Day: October 4, 2018

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An Army General’s Advice for Career Shifts: Focus on Blind Spots

The future is coming, and getting ready for it isn’t just a matter of more refined thinking, but broadened experiences. This how the US Army War College helps service people prepare for the future, explained Major General John S. Kem at this year’s NeuroLeadership Summit. “What are the gaps for you to be more ready for uncertainty in five to ten years?” he asked. In a military context, according to Kem, it’s partly a matter of taking a tank commander and teaching them to bring diplomacy and economics into their decision-making. In organizations, it means that if you want to become a CEO but you’ve spent your career in marketing, you’re going to have to move into operations or another role to round out your perspective. In other words, it’s all about curing blind spots. At the NeuroLeadership Institute, we put this in terms of experience bias, or the assumption that if you believe something or an experience happened to you, then that must be the only way it could be. But if you go out and seek new experiences, then you’ll work toward escaping that bias. As Kem explains, however, it’s not just a matter of being able to “project into your next job,” but gathering the experiences that will expand our perspectives — and, in turn, be more prepared for uncertainty. That’s a major lesson for managing your own career or designing a talent strategy. It also, we must say, smells a lot like growth mindset: knowing that you can’t possibly know what you need to know from where you are, take the steps to address your blind spots, especially by embracing other disciplines. For more, watch the NeuroLeadership Summit livestream, broadcasting Thursday and Friday.

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two woman in the workplace having a meeting

If You Want to Persuade People, Don’t ‘Treat the World As Facts’

Facts are facts — except that they’re not. In a session on idea propagation and influence at this year’s NeuroLeadership Summit, Wil Cunningham, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, explained that getting through to people is about more than simply getting things right. What we really need to focus on, he says, are assumptions about the world that they have about how things work.  “We treat the world as facts,” he said, “without understanding the structure of belief system the fact operates in.” If we want to reach someone, the research indicates that there are different conceptual gatekeepers to get by. You can convince someone if they think a fact will better their wellbeing. That’s step one. Next, you have to satisfy what’s technically called “the expressive function,” or how a new fact fits within their sense of self and existing web of knowledge. That’s because Cunningham says a lot of the “facts” that we’re trying to impress upon one another are social facts, a concept identified by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim a century ago. Social facts are true to the extent that everybody in a group agrees that they’re true, like that cash has a monetary value rather than being illustrated scraps of paper.   “We sometimes hold beliefs to signify the groups we belong to,” Cunningham said. So if you’re pitching someone on a social fact — like that your product solves a common pain point — and it doesn’t blend with their sense of self and group identity, there’s a good chance they’ll reject it. The whole latticework of facts, preferences, and assumptions they’ve long internalized won’t mesh with the new information or argument.  If you pass that self-belief test, then you can actually add new fact to their personal web of knowledge, Cunningham says. The takeaway: Get to know your audience — and what they believe about the world — and describe things in those terms, not necessarily your own. That way, you can actually influence people and add insight to their lives.  For more, watch the NeuroLeadership Summit livestream, broadcasting Thursday and Friday.

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