Neuroscience is producing some stunning discoveries. But given the four part Latinate terms used to describe areas of the brain, the over fifty neurotransmitters that have been identified, and the unimaginable complexity of neural networks created by forty quadrillion connections, the practical applications of the discoveries are not always clear.
So it's refreshing when neuroscience presents us with a simple, easy to understand finding, like the fact that people eat more ice cream in crowds. It may seem like this would only be of interest to those trying to control their caloric intact, but like so many other seemingly trivial discoveries about how the brain works, there is more here than meets the eye.
Since our conscious minds are very limited and can really only deal with one thing at a time, most of our mental processing is unconscious.. The one thing we deal with can be the stimulation of a crowd of people or the conscious effort to discipline ourselves and not eat more ice cream than we should.
When we try to process more than one stream at a time, we experience cognitive overload. We jump back and forth, with processing gaps in either stream. We lose the ability to discipline ourselves and eat more ice cream than we should. Or in one famous experiment, we become so focused on counting passes in a basketball game that we don't notice the gorilla walking across the court.
In our role as managers, our one track minds are only capable of attending to ourselves or empathizing with our employees. So to ensure our communication is received, we need to first focus on what we want to say, and then focus on how to say it so that our employees actually hear it.
This means crafting and communicating a very simple message. Rather than asking people to focus on eight or ten objectives, we'd be better off with two or three. And we should do everything we can to eliminate distractions. When people are worried about their jobs or entertaining themselves with the latest corporate intrigues, they're not focusing on what's important to the business.
When we have a simple message repeatedly reinforced, it becomes built into the way people operate. Then the conscious mind can be freed up to appreciate that ice cream in moderation.