or Utopia

I am way more positive than negative with new technology. Halo is raising a lot of questions as you can also hear in this podcast about the topic. But there is a dystopia drawn up from the place we started: The Matrix.

The story is built around this topic. Neo has been set free of his slavery as a human battery and is trying to adapt to the new reality. 

Everything he believed before is encoded in neuropaths in his brain and now he has to make new paths – Morpheus even states they never free people when they reach a certain age because it’s too hard for the mind to let go and adapt.

They fight back by using the same neuroscience tech their new master is enslaving them with and the hero learns to break free of the neuropathways and form new ones on the fly.

I know – there is a long way from The Matrix and where we stand, but the thought experiment is pretty awesome and knowing of the Halo has changed how I think about that movie.

I’m sure this tech is going to be used in employee training in the future, and I am mindblown by the opportunities this brings and what it could do for our society. I believe this gets us closer to utopia than dystopia.

That’s why I’m following Daniel Chao and his vision closely and is considering buying the Halo and experimenting with it.

What can we learn from this

Even without the Halo, this new insight in the brain and thinking-power gives us an edge when we want to close the gap between strategy and behavior.

This is how you should look at it:

When you are implementing strategy and setting new behavior, you now know why it’s hard to change. It has natural neurologic reasons. You need to form new paths in your brain, before getting comfortable with the new behavior.

So, you should do 3 things:

1 – Make sure there are structures in place to make room to learn new things. Time, space, no disruptions and so forth.

2 – Make sure the new behavior is familiar. If you make too big of a change, the more likely you’re going to fail. So make a stepping stone in between, if it is too much and make it something that’s not entirely new.

3 – Make sure the people that are going to change their practice have the capacity to operate in system 2. Do it first thing in the morning or after launch. Maybe even let them do it from home for 1 hour, before coming to the office, to let them have as safe surroundings as possible.

Then, even without the halo, you are optimizing the process with neuroscience and letting thinking research affect the outcome.

Just imagine how far you could go if you could go into hyper-learning mode as well.

Resources: Visit haloneuro.com to see more about the Halo product. Listen to the Podcast “Should this Exist” to hear Daniel Chao talk about it (33 min). Read the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (499 pages). See The Matrix (146 min).

Søren Vasø
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