Microsoft GM of Worldwide Learning Says Neuroscience Is the Future in Companies

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Chris Pirie isn’t putting the future of organizational learning in the hands of gut feelings. He’s relying on hard brain science.

In a recent interview with Singularity Hub’s Lisa Kay Solomon, Pirie, the general manager of worldwide learning at Microsoft, explained how companies will begin infusing research into their development processes.

“We’ll start to know what it looks and feels like to pay full attention and which social and physical conditions can accelerate or throttle the learning process,” Pirie said. “Organizations like NeuroLeadership Institute are codifying the research into workable models that help [learning] designers to leverage those brain chemistry process and biases.”

In addition to neuroscience, Pirie speculated that data science and social science will also inform how learning experience designers create their internal programs.

“The learning scientists are coming!” he said. “Within corporations, we’re going to see a fundamental rethink of the role and responsibility of learning in organizations and the creation of a new type of learning organization.”

Pirie has plenty of experience applying research to organizational habits: For the past two years, Microsoft has partnered with NLI to change its culture with the help of brain science. In mid-2016, the tech giant debuted its three leadership principles company-wide: Generate energy, Create clarity, and Deliver success. Simple as they may seem, a great deal of research suggests they put Microsoft in the best position to achieve its goals.

For instance, as Pirie points out in his interview, scientists are making great strides in understanding how knowledge moves from short- to long-term memory. Specifically, we have seen the benefits time and again of making learning “sticky,” or memorable, by chunking bits of information into easily digestible pieces. We also minimize the amount of work required of the brain, since humans can’t juggle more than four or five ideas at a time.

Microsoft’s leadership principles rely on that set of insights. Each principle is easy to remember, but so is the trio as a whole. We call this “coherence,” as it’s near impossible to remember one leadership principle without thinking of the other two.

These strategies don’t just get people excited about making a change; they actually change behavior. As Pirie explains, this is one of the hallmarks of neuroscience-based learning initiatives, and what will propel the field into the future of learning.

“I believe we will soon see diagnostic tools to help evaluate costly corporate learning programs against such standards,” he said, “and tools to help learning experience designers design for maximum impact.”

SEE ALSO: The Smartest Teams Embrace the ‘Diversity Paradox’

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