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Everyone agrees that for organisations, ?people are their greatest asset? today. Yet Bill Lucas believes that few arts organisations show any real commitment to understanding the most important part of any person, their mind.
Few seem to have realised how much we have discovered in the last decade about neuroscience and cognitive psychology. So, while Susan Greenfield may have popularised the science of the mind on TV, it has hardly impacted on the arts world?s view of management development or learning. For too many organisations this has meant assuming that everything can be solved by online learning. This is not the case. While computers and electronic media offer a number of new communication and development options, the real answer lies between the ears rather than on the laptop. To be successful, every employee and every manager needs to know how their brain works and how they can apply this knowledge in their working life.

First principles

Take three important brain principles, for example. First, the brain needs the right blend of challenge and stress. We all need to be challenged but not too much. If we are pushed too hard, the most primitive part of our brain demands our survival and calls on us to fight or flee, draining blood away from the parts of our brain devoted to higher order thinking. In situations of stress, we forget how to complete a normally instinctive activity. Our short-term memory deserts us as we panic. Most of us will have had experience of this, on or off a stage!

Secondly, your brain loves both the security of patterns and the excitement of making new connections. Try folding your arms naturally and then the other way round and you?ll see what I mean. Your brain prefers the pattern it knows best, but is perfectly capable of doing it the other way. Always ?fold your arms? in the same way in your daily life and creativity is stifled. Many small scale arts venues have been slow to adopt new styles of management development.

Thirdly, all brains like to be given information in a variety of different ways and to get the big picture. We need the visual, the aural and the experiential. To make sense of data we also need to understand the whole. Too often we are asked to solve a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the picture on the lid of the box. Surprisingly, many of the arts organisations I know, while being excellent at developing and promoting plays, dances, music, poetry, exhibitions and events, are not at all good at managing information internally.

Performance enhancement

Any organisation that really applied these principles would enhance its performance, creativity and internal communications. Understanding the mind has a dramatic impact on our understanding of the learning process. In fact learning to learn is essentially a matter of ready, go, steady. You need to be emotionally ready, in good physical shape and motivated. Then you need to go for it, using a range of practical techniques to make your learning more effective. And finally, you need to be steady in the face of many conflicting pressures, making sure that you put your learning into practice, changing and adapting accordingly. Too many organisations expend ludicrous amounts of money training people who are simply not ready to learn and too little time applying the results of learning so that behaviours are adapted beneficially.

While I was writing ?Power up your mind?, I interviewed a number of leaders and managers to find out how brain-based approaches are influencing their thinking. Increasingly they are looking for the practical applications of neuro-science, often relying on instinct and common-sense. Take just two areas, creativity and communications.

Two things struck me forcibly about creativity and learning. With a high premium on good ideas, leaders want to know how to get them. Interestingly, not one of the people I spoke to got their best ideas at work. Walking (Joyce Taylor, Discovery MD), periods of ?minimal activity? (Sir Bob Reid) and running or showering (Jayne Anne-Gadhia, Virgin One Account MD) all featured. Knowing that the brain runs at a slower ?alpha wave? state helps to explain this.

Consciously seeking new experiences to learn creatively from was high on the agenda too. So, Sir Michael Bichard, then Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education and Science, diaries idea-gathering time to visit ground-breaking projects and Neil Chambers, Natural History Museum Director, sent his top team to Disney World to see a different style of customer care.

In terms of communication, many leaders, aware of their own preferences for the visual, are starting to change the way communications are done in their businesses. Hilary Cropper, FI Group CEO, told me: ?I like pictures. Drawing an idea gets a concept across more clearly than numbers?. Chris Mellor, Group MD of Anglian Water, spoke of thinking in metaphors and stories. They might have added that these also use a different part of your brain. And the AA and Centrica have really put this into practice by creating an interactive ?learnibition? to enable call centre staff to see the new company vision in its totality and learn about customer care.

Golden rules for all

The leaders I spoke to were mainly working in the business sector and tended to be running large organisations. Yet most arts organisations are not for profit and small. So, does that invalidate the findings? Not a bit. As someone who knows this sector well, I can assure you that the issues are very similar. Pressures of time, money, access, availability and suitability affect both worlds.

So does this mean that all arts managers have to become neuroscientists? Hardly. But there are some simple things that they could do:

? Ensure that all employees understand the basics of how their minds work and how factors like diet and fitness impact on this.

? Always give the big picture. Use stories, pictures and experience as the core of communication strategy and dialogue as the method of ensuring maximum engagement.

? Make sure that people are emotionally ready to learn by investing in interactive internal communication and by ensuring that you understand what motivates different members of staff.

? Make training activities more integral to all the changes you are planning.

Anticipate the feelings which accompany any change and build in ways of supporting people through this.

? Develop the competence of managers to keep challenge and stress in balance by helping them to understand the impact of stress on performance, and how to learn ways of keeping themselves healthy.

Arts organisations are full of committed people who undoubtedly care about each other. But simply saying or believing this is not enough in itself: organisations need to get more out of the minds of their people and really find out how they learn best if they want to develop the full potential of their staff. Use online learning as a valuable element of a varied approach to learning and development, but work to understand the operating systems of your own mind as a greater priority.

Bill Lucas is Chief Executive of the Campaign for Learning, Chair of Pegasus Theatre in Oxford and author of ?Power up your mind; learn faster, work smarter? from which the ideas in this article are taken. Contact him through w: http://www.powerupyour mind.com