Works like a charm

The March edition of HR Magazine has an unintentionally hilarious cover article on ‘The Brain at Work’ which informs us that we can ‘squirt’ neurotransmitters into each others’ brains, tell us how we can reboot dendrites and is strangely obsessed with the basal ganglia.

It’s full of fantastic howlers and misplaced metaphors which you’ll have the pleasure of discovering for yourselves, but the stuff about the basal ganglia is just plain odd.

Tired of listening to her employees vent, she told them, “No longer will I listen to a problem unless you submit at least a portion of the solution.”

Weber explains what happened next in neuroscientific terms: “The next day, the basal ganglia were at work continuing to vent about the problems with no solution.” One employee went to the HR professional’s office. He didn’t have a solution, so she sent him away.

“About three days later, workers realized she was serious. So, a different person went into her office with a solution to the problem. The HR professional agreed to and supported the solution put forward with slight revisions to keep it under budget.”

That simple change transformed the employees’ dynamics — and their brains — by turning control over to them. “The conversation in the basal ganglia went from problem-focused to solution-focused,” says Weber. “When people in that department went to sleep at night, they rewired their brains for the new behaviors.”

Let’s just pause there for a moment.

Nope, it doesn’t help.

The curious thing is that the article is generally full of quite sensible advice for managing employees but its just wrapped up in this bizarre alternative universe neurobabble.

Somehow we’ve got to the point where people feel they can’t give good advice without waving poorly-understood neuroscience around like it was a recently enlarged willy.

Link to ‘The Brain at Work’.

4 Comments

  1. Posted June 25, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    The increasing neurobable is a huge challenge and a serious threat!
    But the origin of the poblem are the (neuro)scientists themselves.
    Neuroscience is now a solid and established field with thousands of people working around the world. And neuroscience is critical because studies the brain, what make us human.
    The specialisation of neuroscience is growing in a vertiginious fast pace requiring for training a lot of hard work and very precise knowledge, and now that we are living in the “culture of science”, the “science for everyone” era, the ABC of neuroscience is difficult to grasp and the media and general public has not choice but to simplified and be sensationalist because even the neuroscientists themselves don¬¥t know the work and findings of other high-level neuroscientists.

  2. Posted June 25, 2008 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Sorry, i left the main idea: neuroscientists have to publicize and disclose their work better to the general public. Means to do that are open acces to journals, brain knowledge initiatives, campaigns, more T.V. science…

  3. Sumesh
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The neuroscientist of the day Jill Bolte Taylor is also not a case much different.

  4. Posted August 31, 2009 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    I’m torn by this because I love neuroscience and an enthralled by its rapid pace of discovery but also humbled by the complexity of what we’re learning and trying to figure out how it all fits together.
    Every time a new fMRI comes out you see some journalists and people peripheral to neuroscience jumping to all sorts of wild speculations about it, and trying to frame well understood psychology in terms of yet poorly understood brain mechanisms just to make them seem more scientific.
    It feels very much like the days when followers of Freud or Skinner insisted that they were the only ones doing science properly, when they were just seeing from their own narrow contrived perspective all along and eventually the edifice would fall. Except that the pseudo-neuroscientists don’t seem as theoretically consistent in most cases.
    Understanding brain and behavior has always been at its best an interdisciplinary strategy, turning evidence over to see if from the lens of different fields at once, not a matter of trying to use hasty conclusions from one field to shape the interpretations of the others or simply phrase them in different terminology by force.
    There’s a nuance and sophistication to interdiscriplinary science and it requires expertise in multiple fields. A good example of how tricky yet possible it is to apply neuroscience to psychology is found in Donald Pfaff’s “Neuroscience of Fair Play.”
    Pfaff is very cautious about even the most basic interpretations, and is very explicit about what we know and what we are guessing from the intersections of different fields. A great example of the right approach to interdisciplinary science from a neuroscience perspective. Compared to popular articles simplistically expressing psychological principles in terms of parts of the brain and neurotransmitters.


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