This isn’t about recycling, it’s about lifelong learning and brain plasticity. If you care about your brain and those of your team, read on.
Guess what, old dogs can learn new tricks. Our brains have the capacity to grow and re-wire throughout our lives. And if we don’t keep learning…? Exactly, brains gradually erode, leading to decreased cognitive function and memory lapses. This is brain plasticity, aka neuroplasticity, in action. [i]
Don’t believe this? Read Debbie Hampton’s story of how she came through decades of depression, a suicide attempt and resulting brain injury to thrive and prosper. [ii]
"Those with a growth mindset understand that new skills can be learned and that anyone can get smarter if they put the work in."
How it works
This plasticity is created by the neural pathways that connect distant parts of our brains. Every time we think, feel or do something, we strengthen a particular pathway. Habits are nothing more than well-trodden neural paths, which is why it's easier to carry on doing the same things than it is to do something new.
Conversely, new learning carves out new pathways which, repeated, strengthen. It means we all have the ability to rewire our brains, to become a leader, become better at what we do, or simply calmer and happier.
And it’s never too late. Research has shown that neuroplasticity and the building of new neural pathways can occur in the brains of those well past retirement age. [iii]
Grow your brain muscle and you'll be rewarded with faster processing, better memory, increased creativity and improved problem solving skills.
A growth mindset
This is where it starts. Your brain won’t grow unless you believe in your own neuroplasticity – and your potential for growth. Those with a growth mindset understand that new skills can be learned and that anyone can get smarter if they put the work in. They are the ones who will sign up for a course, volunteer to lead a project or bag that meeting with a senior who can give valuable guidance.
It goes deeper. This isn’t just about learning new things, it can be about unlearning bad habits or fixed responses to unpleasant emotions, including addictive and self-sabotaging behaviours. The key lesson here is that we should all take ownership of our own mind’s destiny.
The business benefits
But companies can do their bit too. Those that invest in their employees’ learning create multiple benefits:
- Increased employee expertise leads to better collective outcomes and faster, overall business growth
- Boosting the learner’s morale has a positive ripple effect throughout the organisation
- Helping learners stave off cognitive decline has positive effects for society as a whole.
Managers, get plastic!
Step outside your own parameters when it comes to your team and start thinking flexibly about what each individual could offer. This demands imagination i.e. neuroplasticity, as we all tend to make decisions about people that remain fixed. Employees who have a lot more to offer can feel stuck and resentful – consider that you might be perpetuating this.
Instead, ensure everyone understands the power of a growth mindset, and how they can transform their brains, and lives, through learning. Tell them you believe in them, give them opportunities to learn, and the sky’s the limit.
[iii] Rakic, P. (January 2002). "Neurogenesis in adult primate neocortex: an evaluation of the evidence". Nature Reviews Neuroscience.