Last week there was a conference in Manchester titled NeuroBusiness 2015, billed as the ‘first of its kind in the UK’. Actually the ‘neuroleadership‘ guys have been doing similar stuff for ages. They have some serious conceptual issues, and there’s also an excellent piece on TheConversation.com about neuro-quackery in business and education. NeuroBusiness 2015 took it to a whole new level though. On the front page of their website there’s a quote from Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester, which reads:
“I very much welcome the opportunity to bring neuroscientists together with business.”
This is a noble aim, but apparently no-one let the conference organisers know about it, as browsing the list of speakers quickly reveals that there were no neuroscientists invited. None. The closest we have is Dr Jenny Brockis who appears to be a medic who found a more lucrative calling in Brain-fitness-related motivational speaking (*yawn*) and Dr Paul Brown, a clinical psychologist who has…. let’s say, an ‘interesting’ background, with various academic appointments in South-East Asia. Dr Brown is also the author of the book ‘Neuropsychology for Coaches’, the title of which suggests he doesn’t really know what the term ‘neuropsychology‘ refers to. Unless of course it’s a book for American Football coaches who have to deal with regular traumatic brain injuries in their players, which I doubt.
Anyway, I’ve no idea if the conference was a roaring success or not, since, as a neuroscientist, I wasn’t invited. What I do know is that it turned into an utter debacle on Twitter. Conference attendees started tweeting nonsensical things like:
“Hack your brains dopamine to become addicted to success!”
“Men’s brains fire back to front, women’s fire side to side. That’s why women multi task well”
…and the neuroscientists on Twitter quickly and gleefully piled on with sarcasm, jokes and general rubbishing. At one point it became really rather difficult to detect which were genuine #neurobusiness2015 tweets and which were fake sarcastic ones. I did notice there were significantly less tweets from the conference on day 2 – was some announcement made? It was all jolly good fun for us neuroscientists, but I did start to feel a bit sorry for the conference organisers at some point.
However, I have a suggestion. One which would prevent something like this happening again. If any of the conference organisers happen to be reading this, my suggestion for NeuroBusiness 2016 (if it happens) is this:
INVITE SOME NEUROSCIENTISTS. People who actually know something about the brain. Some of us are actually quite engaging speakers, who would relish the opportunity to emerge from our dark basement labs, and spend a day interacting with normal people. We’re not all massive nerds, obsessed with the abstract minutiae of our particular area of research. Well… I mean, we actually are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t function normally as well. Some of us even like to think about how neuroscience can be applied in every-day life too. Just have a look around at people’s CVs and publications, and pick a few good ones. Or have a look on Speakezee, or even just send me an email through this site, and I’ll send you a list of suggestions.
Business people – it’s great that you’re interested in the brain. We get it. We are too, that’s why we do what we do. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who have realised that sticking the neuro- prefix on some old load of bollocks is a jolly good whizz-bang way to make loads of money on the motivational speaking circuit. If your computer breaks, you wouldn’t call a motivational speaker, would you? You’d call an IT expert. If you want to know about the brain – ask a neuroscientist.
Reblogged this on People Performance Potential and commented:
A very thoughtful and constructive piece from a neuroscientist.
I’ve blogged before on the need for discernment when it comes to business trying to use neuroscience. It seems there is still a long way to go…
Thanks! I did feel a little bad about the reaction on Twitter, so tried to be as constructive as I could…
Really enjoyed reading this. I’m not an expert but I know enough that a ‘neuroscience’ seminar session that’s actually about mindfulness isn’t it. (Nothing against mindfulness at all btw, but just don’t call it neuro!) Anyway, I’m currently mid Dr Paul Brown’s book & believed it was good stuff. What would you recommend to read instead? – for a coach who cares about helping clients to understand how their brain affects their behaviour and results?
Hi Helen, thanks for the comment. Recommendations are tricky in this area, as I’m no expert on the coaching literature, but I can recommend a couple of good recent accessible neuroscience books.
1. 50 human brain ideas you really need to know by Mo Costandi. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Brain-Ideas-Really-Need/dp/1780879105/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436768397&sr=8-1&keywords=50+human+brain+ideas
2. Great myths of the brain, by Christian Jarrett. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Myths-Brain-Psychology/dp/1118312716/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436768433&sr=8-1&keywords=great+myths+of+the+brain
Finally, an absolute classic that I recommend to everyone. Not neuroscience, but the best bit of writing on applied psychology that I know of: Irrationality, by Stuart Sutherland.
I think that more interaction between businesses, educational institutions and neuroscience may suggest more informed approaches to management of neural resources, as well as cost-effective solutions. One of the barriers for this cooperation is communication. I can imagine that businesses may not have access to and can be easily put off scientific papers filled with specialist terms. Businesses may not know where to start with their exploration of relevant neuroscientific research and how to determine which research is relevant, in the first place. Motivational talks come in handy and are much more accessible. Communication from neuroscientists gets distorted along the line. Could the link between neuroscience and businesses be a connection fibre yet to be discovered?
There is definitely a big gap between neuroscience researchers, and the people who are keen on trying to implement applied neuro-based stuff at the moment, and unfortunately it’s currently mostly being filled by opportunist flimflam artists. I think more needs to be done on both sides to try and close that gap and get some genuine dialogue going.
Ei4Change was one of the organisers of NeuroBusiness2015 and I would be happy to reply to some of your very valid concerns and criticisms. I, too, share your concerns about the prefix neuro- to a load of old bollocks. My concern is also that the bandwagon considers the brain in isolation and completely overlooks the neurophysiology of the the rest of the person.
