Thursday, August 11, 2011

Can you REALLY reprogram your brain overnight? And why would you want to?

Dr. Clifford Saunders ventures out into the brave new world of Neuroscience to provide a brief exposé on the virtues of brain reprogramming and how it could soon replace the failing “science” of Change Management.

You may have heard that some of the latest major breakthroughs in Neuroscience postulate that it is now possible to reprogram one’s brain in the span of a sleep cycle, literally overnight.

Are you the least bit curious as to how this could affect your business results?  Your employees’ behavior?  Your ability to anticipate obstacles and opportunities well ahead of your competition?

How does it work?  Does it hurt?

Good questions.

A few of us in the business of helping organizations optimize performance, reduce cost, increase market share and achieve better results have been disenchanted with the “science” of Change Management for years, and figured that there had to be a better way to implement change quickly and permanently – words that are not traditionally found in the same sentence with Change Management.

Let me explain how those few of us, who are passionate about helping people function better in their work and private lives, look at the REAL and LASTING difference that these new developments in Neuroscience promise to deliver - overnight.

Maybe you are a Senior Consultant who was expecting tremendous cost benefits and ROI when you put in your client’s SAP/JDE/CRM/ERP system.  You probably followed all of the ‘best practices’ your gurus preached.  You specified the new system carefully with all of the appropriate stakeholders.  You followed all of the right Change Management steps, made sure everyone was ready, you had senior stakeholder buy in, got the front line engaged.  And yet, you still did not get the outcome you or your client intended in the first place.  Disappointing, isn’t it?  I know, I’ve been there.

Or perhaps you are a Senior Executive responsible for Strategic Planning.  You may have done a tremendous job of developing a Strategic Plan, had a major ‘strategic offsite’ where you and your colleagues thoroughly explored your strategic options, hardened your best ideas with war gaming, did a superb job of developing action plans and accountabilities.  But when you look back on the whole process months later, you really don’t see the changes in the organization that everyone was hoping for.  Sounds familiar?  I’ve been there too.

I am not the first one to have noticed this dismal failure.  Countless articles have been written about it in all the top business publications for the last two decades. Gartner’s industry analysts recently reported that “a staggering 55 to 70 percent of CRM projects fail to meet their objectives.  In Bain and Company’s survey of 400 executives, 20 percent of respondents felt their CRM initiatives actually damaged customer relationships.” [1,2]

Scientists are critical of the Change Management field too. “The Change literature has been characterized as a few theoretical propositions, repeated without additional data or development, a few bits of homey advice reiterated without proof or disproof; and a few sturdy empirical observations quoted with reverence but without refinement or explication.” [3]

Strong words!  To be fair, there are lots of moving parts in any Change Management initiative.  There are many factors that can screw the process up, like lack of clear goals, a poor needs analysis, insufficient project management, middle management and front line worker ‘resistance’, inflexible culture, and so on.  However, these causes when fixed are not enough to make the desired change happen.  Something is missing.

Make no mistake, this is a big problem.  Organizations of all sizes fail every year because they do not adapt quickly enough to changing times.

How do we solve this?

Glad you asked.  Are you ready for a new paradigm?

The problem is: OUR BRAINS.

We need to reprogram them.

I know that sounds strange or scary but it makes sense once you think about it.

Let’s step back a few tens of thousands of years.  Way back then, the life of Cro-Magnon man was very different from ours today.  He had to learn very quickly what could get him killed and what could feed him and his children.   Over the millennia, nature developed a system that enabled the brain to learn a task very quickly and make it become automatic.  Once the brain has learned a way of solving a task that produces a satisfactory outcome, it seeks to automate the process to conserve much needed energy and save precious time.

These resulting imprinted, automated neural pathways don’t normally change easily.  In Cro-Magnon times, this was not a problem; the world did not change as fast as it does today.  Oh, a woman of those days might witness an innovation in her lifetime, perhaps a new way of sewing or flaking stone but change certainly did not happen on a scale that we experience today.  Just look at a few of our own aboriginal societies and you will see what I mean.

Seen from this evolutionary perspective, ‘resistance to change’ is really a function of how the brain has wired itself.  ‘Resistance’ is simply an old ‘neural imprint’ that has been learned and reinforced over years.  The brain has automated this circuit in order to save energy and time, and the pattern now runs outside of our conscious awareness and dominates our perception.  Without question, this is very valuable expertise but it may be out of date and can be leveraged.

Unfortunately, no amount of classroom readiness training or exhortation will affect these circuits.  Why?  Because the information that comes from classroom training does not reach these automated circuits.  Without getting too technical, the theoretical classroom information gets stored in the wrong place; it gets stored in the auditory cortex close to your left ear.  The circuits we want to change are held in a different spot, behind your upper forehead in your prefrontal cortex.  That’s where plans for action are stored.

