Andrea Belk Olson headshot Andrea Belk Olson

In times of Crisis, Don’t let your Reptile Brain take over

There is something you can’t see that is getting in the way of moving your business forward, even in these unprecedented times. It is hidden from view, but it raises strong emotions in your team that make them resistant to change. Buried deep beneath all that grey matter that deals with creativity, intelligence, collaboration, etc. (the neocortex or ‘human brain’) is a small evolutionary building block of life. Our ancestors’ reptilian brain from millions of years ago is still there and occasionally, when you least expect it, it takes control.

The reptilian brain controls the fight or flight instinct, one of the strongest impulses a human being has. It also has another name: resistance to change. When it’s triggered, there is no room for reasoning or creativity, it takes over completely. We would all rather the neocortex that provides intelligence and rational thinking to be in control instead of a largely uncontrollable reptile. The trouble is, it can be triggered not just by physical threats but by anticipated social or emotional discomfort too, so it’s important to set up the working environment to avoid any triggers and help your leadership team understand how to manage this behavior. Otherwise, the result can be blame, indifference, and a lack of engagement.

How then, do you avoid activating this rudimentary way of thinking?

Put simply, it’s about involving people in change from the onset and trusting them to be a part of the innovation creation and change process. Humans are naturally driven to improve their situation and that of the people around them – we wouldn’t have engineers, artists, or entrepreneurs otherwise.

Most companies will find they have a huge untapped resource of creativity, innovation, and enthusiasm if they allow their teams’ ample control over improving their area of responsibility. Empowering them (with the right tools and support) to respond to threats and opportunities through collaboration and open communication.

To foster this, there are four key things every organization needs to put in place. First, establish a clear, customer-centric mission that the organization can passionately get behind. (e.g. Tesla’s vision for a sustainable future). Second, create and foster a culture where your people can exchange ideas and opinions openly. Third, give them the tools, power, and accountability for decision-making in their own area of responsibility. Fourth, leadership needs to be supportive and open to new ideas that stray from the status quo and not turn a blind eye to threats that might turn your organization upside down.

Again, when we think about growth and culture in this time of continual change, we need to set aside our reptilian way of thinking and be open to the change and innovations that will help us succeed in the long run.

(some excerpts from “The Reptilian Brain”, Psychology Today)

About the Author:

Andrea Olson is a strategist, speaker, author, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO at Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been featured in news sources such as Chief Executive MagazineCustomer Experience MagazineIndustry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

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