The conference was extremely successful for a completely new venture. The main focus was on the application of neuroscience in business. There were many presenters and speakers who had experience of working to bridge the gap between the two disciplines.
The most rewarding sessions were from business leaders and consultants who delivered relevant case studies on Day 2.
We approached a number of neuroscientists from leading universities and business schools but none showed any interest in getting involved. There were plenty of excuses or no response whatsoever.
We were pleased to have some lectures from the Occupational Psychology department of Manchester Metropolitian University who attended as they were keen to interact with local businesses and learn more.
There were also people speaking and presenting from the Association for Business Psychology. We have good links with both the organisations and they have been very supportive.
Lets have further conversations and work towards collaborating as we plan further NeuroBusiness activities in the future. Your support and input will be greatly valued.
Hi, many thanks for getting in touch. I’m very glad the event was a success for the attendees, and it sounds like the Day 2 content (which I didn’t really see much about on twitter) was valuable.
I’m sorry to hear that you got a poor response from the scientists you approached. On further reflection, I guess it’s not altogether surprising. Most successful scientists are busy people, and heavily engaged in their particular research area; asking them to take a day away from their research for what might seem (to them) to be an unproductive event talking to businesses might be a hard sell. I think this really underlines the point that there is currently a big gap between the researchers, and the people (not just businesses, but educators as well) who want to apply neuroscience in their work. What’s going to be crucial in closing that gap is action from *both sides*. Scientists need to realise that public engagement work like this can be really valuable, and that may require a bit of a culture-change, particularly among the older ones.
My only real suggestion, is that perhaps you were chasing the ‘big names’. Successful professors etc. Maybe inviting more junior people (post-doc researchers, even PhD students?) would get you a better response. Younger researchers might be more open to engaging with the outside world, will have more time, and would probably be more grateful for the opportunity.
As you say, let’s keep talking about this. Email neurobollocks [at] gmail [dot] com if you like!
Thanks again for the feedback – extremely valuable.
Thank you for your considered response.
We contacted all the universities and business schools within a 50 mile radius of Manchester asking to meet to look at how we could involve them in our plans. These included some very well known academics working in the field of neuroscience and psychology. Despite numerous emails and phone calls, we were deafened by the silence!
Through our network, we booked a Professor from Manchester Metropolitan University as a keynote speaker but he quickly withdrew when we were unable to meet his expectations of “a jolly good whizz-bang way to make loads of money on the motivational speaking circuit”. We were disappointed as he would have really added something special to the agenda.
For more details about day 2 published in the digital edition of North West Business Insider’s July 2015 visit issuehttp://www.insidermedia.com/insider/national/142850-talking-point-brain-power
Oh dear – that’s incredibly depressing actually! My apologies for implying in my original post that you hadn’t invited any neuroscientists – it seems that you actually invited loads, but none of them could be bothered to attend!
Perhaps I’ve wildly underestimated my colleagues’ interest/willingness to engage in this kind of thing… If so, that’s extremely depressing. I think it’s a vital part of what we do as scientists. It really is a poor reflection on us if we snark at these things on Twitter, but can’t actually be bothered to engage with them properly.
Lots to think about here – thanks again.
I attended the conference as someone, in business, who wants to help my clients lead and manage their employees in the most effective way possible. My education was scientific in nature and I inwardly sigh every time some motivational marketing expert tells me they have a scientific proof for something that just happens to earn them a lot of money. I would dearly love to hear some rigorous scientific ideas about how leadership works, but I am cynical enough to know that the vast bulk of the information out there is simplistic bollocks, with little or no intellectual rigour and only the most empirical of evidence to support it. All that being said, I have sat through enough of these to filter out the nonsense and take whatever nuggets I can albeit with a pinch of salt. But there were nuggets at the conference and some models for leadership and management that were useful, but it would be so much better if the business world and the scientific establishment could get together on this. Both sides would have to swallow a fair amount of pride, but didn’t the renaissance show us that putting people from different traditions together is one of the most effective ways of enhancing learning.
Thank you for the suggested reading, I can feel myself reaching for those tax dodgers amazon as I type!!
I certainly agree with the tone and sentiments of the last few posts. It strikes me that both ‘parties’ would be worse off without each other. Not quite a true symbiotic relationshop but much stronger for it. I hope Neurobollocks sets the example for his colleagues to follow. I for one would be fascinated to see what I could learn from your work.
I think the organizers and their guests also fail to grasp the fact that there’s an enormous difference between the brain and the mind. I suspect it’s the ‘mind’ that interests the business community more than the ‘brain’ – looking for ways to con consumers into purchasing more of their products, no doubt.
Knowing Dr Jenny Brockis on both a personal and professional level, I think you have been vastly unfair to her. To firstly say she ‘appears’ to be a medic is nasty and incorrect. She is a medical doctor. She does not represent herself as a neuroscientist, nor has she ever claimed to be one. But she damned well earned her medical degree, so please show her the respect of her title. I could say you ‘appear’ to be a complete git, but usually I think you have some valid points, plus I don’t feel it’s constructive to resort to personal attacks, so I won’t.
I can also state definitively that the day Dr Brockis calls herself a ‘motivational speaker’ is the day I discover the cure for my own Young Onset Parkinson’s – i.e. when hell freezes over. She has just written an excellent book on neuroplasticity, firmly targeted at people who want to understand it at a business level, and guess what? Her source material is respected, well-founded neuroscience, and she makes that point clear. She also makes it clear how indebted she is to brilliant neuroscientists for the research they have done.
I find her message valuable, intelligent, well-researched and engaging. I also find HER valuable, intelligent, well-researched and engaging.
Perhaps that’s why she was invited to speak.
Great post!. Keep it up.