We hear a lot about how businesses have become much more competitive … so, how do we condition our brains for the fight? How do business leaders achieve that competitive advantage that can make the difference between a flourishing organisation and a struggling organisation?

The good news is that it is mainly within our control; The bad news is that some changes are required and some efforts to get there.

Brain “plasticity” and its consequences

The concept of cerebral “plasticity” is quite new. Once it was thought that the brain, once mature, did not change its shape.

Neuroscience has shown that, in fact, the brain changes considerably throughout our lives, regardless of age. The new neural connections create ‘pathways’ that literally change the shape of our brains even in old age.

The consequences of this are quite profound; it means that we are capable of new behaviour and new habits that can effectively “reconnect” our brains and make the behaviour seem natural to us, like brushing our teeth without thinking! In addition, according to the researchers, this process of learning new behaviours can take four to eight weeks.

It is interesting to consider how this affects approaches to behaviour change, change management, etc. The assertion that people are too willing to change does not seem supported by neuroscience.

Neuroscience and stress

Competitive advantage is reduced to developing a culture in which problem-solving and innovation are natural.

But all too often it is a great struggle to be creative and go through good thought processes to make the best possible decisions. We are distracted by a lot to do, very little time to do it, and the workplace becomes too stressful.

Neuroscience shows that specific elements in our mental attitude can stimulate higher order brain networks to lead to more successful outcomes.

The key to improving brain power lies in our ability to handle the stress that too often has us working on emotion and instinct; The stress response system floods the brain with hormones that allow the emotional state to take over and for the upper brain networks to be marginalized.

While there are a time and place where automatic responses can work in our favour, it is usually NOT when we need to make important decisions for our organization. It tends to be unproductive and certainly does not allow us to be at our best creative moment.

Therefore, we should not only worry about the adverse effects of stress on health but also about the adverse effect on our brain mechanisms of greater thought.

Building a competitive advantage

Understanding that we have to overcome stress at the neuronal level is the first step in creating a mentality with a competitive advantage.

Developing a culture of positive attitudes towards higher thinking, creativity, innovation and problem solving helps employees minimize stress at a neuronal level.

The practice of new behaviours changes the neural pathways and can actually make the executive function of the brain grow and integrate it with other neural networks. This makes the change to a higher brain function easier, improving the capacity for better decision making.

It is easy to simplify this. It is not easy and requires the correct implementation by professionals who understand science, understand the process of change and can communicate it to those who are willing to change. But the efforts involved in developing a competitive advantage can bring great rewards to an organization.