It is for those reasons that most Change Management interventions fail – they are focused in the wrong place.

Fortunately, clever neuroscientists specializing in business problems have discovered ways to reprogram these prefrontal circuits and to coax the brain into giving up its old way of thinking and doing things, without losing the underlying expertise.

This work has been over twenty years in the making, with painstaking research being conducted by highly talented individuals. 

There is no room here to cover the whole of this fascinating science but here are a few of the salient ideas to whet your appetite.

The brain can be coaxed into relinquishing its hold on old patterns by disrupting the stuck circuits with pain.  Not physical pain, but the pain of shame.  The shame that comes from having done everything you could to achieve the results you were hoping for, and failing.

This is done by building a suitable simulated replica of the organization’s business, allowing the employees and their brains to experience the cause and effect nature of their decisions, and speeding up time and feedback results in the simulation.

With rapid feedback, the brain perceives its way of working is resulting in failure.   Because this recognition is painful to the brain, it interrupts the brain’s automatic patterns and it ‘changes its own mind’ very rapidly.  Like touching a very hot stove – once.  The brain literally reprograms itself, with more practice, to achieve the new business goals.  In fact, it is possible to see these changes happen overnight.  If you were to put the sleeping brain through an fMRI scan, you could actually see the connections reorganizing themselves, literally overnight.  How cool is that?

By immersing employees in specially constructed replicas of their business and forcing them to fail until they succeed in achieving the new business goal, we can now reprogram new behaviors in these individuals as quickly as in the span of a sleep cycle.

Does it really work?


An accelerated brain reprogramming intervention conducted in a Pharmaceutical Company saw their back order inventory problem diminish from $800,000/day to $20,000/day within a few months, even though initially the workers thought this was an unsolvable problem.

A large Transit Authority wanted to track, coordinate and improve their bus maintenance schedules by implementing a new IT system.  Using accelerated brain reprogramming, the hourly staff reached independence with the new system in 2 weeks and line supervisors, who have more to do, managed this in 6 weeks, rather than the expected 12 months for implementation.  The Organization also shifted from a reactive to a proactive maintenance approach, reduced cycle times and increased the “mean distance between failure”, which resulted in a $40 million cost savings.

A failing Bronze Foundry, close to bankruptcy, used brain reprogramming to quickly improve its on-time delivery, increase its cash flow and reduce its scrap rate.  It went on to achieve sustained profitability and acquired another foundry.

A leading Gold Mining Company used brain reprogramming to improve operations and expand its business development activities.  The Company doubled its market cap in 18 months.

Brain reprogramming has been used successfully in nuclear fuel reprocessing, mineral exploration, railcar maintenance, consulting IT engagements, mining safety, new product introduction, healthcare, education and many other applications.

The beauty of brain reprogramming is that it works in any industry and in any application because the common factor is always the human brain.  The results are immediate and permanent.  Of course, we must still do a good job of the business needs analysis, setting appropriate stretch goals, bringing the high priced help on board and ensuring that the whole intervention is properly project managed.  But now, we can rapidly reprogram our brains so that we can SEE how to get the new job done.

We can now look forward to the day when routinely at a company, due to changes in the marketplace, say, or due to changes in technology, a new large enterprise-wide system must be put in place because the company needs to change the way it gets work done to stay ahead.  In this new environment, apart from some technical tweaks and teething problems, the workers quickly adapt to the new system, routinely develop better ways of doing business and deliver the promised ROI.

Although the fundamental research has taken over twenty years, there is a growing group of us who are working in this exciting emerging field of Accelerated Change Management through brain reprogramming, and you will hear more about it as delivery platforms become more accessible and popularized in the market place.

To get a better understanding of how the science and process of Brain Reprogramming work, please click here:

For more information on this promising business science breakthrough and how it can help you or your organization, please email the author at

Dr. Clifford Saunders is a free thinker and dedicated innovator in the art of Organizational Effectiveness.  With 30+years of experience working at the CEO, Board and Senior Executive levels with Fortune 500/Blue Chip Corporations, he has seen it all, done it all, and been witness to failures of astronomical proportions in organizations bent on perpetuating the proverbial “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here”.  This has led him on an ongoing quest to understand what keeps corporate cultures stuck in the same old destructive ruts, and how to pull them out of the box and change the way they plan their next big strategic moves.  When not engaged in the throes of reprogramming the brains of the world, he whiles away the hours at his home on one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet.

[2] Research study by Bain Consulting Group. Integrating, People, Process and Technology. by Anton, Petouhoff and Schwartz, Santa Maria, CA: The Anton Press.

[3] Studying Organizational Change and Development: Challenges for future research Pettigrew et al 2001 Academy of Management Journal