Savvy Enterprise Transformation

What do we mean by savvy? Why have we used this term? And what do we mean by brain savvy, systems savvy, change savvy?

Synonyms for savvy include … shrewdness, astuteness, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, acuteness, acumen, acuity, intelligence, wit, canniness, common sense, discernment, insight, understanding, penetration, perception, perceptiveness, perspicacity, knowledge, sagacity, sageness
For us, ‘savvy’ reflects the degree to which we understand ‘things’ and can apply our knowledge and understanding to “things” and how we create, maintain and use these ‘things’.

Brain savvy reflects how well we understand our brains and how we use that understanding.

Systems savvy reflects how well we understand the systems we encounter and the systems we conceive, design, create, maintain and use.

Another way we express this is by talking about how we, as individuals and collectively, make sense of ‘things’ and how they work or how they should work.

Now, because of the way that our brains work, we face limits on what we perceive and how we make sense of ‘things’. One way of compensating for this limitation is to draw on the perceptions and ways that others make sense of the same ‘thing’.

So, collectives help individuals make sense of things, and individuals help collectives to make sense of things.

Brain Savvy Principles

The brain savvy leader of the future will be on the lookout for ways to minimise threat and promote a towards-state (reward). Neuroscience tells us that a towards-state promotes a more positive mood and better access to the pre-frontal cortex. This, in turn, helps us to think better, learn more effectively and improves our sociability.

We know that getting brain science to matter to managers and executives requires practical approaches. By asking a simple question ‘What’s the hardest thing you’ve got to be doing right now?’ we can start to show why better brain function will help them deal with what is on their plate. It’s as simple as picking just one or two things to start to better manage stress and boost cognitive health.

  • Working with the brain in mind benefits individuals, teams and organisations. It leads to improved accomplishment, innovation and achievement. In today’s fast paced environment, it’s about cultivating growth mindsets, adopting an ‘always improving’ mindset and thinking agility.
  • No brain is the same – experience and education are different and so are we
  • If we have a brain – we are biased
  • When it comes to understanding our brain – biology is vital. We are more than just our brains and our heads. We are very much bodies of interconnected systems that cannot be dissected into separate compartments. Head, heart and gut are all required for brain savvy.
  • A high functioning brain is a leader’s most effective tool!
  • We are much more predisposed to threat (fear) than reward (brave). We have 5 times the real estate in the brain to identify threat than we do reward
  • It’s much easier to learn and re-learn than it is to unlearn. Strongly mapped neural pathways don’t disappear, they become less used as we learn and re-learn
  • Memory is very flawed – the more we recall and restore – the more we change our memory
  • You can’t change people’s minds, they have to do that themselves. This is achieved through insights, and insights are a process that can be driven
    Not everyone’s brains are optimally healthy (addiction element/psychopathy)

System Savvy Principles

  • Social systems have a number of distinctive characteristics which require different understandings and practices (as compared to inanimate systems). Key systems savvy principles include:
  • Systems are figments of our imagination ie systems are perceived differently by each individual, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in not so subtle ways
  • System outcomes emerge from the whole (not the parts) and are realised through the use of the system
  • The dynamic nature of system interactions requires attention to balance between parts and wholes, whether our focus is on the system-as-part or system-as-whole
  • Social systems entail dynamic interactions as part of the ‘containing’ systems or environment
  • Social systems are self-organising, self-architecting, self-designing, self-adapting, self-replicating (unlike inanimate systems)
  • We each bring meaning into our conception of reality which impacts on our conception and perception of systems
  • We each apply purpose and intent to the systems we encounter, so any system can have multiple different purposes from different stakeholder perspectives and can be re-purposed
  • Our capacity to bring purpose to parts and wholes offers us a choice – to change the means or change the ends, to change our objectives or to change our strategies.
  • The act of making choices is an act of design.
Brain 5 Funadmental Discoveries

Organisations and leaders of the future know that they need to get their, and other people’s, brains in the game. Advances in neuroscience are changing the landscape of leadership development and change management.

