Thursday, September 06, 2012

-By Srini Pillay, M.D

In Greece, the collapse of "growth after 2008, in combination with soaring public and external deficits, led to the escalation of Greek debt (Christodoulakis 2011). Following this, fear of change, stress, insecurity and the loss of morale are persistent challenges that companies face when trying to recover or maintain a competitive edge (Konstantopoulos, Sakas et al. 2009). While many obvious insights can be gained from observing how employees behave, brain-based insights can help accelerate strategies with unique insights. "Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear” now published in Greek, offers details on these strategies.

Below is a summary of some main points:

  1. Moving Beyond Unconscious Fear: Brain science proves that even when you do not feel afraid, unconscious fear can disrupt your attention, concentration, motivation and drive to complete tasks. Significance: If productivity is being affected by lack of concentration and poor motivation, consider what actually decreases activation in the brain’s fear center because unconscious fear is likely playing a role. Two methods: re-appraisal and refocusing when learned, internalized and consistently applied to communication with employees can change brain activation and help people focus more on increasing speed to execution.
  2. Overcoming Dread: Brain science teaches us that the dread of being fired or having to face an uncertain future is actually caused when we feel as though we are facing a wall. When this happens, the brain switches its activation away from an "extreme anxiety” area to a "freeze area.” Workers just stop being productive. Significance: In these instances, it is better to be anxious than frozen. Brain science teaches us that one way to free the brain up when it is at a dead-end is to switch the activation way from the area that causes freezing. To do this, it is helpful to know that the brain will move out of frozen mode if you make a small choice (any choice) rather than think about the correct choice endlessly. Also, learning how to think long-term may seem obvious now, but when faced by a wall, we often forget this. Doing this will change your brain activation accordingly. Making the brain less goal-oriented and more "big picture” focused can help at times when you are stuck.
  3. Fear of success: While many people fear failure, most leaders do not recognize how they fear success. Success means you have to live up to something, and also that you may fall from a greater height, or that you may be out in front with nobody to follow and alone. Significance: Learning how to switch the brain’s attention to growth rather than being defensive actually affects how your brain will work to help you. Sometimes, trying to prevent yourself from falling actually makes you fall. Understanding the brain science of this can help you frame things more effectively for you and your team.
  4. If it’s hard to change, it’s not unchangeable: People often feel like they are faced with impossible tasks. Many years ago, if I asked you if it would be possible to go to the moon or to end smallpox, these feats would have seemed too large. Brain conditioning can limit our imaginations. Significance: Understanding how to reverse brain conditioning can be helpful: the basis of this is changing what keeps you stuck in your current context, analyzing your switch cost (the cost of change) and learning how to use your brain to increase commitment to a new path.
  5. Unlocking a caged heart: Fear affects relationships: it makes mergers more difficult and joint ventures impossible. The brains of those who are afraid of such business intimacy may lose out on opportunities. Significance: The relationship brain that is afraid of being "burned” by past partners, may lose out on idea- growing and cost-saving opportunities in new joint ventures. By understanding how the brain processes this fear of relatedness, businesses can start to help potential partners grow from being avoidant or anxious to more secure in building a new future together.
  6. Fear and Prejudice: People are prejudiced about Greece because of recent events. They may be prejudiced even if they don’t know it. This makes banks not want to lend money and customers not want to buy. Significance: By understanding how fear lies at the basis of brain-based prejudice, you can help to reverse the prejudice in lenders and customers to help grow your business.
  7. How to develop emotional superglue: When companies lose money and do not grow, they are traumatized. This trauma actually biases brain memory-the memory center gets stuck in only recalling the bad things. Significance: There are ways to rewire that brain that can rewire these memory centers. In fact, these memory centers are one of the most responsive to specific behavioral changes. Brain science can help us understand what we can do to focus on building new memories. For example, research shows that debriefing may create relief but actually cement memories in the brain more. Focusing on what makes you resilient helps to lay down new brain pathways.
  8. Thus, brain science applied to business can be very helpful in making us think of new strategies that will be instrumental in overcoming fear so as to move our businesses forward. In Greece, it is critical to activate the memories of Greek history that once made Greece one of the most influential nations in the world. DNA is highly resistant to change. And resilience and the capacity for brilliant ideas is still in the DNA of Greek society. If we learn how to use this gift of history in practical and effective ways, this can help move Greece forward. Brain science is a useful way to do this as it offers practical and step-by-step advice on ways that people, who are at the heart of businesses in Greece, can change.


Christodoulakis, N. (2011). "FROM INDECISION TO FAST-TRACK PRIVATISATIONS: CAN GREECE STILL DO IT?" National Institute Economic Review 217(1): R60-R74.
Konstantopoulos, N., D. Sakas, et al. (2009). "Lessons from a case study for Greek banking M&A negotiations." Management Decision 47(8): 1300-1312.