The Better Work Project: The Human Work Machine

26 November

The most powerful tool knowledge workers have is their brain. But how much do we really know about how our brains work?  How do we process information and react in work environments? In this podcast, we explore how can we maximise our thinking power to create happier and healthier workplaces.


  • Our brain operates on survival and efficiency, it also focuses in on the status quo.
  • Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow explains our brain as having two systems. System one is fast, intuitive, and emotional and system two is slower, more deliberate, and more logical.
  • We have to understand that these systems are hardwired in our brain. We judge people at a trust and competency level instinctively without even realising it.
  • We need to be aware of what circumstances these systems get triggered, and also how to override these systems, particularly system one.
  • Our mindsets can become distorted when related to solving complex issues and rapid change.
  • There’s no bypassing the limbic brain's initial processing. The brain is focused on survival and efficiency, and will go into a fight, flight or freeze response.
  • The SCARF model from the NeuroLeadership Institute can help us to discover what our particular triggers are. The SCARF model encompasses status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness, and each of these will have varying levels of threat that will trigger us.
  • Intentionality can help us to get out of the ‘red zone’. We need to have awareness to shift our thinking patterns.
  • Women often adopt a tend and befriend approach to survival.
  • When your brain is acting in survival mode, you become very selfish and the more fearful you are, the more selfish you get.
  • Our pessimistic, evolutionary biology creates negative self-talk. Those thoughts are like warning messages. They're not something we have to respond to or accept. We can challenge these messages and explore where they might have come from to figure out how to move forward.
  • Reframing can be a way to make sense of our response. For instance, rather than affirming that we are nervous, the adrenaline generated from something like public speaking could be reframed as excitement.
  • We often choose to stay where we are at because it’s comfortable and tangible. Our brains are going to play games with us to keep us there.  We have to build the techniques up to be able to force ourselves out of that box.
  • The survival mechanism has made us focus more on negative aspects such as loss regret.
  • Our brains will overestimate how people might respond to feedback so we’ll steer away from having a candid conversation.
  • We need to be aware that the brain seeks familiarity, so we need to be open to people with views that differ to our own.
  • Exercise is a very powerful tool to get the right neurochemicals in your brain to start feeding a better and stronger growth mindset. Other useful tools include meditation, adopting tiny habits and getting sufficient sleep.  
  • From a physiological point of view, when you start learning the brain generates norepinephrine, a type of adrenaline which is a stimulant for your brain, so when you start learning, you're going to feel some discomfort.
  • Over time the brain will create dopamine that creates excitement about learning. 




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