As technology progressively displaces workers and increasing takes over more and more tasks normally filled by humans we are left with the challenge of what to do with those workers. Developments in the science of neuroplasticity may offer a solution to companies wondering what they might do with these workers.
Good and bad habits
All human develop habits, good and bad. Habits permit us to proceed through the day without expending extra energy on our many, many daily tasks that have become habit. This works in both our personal lives and our work lives. It also applies to how we think about ourselves, both on and off the job. We have a tendency to think “I can’t do that” or “I don’t think like that.” These habits of thought become self-destructive and self-defeating, even when they are not accurate. There is an old saying that says “the man who thinks he can, and the man who thinks he can’t are both right.” The good news is that bad habits and thought processes can be overcome and replaced with other habits and thoughts.
Dr. Richard Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the mind to change throughout life. Dr. Davidson’s research has touched upon the possibilities of using our experiences to positively shift our self-perception. This will allow us to retrain our brains.
Davidson says the “emotional styles” we have cover the ways we think, how we respond to adversity, what kinds of moods we have and includes the defeating self-talk we often engage in.
Brains change with experience
Davidson’s research shows “the brain changes in response to experience. It changes in response to our actions. It changes in our response to our relationships. It changes in response to specific training. These activities will shape the brain, and we can take advantage of neuroplasticity and actually play a more intentional role in shaping our own brains in ways that may be health promoting, and ways that can cultivate wellbeing.”
Davidson has discovered that playing video games for as little as two hours can create permanent change in the brain. Most parents will not be happy to hear that information but for employers this is good news. Recent research indicates that many different mechanisms of neuroplasticity persist for the entire lifespan. One of the most important mechanisms of plasticity is the growth of actual new brain cells. An average adult generates somewhere between five and ten thousand new cells every day.
Creating permanent change
This continual growth of brain cells and changes in brain function opens great possible uses for gaming in employee development. If gaming creates permanent change why can’t we use it to create change in the nature of people’s skills? Companies can create training using gaming that will change attitudes, change personal impressions and change skill sets all at the same time. That type of training will allow us to position people to be prepared to take on new skills and feel prepared to do so. With this type of training we can teach skills that will keep employees a couple of steps ahead of the robots that are going move into the workplace and take over their jobs.
This is a spectacular opportunity for HR to make a major impact on the company and its employees. Imagine playing games to change skills sets, both technical and personal!