While the coronavirus crisis has been an intense shock, there are some silver linings if we work together intelligently to access them and brain science can help us.
Right now, we need the best of all the brains on the planet to find real solutions to COVID-19. By working together globally (which scientists are doing brilliantly), we can create fairer, ultimately healthier, and more sustainable ways of living and working together.
What does that look like, and how do we get there? Here’s a snapshot:
1. We get what we focus on.
Our brains create habits according to where we direct our attention. As we emerge from the pandemic, if we focus again on profit and growth alone—at the expense of living within our natural resources—we will hasten further crises.
Growth cannot be our only measure of success. We need new, more balanced economic models focused on sustainable end-to-end outcomes, fair treatment, and profit-sharing, in which the gap between the incomes of the highest- and lowest-paid workers is sensible. This will build economic resilience for any future global shocks.
2. Our brains need time to think.
The brain’s emotional center responds much faster than the rational part of the brain; it can even shut down rational thought completely. As we watch the coronavirus circle the globe, our emotional, limbic brains trigger our fears, and some politicians are taking advantage of this for their own benefit, not for the greater good. But if we let our limbic responses run the show, it will prove to be deadly.
3. We need male and female brains in business and politics.
When we have equal numbers of male and female brains in every level of business and politics, we’ll access the best of the brain’s sex differences. These differences are subtle but biologically real. Women’s brains tend to have a natural set point that’s better for collaboration. Men’s brains are typically more suited to competition. An intelligent combination of both drives performance. Balanced teams are smarter and perform better, period.
4. Our brains need breaks.
Brains need time to think and a change of scenery to keep ideas fresh. Cutting out long commutes and spending time exercising and enjoying hobbies—whether that’s cycling, cooking, or quilting—is great for brains. Good quality thinking requires R&R. The “busy-ness” we’re addicted to is not how to get the best of our brains. Let’s embrace new, blended ways of working instead.
5. Relationships are essential.
Our brains are designed to connect. Virtual working needs to be a central plank to the new work world, enabling both women and men to work flexibly, spend time with family and friends, be great moms and dads, and excel as high-performance professionals. Incorporating remote work liberates time for thoughtful connection and communication.
The future challenges we face on this planet will, like COVID-19, affect us all. The only way we can meet these challenges is by being united.
We must give our collective rational brains time to work together, collaborate, and leverage our phenomenal collective intelligence.
When the world faced the existential threat of the hole in the ozone layer, we solved it together—and fairly quickly. By working in unison now, we can build a brave, new normal. There is high hope for us if we chose to harness the power of our brains, give ourselves time to think, leverage our differences, and commit to wise collaboration. Let’s do it.