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Grant Reilly


11th May 2021

Tammy Watchorn

Are the digital solutions we want to implement brain friendly?

This DHI guest blog is written by Tammy Watchorn and looks at how to help create rewarding and safe approaches to change.

Imagine if you can a bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, you’re alone in your thoughts as you prepare to do something you’ve never done before.

You can’t hear much for the roaring of the engine and there’s quite a strong breeze.

You are about to leap from an airplane.

Take a second to imagine what that feels like. How is your body reacting? Are you filled with excitement and anticipation or filled with fear and dread?

Now imagine someone has come along and said:

See that thing you’ve always done, in that way you’ve always done it… well we’ve come up with something different and better and you need to get on board with it because it will be good for you”.

Do you feel excited or have slight anxiety?

What’s wrong with what we've always done” might be your first thought?

You will all be aware of the fight or flight response when the brain misses out the logical thinking bit and jumps straight to the fear response without us even being aware of it.

It does this because that’s how we evolved. To seek out danger and to react instantly when there is no time to think.

It also does it to conserve energy (the brain is energy-hungry).

And still, whenever the brain sees something as new, different, unrecognisable, a change, it is much more likely to react as it might towards a sabre tooth tiger or jumping from a plane (and if you felt excited about the jump… I’m guessing you didn’t notice I never mentioned a parachute). It sees the change as a potential threat to survival and we then respond to the brain biology that is triggered which makes us feel the way we do and act the way we act.

So what does this mean for digital health, digital innovation, and scale-up of new technologies? And what does it mean for you?

You most likely embrace change and innovation and see it as a good thing, a reward and that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing.

I’m also pretty certain that one of your biggest challenges is convincing others it’s the right thing to do and that the outcome will be a good one for them.

We can be so enthusiastic about our projects, you know the ones you’ve also had time to get used to and work through what the benefits (rewards) are. And this can make us miss subtleties in others that suggest they might not be quite as enthusiastic. (Again, imagine the plane story, imagine you are petrified and how you might you respond to the wacky guy jumping up and down in front of you telling you this is going to be truly AMAZING).

If we start off potentially scaring people, then it will take a lot longer to convince them that this change really is a good one (there’s normally a reason why people dig their heels in). Even if they say yes and nod and smile, inside they might very well be having the very same anxious feelings of jumping out of a plane or needing to run from that tiger.

So what can you do?

Firstly, be aware of this.

If your audience behaves like blockers it’s quite possible that they are experiencing the fight or flight mode feelings.

Whether it’s trying to convince older people about the value of an app; a team of nurses about a new gadget that, with some training and testing will ‘improve’ their already frantic job, or a team of consultants that the latest AI technology is not there to replace them but to give them time back; try and approach it in a brain-friendly way.

Using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works well because it uses auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic learning and helps people tell a story and explore the feelings and emotions that go with the story giving you all insight on feelings/ behaviours that might need to shift.

Getting users to build what they would like as outcomes can give you the insights to share digital solutions in a way that they see as a reward rather than fear.

Exploring fixed and growth mindsets with teams you want to adopt your solution help them to take on the solution in a way that makes them more curious to learn and explore rather than see it as something they don’t understand and don’t want to/have time to learn.

Making your neurobiology and body chemistry work for you (rather than against you) and helping others to shift into a more resourceful state (by leveraging their neurobiology) is becoming one of the most powerful tools that managers can learn to facilitate change and influence others.[Tibisay Vera, Neuroscientist]

So next time you get frustrated wondering why “not everyone gets it” even though the solution makes perfect logical sense, first be mindful of how you are feeling (what are the emotions and how you might shift them?), and second imagine what they might be feeling and what their emotions might be that’s resulting in the behaviour you are seeing.

Has their fear response kicked in do you think? Rather than trying to convince them they’re wrong, try some brain-friendly approaches that will help trick the brain into seeing the change as a reward.


Learn more

Dr. Tammy Watchorn, An Sás Consulting - After many years of driving change within the NHS, I decided to do the same but from the outside. This has enabled me to develop and test new products that really focus on people, new ways of working, and understanding how we can shift behaviours and mindsets to deliver great outcomes for health.

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