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What Neuroscience Can Teach us About Human Capital


Tue Jun 11 2013

What Neuroscience Can Teach us About Human Capital

Suppose you had the chance to be present at the very moment of a world-changing discovery? Imagine sitting next to Marie Curie in her lab as she discovers the power of radioactivity or walking with Neil Armstrong on the moon. Maybe you are seeing the DNA double-helix for the first time with Watson, Crick, and Wilson. If you had the chance to be a part of one of these great moments of discovery, would you take it?

If you said “yes,” then you’re in luck. Right now, we all are embarking on a great adventure. We are discovering how the brain really works by watching it in the very act of cognition. We are expanding our understanding of how the human brain, a quivering bundle of more than 400 billion neurons, uses electrical charges to transmit and store sensations, feelings, decisions, fears, thoughts, and even our sense of self, on a constant and ever-changing basis. We’ll learn how to unlock the code that allows our brains to retrieve the sights, smells, and sounds of your seventh birthday as vividly as the first time you experienced them. And we’ll start to figure out what this wonderful, beautiful landscape of neurons, dendrites, and axons means to those of us who work with human capital. 


Single nerve cell firing electro-chemical charges, Microsoft.com.

In this blog, I’d like to encourage you to literally “brainstorm” with me about how we can take the discoveries flowing from the field of neuroscience and apply them to our work with human capital. We’ll talk about how what you think about physically changes the make-up of your brain, and how you can choose to control your thoughts and thus affect your mood, intelligence, and even your bodily health. We’ll look at how the stress of experiencing change influences our brains to do strange and sometimes quite counter-productive things, and how savvy leaders can help people deal with change by understanding and controlling their responses to change. We’ll explore the power of images, our brain’s first language. And we’ll talk about the different effects that verbs and nouns have on our actions.

Through all of this exploration, we’ll look at how we can put this exciting new information into practical action. You’ll no doubt discover that some of the things you’ve been doing because you believe they are good practices actually are good practices. But now you’ll know that these things can be empirically proven in a lab, with the full force of hard science behind them. No doubt you’ll also discover a thing or two you thought were true, but that have turned out to be false in light of our new way of understanding how our brains work. And 50 years from now, I’m quite certain that some of the things that I share with you here will have been proven to be equally false, or at least incomplete, based on the knowledge that will be available to human capital professionals living in 2063.

I’m looking forward to this conversation, and I hope you will join in. To get us started, below is a bit of background. We don’t need to take a course in neuroscience to understand how the brain works. But we do need a basic map to help us get around in our new world of discovery. If you have a few minutes, I recommend you read one of the following resources. If you get an “aha” moment, please post it in the comment section below.

Next time, I’ll walk you through “Your Brain on Change,” and we’ll see where that discussion takes us. For now, I hope you enjoy this short list of resources as much as I did. And if you feel any sudden “flashes” of insight while reviewing these materials, that feeling is your brain making a physical connection between neurons through the transmission of electro-chemical charges.


Neuroscience and Human Capital Resources

Genes to Cognition: A site dedicated to neuroscience and cognition.


Your Brain on Learning. November 20, 2011 Posted by Barbara Bray in Change, Educational Models, Learning Environments, Personalized Learning



Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes your Brain. Dr. Pascale Michelon, February 26, 2008.


Attached to Technology and Paying a Price: Your Brain on Computers. New York Times, June 6, 2010. Matt Richtel.


For more on neuroscience applications for human capital, check out the full blog series here.

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