Nano tools and neuroscience

Eagle360 isn’t really a technology company. Our goal is to help individuals and organisations improve their performance – we just happen to focus on technology as the best way to do it.

Recently, we’ve been exploring how to incorporate neuroscience with technology to better our – and our clients’ – performance. Nano tools are a great example. They’re a low-cost, low-impact way to implement small changes that could transform your business.

Eagle360 founder and CEO Claudius Sithole is a big fan of nano tools and has been thinking about practical ways to deploy them. He said that ‘studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that the use of these [nano] tools can … foster innovative thinking.’ He’s enthusiastic – and we think you should be too.

Nano tools and neuroscience: helping us to use our brains better

So what, then, is a ‘nano tool’? Simple: it’s a neuroscience-based work tool or process that helps our minds to function better. Research is helping us to understand creativity, productivity, brainstorming, problem-solving and other mental processes.

The findings are as startling as they are simple: sometimes, we should step away from a task we’re stuck on.

It’s a far cry from old-school management talk, which emphasised the value of workers being ‘chained’ to their workstations and the wastefulness of idle office chat, having a spell in the lunchroom, or even taking a break to walk around the block when working on an important task.

As the wharton@work blog noted several years ago, ‘neuroscience is giving us important information about innovative thinking – where it takes place in the brain and how to stimulate it.’ More to the point, it noted that we have two core systems: one for focusing on known tasks and another for finding creative solutions to new problems.

The challenge is that accessing our creative side is harder if we’re in ‘focus’ mode; as the blog explained, ‘when people have responsibilities involving duties they already know how to do, neurologically they can’t “think outside the box.” Research shows that stress also blocks the exploration and creativity system.’

Better living through (brain) chemistry

The key to good management is understanding how your team members function. And while that depends in large measure on understanding their capabilities and motivations, it also depends on understanding two important neurochemicals: norepinephrine and dopamine.

‘Norepinephrine is released in response to stress and plays a role in attention and focus,’ Claudius said. ‘In the context of work, this can be crucial for task execution. Norepinephrine helps to stimulate the brain and body, allowing us to pay more attention and respond more effectively to our tasks at hand.

‘Dopamine, on the other hand, is often associated with our reward system. It is associated with divergent thinking (generating many new ideas), a process crucial for innovation. When dopamine levels are high, people tend to be more adventurous, creative, and open to new ideas.’

That’s why Eagle360 now has mandatory ‘Digital Detox’ periods. Every employee is required to spend at least 30 minutes each day ‘completely unplugged from all digital devices.’

Maybe it’s a lunch break, or some time spent at a desk, but whatever shape it takes, it’s a chance to read, meditate, do some light exercise (such as a walk) or simply take a bit of time to themselves. It helps team members to rebalance their norepinephrine and dopamine and stay in good mental (and emotional) shape.

Employees must log their time, and the HR team periodically checks to ensure everyone’s ‘detoxing.’

‘Taking regular short breaks away from digital screens can boost focus, creativity, and overall well-being,’ Claudius said, which benefits employees and organisations alike.

Four nano tools to try today

How do these insights translate into nano tools for team management in your business? Simple: create an environment that balances stimuli for both task execution (e.g. clear task objectives) and innovative thinking (e.g. rewards for idea generation and innovative solutions).

Nano tools don’t need to be complex or expensive. You may even be using some of them now. In addition to Eagle360’s Digital Detox, you could try the Wharton blog’s four examples of nano techniques to boost innovation:

  • Step away: Think about a problem and get it clear in your head – then do something else for a while. Your subconscious will keep working on it. (This is where our seemingly random ‘eureka!’ moments come from.)
  • Unplug: Reduce stress and make it easier to access your creative side by reading a book, meditating, going for a walk or doing some gardening. Get away from your computer, tablet, phone, smartwatch and other gadgets to avoid their attention-grabbing alerts and prompts.
  • Mingle: Talk and socialise with your fellow workers. It boosts your creativity, and you may pick up a (seemingly) random fact or opinion that unlocks the solution to a problem you’ve been working on.
  • Split up: Working in teams has many advantages, but it’s crucial to get the right balance between different personalities, experiences and capabilities. Not everyone is a creative genius, not everyone knows how to turn ideas into practical solutions and not everyone knows how to hold a team together. But if your teams contain all the capabilities they need, then the results should follow.

Adopting these for yourself and your team may well provide the ‘circuit breakers’ you need to overcome obstacles, solve problems and improve productivity. Best of all, they’re essentially free. What’s stopping you?

How to unlock your brain

No matter how you do it, we’re confident that if you commit to using nano tools, you’ll benefit from your own – and your team’s – better focus on known challenges and more innovative approaches to new ones.

So, try something today. And if you get stuck for inspiration or just want to kick your ideas around a bit, contact us anytime. We’re in enjoying nano tools’ benefits and we think you should too.

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