Most people who run businesses fail to understand the importance of applying an understanding of the cognitive sciences within their businesses. They do not realise that success in every aspect of what they do – from customer understanding, team management and supplier relationships through to self management and strategic thinking – is built on varying degrees of understanding the nature of the human mind.
The problem with this lack of understanding is that without being able to use the cognitive sciences as a tool kit, the modern leader is operating half-blind. Most do not get formally taught about psychology, neuroscience or any of the other cognitive sciences – let alone how to apply them to do better in business.
The competitive environment increasingly requires you to have a new form of competitive advantage, and services which apply the cognitive sciences to business, enabling fast learning and change are arising to help busy executives without becoming a burden on their time.
The cognitive sciences are generally considered to cover psychology, neuroscience, education, philosophy, artificial intelligence, anthropology and linguistics. They are an interdisciplinary tool kit to better understand the nature of the human mind. Essentially we can use them to understand why we do what we do and how we can do it better. Within a business context this means scientifically doing better in business.
How are the cognitive sciences fundamental to business success?:
- Psychology – the study of the human mind and its functions particularly looks at behaviour in a given context. This means that you can better understand why people act as they do, and have a better chance of predicting behaviours. How will customers respond to the new product? Will the team be more productive with the proposed changes in their work space? How will our new negotiating position on supplier contracts impact existing relationships?
- Neuroscience – our improved understanding of the structure of the nervous system and function of the nervous system and the human brain may not seem relevant until you understand that people are emotional creatures that learnt to think, rather than thinking creatures that have emotions. Why do you find it hard to multi-task? How can you better focus on your strategic creativity, decision-making and problem solving? How will you be a better leader by being more emotionally controlled?
- Anthropology – understanding humankind as a species, and in particular the comparative understanding of human societies and cultures and their development has massive relevance in our global marketplace. Even the smallest business now has to understand how to operate in multiple different international markets. Cultural awareness has to now become cultural astuteness to operate confidently in the context of different business and societal norms. How consumption patterns differ in new overseas markets now needs to have an understanding of ‘why?’ attached to truly compete against local competitors. Without deeply understanding the markets in which you are operating, you will fail.
- Philosophy – the use of reason and logic to understand the nature of knowledge, reality, human nature and existence may seem to have little place within a CEO, entrepreneur or founder’s leadership toolkit. However, it’s the acquiring of wisdom which is the fundamental application of this cognitive science. We are arguably reaching a fascinating point of conflict and change in leadership and business. Decades of data reliance and evidence-based decision-making and strategising are being assaulted by swathes of decidedly more ‘fluffy’ human decision-making insight which business intelligence and big data is valiantly trying to support. Philosophy has a very clear place here as a methodology for attempting to gain understanding in a rational way about topics that do not seem amenable to empirical investigation.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – is an excellent vehicle or model for better understanding the nature of the human mind. AI permits a level of impartiality – a removal of us as biological, emotional creatures from the equation – to address its ‘central problems (or goals) ….includ(ing) reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication, perception‘. These pursuit of these goals stimulate advanced understanding of skills central to excellence in business. On a standalone basis, the understanding of the area is of critical importance to the future strategies of most businesses.
- Education – is central to business competitiveness. The intelligence of the business as a whole, and the individuals within it are the only long-term competitive advantages a business can have. How business knowledge, skills and best practices are transferred across your company and over time is fundamental. A business is a company of people constantly competitively evolving a set of products and services in a market place. Education gives you a major leadership tool to wield.
- Linguistics – the final in this listing of the cognitive sciences fits perfectly with education’s role as your major leadership tool. UCSC Linguistics Dept. provides an excellent definition of how linguistics provides the communication tool to enable education to be your major long-term competitive advantage: ‘each human language is a complex of knowledge and abilities enabling speakers of the language to communicate with each other, to express ideas, hypotheses, emotions, desires, and all the other things that need expressing. Linguistics is the study of these knowledge systems in all their aspects: how is such a knowledge system structured, how is it acquired, how is it used in the production and comprehension of messages, how does it change over time?’
Whether you are a CEO, entrepreneur or founder, to add cognitive psychologist to your skill set is a natural progression. As Fast Company defines it, ‘a cognitive psychologist is a cartographer of the human mind who maps how people perceive and observe, think and reason, act and react.’ How far away is that really from what you already try and do on a daily basis in order to be successful?
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