Writing this blog, it’s easy to get swept up in the sparkle of neuroscience and my love of snappy content rather than focus on what’s real and applicable. That’s why I turned to Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of thinking research and learning organization Herrmann International, to get a better idea of how to recognize what’s fact and what’s fashion.
Herrmann-Nehdi has been working in the field since she was a kid. Her father, Ned Herrmann, was one of the first people to research the brain’s use in a business setting. “I’d come home after school and get wired up to the EEG for testing,” she said. “So I came in from a very different door as being a guinea pig, and it’s now become a lifelong interest.”
She knows how to tell what parts of neurology will transcend time and which ones will fade away. Learning leaders beware — a lot of what’s hot right now won’t be so cool in the future when it’s disproven. After all, one day in 1543 the Earth was the center of the universe, but 24 hours later Copernicus published a paper putting the sun in its place.
One of the key danger signs that a neurological data point or study is simply buzz: oversimplification. An example of this is the right-brain versus left-brain concept. When it first made its appearance, coverage simplified it to make it seem like the sides of the brain operate in isolation of one another. Today the whole brain is the focus, not building strength in either side depending on whether a person is artistic (right brain) or logical (left brain).
Herrmann-Nehdi said as soon as the term “science” gets thrown into conversation, people assume it refers to facts. But people also shut off to it because it seems too technical to apply to what they’re doing every day. Talk too much about the hippocampus, and employees won’t care about how meditation affects it — though they may seek out some peace and quiet to get away from you.
“I was talking to a manager not too long ago who said, ‘If one more person talks about my amygdala, I’m going to scream,’ ” Herrmann-Nehdi said. “Just because I might be interested in the brain and its inner workings doesn’t mean everyone is going to want to know about all its inner workings.”
But even a learning leader who pursues a double life as a neurologist has to recognize that with every study comes the responsibility to apply it to something. Reading up on neuroscience advancements is great, but remember it’s an accessory to the job at hand and not the sole focus for learning and development.
Thanks to oversimplification, application itself is often oversimplified. But don’t throw in the neurological towel just yet. With more digging comes more information that can show how science relates to learning. Case in point: When writing any given article for Chief Learning Officer magazine, there’s a reason I talk to more than one source. I want multiple perspectives to explain, not truncate, complex issues.
So cut the buzz, avoid abbreviation, apply to learning and repeat.