Neuroscience and project success

12 Dec 2012

During a chat with Walter McFarland of Windmills Consulting, previously a senior partner at Booz Allen and Hamilton, we discussed the human side of strategy, capacity building and projects creating real change (or value).

Walt, who is chairman of the American Society of Training and Development, told me: “The brain impacts successful change more than we thought. Human behavior in the workplace does not work as we thought. When you talk to David Rock from the Neuroleadership Institute, brain sciences affect far more than we thought.”

It’s clear that the mind and the brain affect results, which is rarely considered when strategy, change, innovation or projects are initiated.

That’s a significant omission because science now shows the brain is a scanning device, one that looks for variations or “errors”. When it sees “errors”, it goes into fear mode, triggering an amygdala hijack and an “avoid to survive” response.

How is this relevant to the workplace? Well, changes in social situations – including change within organizations – are “errors” and will trigger this fear response. Walt pointed out that "the brain tends sees to see change as bad. Bad is avoided with five times the strength as good. It’s about survival. Humans are good at surviving.”

“The challenge is when we want our organizations to do more than just get by, we as leaders need to actively work to weed out the patterns seen as dangerous and work to plant those that feed the good. Without this, innovations die and change fails.”

Walt’s key points on motivation:
•Fear triggers profound emotional resistance and reduces performance, it contributes to project failure
•Leaders can consciously focus on behavior to reinforce “good over bad”
•Choices made by projects can deliberately work with the ‘neurosciece’ to reduce risks

What is your projects neural profile? Does it increase risks or not?

Joanne Flinn is a diagnostician of project failure and it’s cure, the author of “The Success Healthcheck for IT Projects” (Wiley 2010). Reach her at

Related content

No Comments Yet! Be the first to share what you think!