Gray Matter

We’ve been thinking quite a bit about the intersection of neuroscience and management of late, thanks to the pioneering work of our Claremont Graduate University colleague, Paul Zak.

Then today, we spotted this fascinating McKinsey & Co. analysis, which explores how managers and their teams can apply practical insights from neuroscience to become more creative.

In the case of both Zak’s work (which deals, in large part, with why and how we establish bonds of trust) and that of Emory University’s Gregory Berns (which is highlighted in the McKinsey report), what intrigues us is how much the science supports what Peter Drucker and other great management minds have told us for a long time.

For instance, the McKinsey piece notes that to spark creativity, Berns and others believe that “we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered. . . . Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.”

But how should we do this? McKinsey’s Marla M. CapozziRenée Dye and Amy Howe recommend that managers immerse themselves in environments far beyond those they normally occupy. They cited the experience of one specialty retailer, for instance, that sent out small teams of employees to stores and boutiques offering “retail concepts very different from its own.”

Image source: The National Archives UK

“Seeing and experiencing something firsthand can shake people up in ways that abstract discussions around conference room tables can’t,” the McKinsey authors explained. “It’s therefore extremely valuable to start creativity-building exercises or idea generation efforts outside the office, by engineering personal experiences that directly confront the participants’ implicit or explicit assumptions.”

[EXPAND More]Drucker counseled very much the same thing, urging executives to get out from behind their desks as much as possible. It is vital “to get outside information—which is information on how other people, with other jobs, other backgrounds, other knowledges, other values and other points of view see the world, act and react, and make their decisions,” Drucker wrote. “In the long run, information about the outside may be the most important information managers need to do their work.”

Some executives dismiss the building of creativity and trust as “soft skills.” It’s nice that we now have more and more hard science to back up the need for them.

What about you and your organization? What are you doing to get outside and foster creativity?[/EXPAND]