The last decade has seen a frenzy of neuroscience research, leading to an avalanche of new findings and interest in the field. But along with the exciting new knowledge comes the inevitable hype and distraction. New studies abound that may or may not be practical or relevant in the real world of business.
And that’s where the rubber really meets the road. Because for all the research, attention and general trendiness of the topic, when it comes to your workplace, your business and your results, there are only two questions that matter: Can you use it, and does it deliver what you need?
From informing employee engagement strategies to helping increase creativity and innovation, brain science has plenty of value to offer. But that doesn’t mean you should insert some neuroscience into your learning mix and call it a day.
3 filters to apply to neuroscience findings
To get the real impact and value, here are three filters to consider as you look at the latest neuroscience “buzz” about your learning strategies.
1. Relevance. Can it support your goals?
In a keynote, CEO of Herrmann International Ann Herrmann-Nehdi presented on The Brain and Learning at the annual Learning Conference. She discussed how current brain research relates to fundamental shifts happening in learning and organisations. These changes reinforce the need and value of applying relevant brain research to the learning context, and how organisations need to understand and use these insights for better leadership, learning, and results.
Consider what you’re trying to achieve and how breakthroughs in neuroscience can support those goals. Maybe you need to find more innovative, effective ways to engage today’s learners. You might be looking at the thinking skills the business requires to stay competitive. Or perhaps you’re working on a “stretch” program that will place new mental demands on your high potential population. Once you have that context, you can be more intentional about mapping out your strategy and understanding the role brain research plays in it.
2. Reliability. Can you trust it?
Clearly, there is still so much we don’t know about the brain and how it works, even with all the investments being poured into high-profile initiatives. At the same time, associations and sweeping generalisations are being made that often have no basis in solid science. When we draw conclusions and begin applying those based on limited or small-scale studies, we risk not only delivering wrong or adverse outcomes, but also our credibility.
Last year, Ann spoke with CLO Magazine about the challenges of balancing the buzz with what will truly add value to your learning and development strategies, as well as some of the “neuro-myths” that have persisted. Balance neuro-excitement with a healthy dose of neuro-scepticism. With so much information available, and so much room for misinterpretation or oversimplification, it’s essential that you evaluate the reliability of your sources with a critical eye.
3. Practicality. Can you use it?
Ideas rooted in neuroscience crop up in every aspect of business today, from leadership development to change management. In many cases, these ideas offer far more theory than practical application. The concepts may be interesting—and they may even be worth exploring—but unless you have a way to apply them to reach your desired learning and business outcomes, their practical value is going to be limited at best.
Make sure you have a way to bridge the gap so that you can operationalise the science and make it usable on a practical, profitable level. Especially in today’s already-overloaded and distracted work environment, if people don’t see why it matters and can’t immediately use it, it’s only going to add to the noise.
How to get value from neuroscience
Neuroscience on its own isn’t the magical answer to your training challenges. You need to have the strategic focus and practical tools to bring the science down to earth, grounding it in the real world in a way that people can immediately understand and put to work.
It’s worth the time and intention to do it right, because when it’s relevant, applicable and targeted, it will deliver tremendous value for your learners and your organisation.
This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated in 2020 and republished to ensure our readers don’t miss out on valuable information.