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‘There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success or dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things’

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

One of my favourite quotes as it really summarises for me the challenge of change.  And, of course it is the people involved in the change that cause the most challenge as they can bring resistance and a desire to keep with the old order of things.  So why is behaviour change so tough to achieve and embed in organisations? There are many things going on which are useful to understand. These series of blogs explore this issue through many different lenses which include a mixture of neuro science, models that help to explain what is going on and my practical experience with clients.  

Let’s start with the inspiration brought to us by the latest finding from neuro science.  WE CAN CHANGE! It is now a scientifically proven fact. The plasticity of the brain is well known.  It is possible to turn down the impact of some neural pathways and turn up the volume of others or even create new neural pathways.  

Neurons are the basic building blocks of the brain and the quality & volume of the connections or synapses between the neurons are what is most important ie the more synapses you have the better.  We know that Einstein’s brain was no bigger than our brains but he had many more connections between his neural networks. Interestingly and as an aside, we make more new neurons when we exercise and least when we are anxious or depressed.  For example, if you have a habit of seeing chocolate then eating chocolate you have a very strong connection!

The really interesting fact is that we shape our brains every day.  For example, in 24 hours we can make up to 20% new connections. This has the potential to give us flexibility and adaptability if we choose to use it.  What drives the synapses that change is experience – choose what you want to do and do more of it as you shape your brain every day. The way we develop new connections is to learn new things and to practice them.  Remember, if you don’t learn new things it is because you don’t choose to not because you can’t.

So, the good news is that it is just not true that people cannot change.  It is much more about motivation to change.

But in our culture the way we think tends to foster an illusion of no change.  However, as a leader, once you begin to understand potentiality of your people you will begin to look at your people and teams differently.