Through neuroscience, we are now gaining insights into how people respond to stress, learn and remember, manage emotions and behave in the moment. All of these are important for building long term resiliency and growth.

Through brain imagery, we are now able to better see and understand neural networks – how they form, how they decay, how they can be rebuilt and enhanced. We know more about which parts of our brains are responsible for which functions and how new regions of the brain can be established to replace damaged areas. The human brain is fragile, and also resilient.

Rapid technological advances and, as a result, increased societal expectations, means that we need to incorporate new ways of thinking and doing. Indeed, automation has led to a significant change in the work that we do, and, the way in which we do it. This is seen by some as a great (rewarding) thing, and for many others, it can result in an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Causing us to ask questions like, ‘will I lose my job?’, ‘how do I stay relevant?’, ‘what will conditions be like in 2, 5, 10 years time?’, ‘what does the future of work look like and how do I future proof myself?’, and ‘who can even imagine what it will mean for my children and grandchildren?’.

This requires thinking from different parts and systems in the brain to improve decision making, risk-taking and leadership activity

For more information please Contact Us


words have power with related word cloud

I thought I would share with you a topic of conversation that stimulated some vigorous discussions at a recent change workshop.  It was about language and the important role that it plays.  Not only during change events, but also more generally when considering everyday situations linked with performance and culture.  In particular, we discussed the notion of resistance and what might be possible if rather than considering people and behaviours to be resistant, we considered them through a ‘willingness’ lens.  Willingness being defined as the degree to which people will take actions and behave in ways that move towards the desired state.   It’s a simple word change.  More importantly, it’s a mindset shift.

As a change practitioner my colleagues, and I,  work with ‘resistance’ in a variety of forms all the time.  And, yet, resistance is such a loaded word in many organisations.  It sends people and teams to a ‘threat’ state simply uttering the word.  Resistance is more often than not seen as a problem that needs to be fixed.

So why is resistance more likely to be linked with threat?  When we are trying to avoid something, the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind our forehead lights up.  Importantly, this is the same region that also lights up with negative emotions. And, because it is deeply ingrained, a lot of our resistance is happening non-consciously.  Our brains are very good at anticipating what might be uncomfortable and keeping us in a place where we are comfortable.

It’s also why a re-frame to the notion of willingness, can be a useful way of ensuring that the we don’t move down the well-trodden, default path of staying in non- conscious resistance.  Instead, we want to fire the left side of the prefrontal region linked with resilience and willingness.  And, the simple, yet powerful act of changing our language can have a significant effect on our mindset and resultant behaviours.  We can dampen the threat response and increase the reward response.  Language is that powerful.

 That’s why its important to consider what language we are using, and the ‘self talk’ that is going on in our heads when we label other people as being ‘resistant’.  Labelling others as resistant fires our own left frontal region, and triggers our negative emotions. Those people that we have labelled as resistors often don’t see themselves that way, instead they may see themselves as:

  • A ‘keeper of safety’, to ensure that things don’t fall over during the change effort and that details have been thought through, OR
  • A ‘brave voice’ who asks the questions that everyone is thinking, but might be too afraid to ask,  OR
  • A ‘reasoned challenger’ to understand the ‘why’ relative to business benefits and value of said change.

What’s more, from an attention perspective, where we focus our attention results in neural connections being formed or strengthened.  Importantly, if we focus on resistance from a problem perspective we are actually deepening the problems we are considering.  Conversely, if we approach it from a viewpoint of willingness and adopt a more solutions focused perspective, we will create new connections and circuitry that helps us to generate more solutions.  It also means that change fatigue is less likely.

Where we focus our attention changes our brain.  I choose to focus my attention into solution mode and work towards building, strengthening and supporting the ‘willingness’ quotient.  So, rather than asking the common question of ‘why are people resisting?’, I choose to ask ‘why would incredibly clever people continue to do things in a way that is no longer working and/or supported?’

What about you?

Authored by Julie Cunningham