- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The best contribution that Neurosciences can make to Management and Leadership is to leave the room

I have talked a lot in the past about the Neurobabble Fallacy. I know this makes many people uncomfortable. I have friends and family in the Neuro-something business. There is neuro-marketing, neuro-leadership and neuro-lots-of-things. Some of that stuff is legitimate. For example, understanding how cognitive systems react to signals and applying this to advertising. If you want to call that neuro-marketing, so be it. But beyond those prosaic aims, there is a whole industry of neuro-anything that aggressively attempts to legitimize itself by bringing in pop-neurosciences to dinner every day.

Neuro-leadership is one of those suspects. It tries to link brain functionality to leadership. Of course brain functionality can be linked to anything that has a brain. Since we are not quite sure what that thing called ’leadership’ is about, the linkage is a tricky one.

Are there correlations between the firing of those neurons, the waking up of those circuits and feeling rewarded by a business achievement? You bet. Do those circuits also fire when gambling and wining? Most likely. And after a good date on Saturday night?? Yep. Does it mean that gambling can be understood by studying business achievement? Why not? The other way around? Dating? Why not. So… are we then talking ‘rewarding systems’ in the brain? You bet. OK!

Wait a minute! Are we perhaps talking correlation? That makes a lot of sense. However, just to remind everybody, there is a strong correlation between the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool and the number of films in which Nicolas Cage appeared. Which does not link swimming pool safety with film making. For other correlation data such as the strong connection between the divorce rate in Maine, and the per capita consumption of margarine, visit this [1].

I am making enemies by the minute. I know. I am oversimplifying. Yes. Maybe. Apologies, neuro-friends. I am certainly disgusted by the amount of neuro-bullshit that leadership/management and other disciplines built upon shaky foundations are willing to swallow to legitimise themselves.

Do I have any qualifications to have an opinion on these bridges too far? In my previous professional life I was a clinical psychiatrist with special interest in psychopharmacology. I used to teach that stuff in the University. I then did a few years in R&D in pharmaceuticals. I then left those territories to run our Organizational Architecture company, The Chalfont Project. I have some ideas about brains, and some about leadership and organizations. I insist, let both sides have a good cup of tea together, but when the cup of tea is done, go back to work to your separate offices.

The transferability of models between disciplines is not a sin. But I remind everybody of Alan Sokal’s ‘Intellectual Impostors’. Here is an old summary of mine:

The “Sokal Syndrome”: Intellectual nudity, Intellectual Impostures, Mind Grafitters and Airport Books Business School Graduates [2]

And if you have time The hard sell of a big theme supported by dubious, incoherent but dramatically presented evidence [3]

I will neuro-stop my ranting now