Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – Technology like multimedia is fundamentally altering our brains – and organisations need to change the way they work in response to these changes.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, founder and CEO of NeuroBio, an expert on the human mind and brain researcher, explains that each person has a unique mind.
“Something to do with your brain makes you special,” she says.
What makes people special is their ability to adapt, Greenfield adds, because our brains have plasticity and are able to form new connections.
For instance, London taxi drivers have a bigger hippocampus than other people, largely because they have to memorise every street in London and all the one-ways, closures and more.
This holds true for other activities that people work on. “The more you use them, the stronger and more efficient they become,” Greenfield adds.
Being more active and stimulated allows people to grow more connections in their brains, increasing the surface area.
Learning is about growing brain cell connections, Greenfield adds. This allows human being to transition from sensory to cognitive thinking.
“So everything means something to you, and you alone. They let you look beyond face value.”
We don’t’ just live in the moment, Greenfield explains. Our identity is a result of our past learning.
“Is the 21st century such a new influence?” Greenfield asks.
There can be no doubt that technology has changed the way we do things, she says. One of the biggest changes is that people do not perform activities face to face anymore.
“You can shop, work and even go dating – all without meeting another human being.
“It is inevitable that it will impact on how we think and feel.”
Will the brain be changing correspondingly in new ways? Greenfield asks.
Gaming has been shown to reduce attention spans, even creating new addictions. The World Health Organisation has defined Internet Gaming Disorder and most authorities recognise it as a genuine addiction.
Research shows the children who love video games have similar brain structures to gamblers.
Addictions release dopamine in the brain, which is the chemical associated with arousal and reward.
People with an under-functioning prefrontal cortex tend to prefer sensory reward to long-term consequences.
Greenfield describes this as the two basic modes for the human brain: meaningless, associated with prefrontal underfunction; and meaningful, which is associated with prefrontal activity.
Gaming mandates a fast response which releases dopamine and thus drives addiction, she adds.
She describes a study which found that people preferred to do something rather than nothing – even if that something is negative.
Reduced contact means that many of the interpersonal skills that are important to life and work are not being practised.
“If you are not rehearsing that ever to important interpersonal skills, you will be missing out,” Greenfield says.
“We need to think about shaping the environments we think are important to what business needs.”
Social media is addressing loneliness, which makes people feel good and releases dopamine. “But, unlike in real life, where body language will restrain where you go and what you will only open up to people based on their body language, you are trading your privacy and making yourself more vulnerable.
“And so, you confabulate: you hide the real you. And this make you lonelier than ever.”
Overall, Greenfield says, social media is bad for people’s health.
This is associated with a rising trend towards tattoos, she adds.
“What we need to bring back , especially for children, is developing an inner narrative – driven not from outside, but from inside.
“This gives people a sense of confidence, privacy, and longer attention span.”
The plethora of fake news supports the notion that people are thinking different ways, and have poor critical thought.
“You can get information from the screen, but not knowledge the only way to get knowledge is by reading and experiencing things.”
The point of stories is that there is a linear narrative that mirrors peoples’ experiences.
Organisations have to learn how to deal with a new workforce that will display characteristics including low attention span, sensory experiences at a premium, addictive behaviour, recklessness, low empathy, poor interpersonal skills, a weak sense of identity, efficient at information processing, icons over ideas, and poor critical thought.
“There is an idea people will be like computers, but they will be more like a three-year-old,” Greenfield warns.
When it comes to risk management, new workers may be poorly equipped, she adds.
People need to shape a present that has a past and future attached to it. “That means you need a sequence; and we don’t have that anymore. You need think of way to replace simultaneity with sequencing. Everyday activities tend to be sequenced.”
This shows up in the fact that children or older people who do sport do better in school. The same goes for activities like cooking, sharing food, gardening, making music or other sequenced activities.
Stories help to improve thinking skills, and reading is the enabler for this.
To improve risk management, increasing opportunities for exercise, interaction with nature, eating together, gardening and reading will help.
The ultimate goal is to enable a strong sense of identity, Greenfield says.
Creativity is another goal, and this can be nurtured by challenging dogma, deconstructing thoughts and creating unusual associations – but also activating extensive connections that have a meaning.
“You need to join up he dots in a new way,” Greenfield says.
For the 21st century workforce, we need to revisit identity and think of ways to help people nurture that, Greenfield says. By helping people attain individuality, we are promoting creativity.
“We can do something about mind change,” Greenfield says.