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Does your brain mind?

This month, our #mediatreethinktank takes you down the dark alleys of neuroscience to help decode your performance in your (roadshow) work and discover how your brain approaches the day-to-day institutional communications minefield we call IR.  When it comes to trotting the globe week in and week out, do you know how to get the best of yourself and more importantly does your brain mind?

Let’s look at how we can create the optimal brain-friendly experience on the road.  David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, taught me some key precepts that can form a lens for us to look at performance at work and on the road.

1. The brain is a connection machine

With over 100 billion neurons, and a plethora of neuronal pathways, wide-scale connections are part and parcel for our brains.  When we make links, neuro-transmitters like adrenaline and dopamine are generated that drive us to want to take action.  On the road, we are constantly connecting dots, making sense and recalling the context.

To be optimal: welcome the experience at every level.  Capitalise on the energy the brain is creating at that time, otherwise you may fall foul of the law of diminishing returns. If you leave the energy untapped, you will need to re-generate it all over again at a later date.  So act fast when you have the impetus (follow up with that data for your investor, for example) and each time you do it, you create a stronger inner roadie.

2. No two brains are alike—no two neural pathways are the same

No two brains are alike—even identical twins don’t think and process in the same way. Our brain creates its own reality by filtering the millions of stimuli it encounters and ascribing meaning to the choice it makes.  Your point of view is literally unique. So don’t second guess others.

To be optimal: clarification is key.  Be careful of tone and nuances — crucially when you communicate across borders where English may not be a first language and when the cultures create different codes and expectations.  Stay curious about why people are asking.  It may stem from what your competition is saying or it could be down to a risk investors perceive that affects how your equity story plays out that you simply hadn’t picked up on.  Openness and curiosity can provide thematic avenues for a deep-dive Capital Markets Day, for example, or offer new insights on valuation.  Clarify, listen and harvest the data you get.  It can help evolve your IR communication and positioning.

3. The brain hardwires everything it can

New ideas or behaviours use ‘working memory’, a very limited resource in the brain.  Any activity, thought or behaviour that is repeated becomes hardwired.   If you are new to the work, be prepared to be exhausted.  Many IROs share with us the acute memory of their IPO roadshow and wonder why that one felt particularly exhausting.  Well, apart from the pressure of a live deal, and the importance of converting each meeting into orders for the bookbuilding, there is a ‘first time’ effect on the brain.

To be optimal: learn the codes fast — prepare yourself with a coach.  Experience in this job counts for a lot.  Get out there!

4. The hardwiring in our brain drives our automatic perceptions

Our perceptions are driven by deeper hardwired circuits (old habits).  Have you ever noticed how your brain extrapolates and ‘fills in the blanks’ when it reads certain documents?  Before you even process the letters, the brain has constructed the word. The danger: we go on autopilot.

To be optimal: stay present; check your day 1-1s, listen actively to the questions—when you hear a question over and over again, up to 7 times a day on a typical roadshow, it’s easy to answer off-piste.  Listen to what’s really going on and use the data to be at the top of your game.

5. It’s practically impossible to deconstruct our wiring, but it’s easy to create new wiring

How do you change and re-wire the brain?  The key to success is to pay it lots of attention.  Attention in the form of quality and quantity (seconds) of focus, is what changes the circuits in the brain over time. And the pathway triggering the old ‘unused’ habit is pruned as the new one is reinforced.

To be optimal: practice.  Start small and build up.  Whether it’s a new style of presentation or a better approach to an activist investor, change comes by making tiny adjustments and repeating those over and over….and over.

6. Create space and time for insights to happen

When we are unable to make a connection in the brain, we can’t ‘think our way out of our problem’, we have hit an ‘impasse’.  This is often accompanied by an inner whirring and incessant rumination that can be counter-productive to finding the solution.

To be optimal:  Sleep and exercise.  The relationship between sleep and clear thinking is a given.  As for the link between physical activity and a sharp brain — neuroscientists have recently made fantastic discoveries about how neurons re-generate, or neuro-genesis.  Although this can seem daunting during a roadshow, most hotels you visit have gyms, or jetlag often means you can catch a dawn run in a foreign city, and flying time where no one can reach you means priceless ZZZZs.

Oh, and did we mention multi-tasking is a myth and is actually very difficult for the brain?  Be realistic.  Accept that the road requires your focus and choose to move through it with intent:  what can you do this time that will really fulfil a goal or bring an important outcome?  Move through each day with the energy and joy that can make the trip that extra bit rewarding. Approach the work in a brain-friendly way, and you will achieve peace of mind.