Applied neuroscience to maximize the potential and talents of different brains at work.
Neurosignatures, neurodiversity and closing the neurogap with Friederike Fabritius.
When I wake up with a full schedule of exciting to-dos but I’m not feeling all that excited, I do what I always do. I drink my water, do my breathing and priming meditation, I do my workout, finishing it with a cold shower and I’m ready to go, as excited as my to-do list needs me to be.
When the problem is in the mind - the answer is in the body.
Think about this next time you wake up not feeling particularly inspired for the tasks you need to perform. It’s up to you how your day feels. Did you know that?
WORK-LIFE BALANCE ISN’T WHAT WE NEED
The way we work is the way we live. Work is a part of life.
The workplace, home or office, is where most of us will spend most of our waking time. Think about that. Just think about that.
We, as a society put so much thought into the design of our living spaces and so little into workplace design, the design of a place where we’ll spend most of our waking life, the design of a place that’ll shape our minds and our lives.
Last week I read a book “The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay”. I also had a chance to interview the author, Friederike Fabritius, for my “Your Brain’s Coach” podcast. After reading the title you might think it’s a book about office life but it’s about so much more! The book finally bridges work and life, showing how they are inseparably connected, they are one and the same. The book shows how intentional, backed by science, design of both will help our society to unlock human talents, bring out more of human potential to solve our biggest problems faster and better, living meaningful lives, while doing that.
It's a tall order, you might think, to do all of that in one book. And it is. And yet somehow Friederike manages to pull it off.
I absolutely love the conversation happening in the new world of work right now - more engagement, more diversity, more trust, more flexibility, more productive wellness.
I’m also (you know this if you follow my work) a huge believer in a holistic approach to work and life, in the idea that our lifestyle, our habits, our environment shape how we show up for work and life. We can’t separate the body and the brain, we can’t separate work and life, we can’t separate our work in the world from who we are as people.
The missing link I see often in the world of work, just as Friederike does, - many leaders still think that what people have for breakfast doesn’t matter, when it comes to the quality of their work and interactions with coworkers and customers.
It’s all connected. It all matters. It all "designs" us.
I was absolutely delighted to read a book, that puts into practical and simple tools these ideas of designing the workplace in a way that helps us be better with all our habits, health, life and work habits, as a result helping us to bring our absolute best to the company’s mission and into our lives outside of the workplace.
Let’s dive into some of these tools!
EMBRACING BRAIN DIVERSITY IS THE HARDEST THING
First, let this idea of neurodiversity (a term introduced in the book) sink in.
Our brains are different. We have different default brain states, defined by different neurochemicals dominating our brains. Friederike identified 4 major molecules, that affect how we show up for work and life, what we find exciting, how we make decisions. Dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, estrogen. These 4 create different “neurosignatures” (another term introduced in the book). Neurosignatures that create different leaders, different teams, different company cultures. These 4 represent brain diversity, that we all still need to embrace at work to deliver solutions in the most balanced, insightful way. When we embrace all the different neurosignatures and build workplaces that respect each - we allow different talents to shine brightly. When we create tilted, one-sided workplaces - we only get a fraction of human potential in our companies. As a result, companies and the world miss out, lose talent, waste resources, often failing to deliver on their mission.
How do we design workplaces that allow everyone to fully tap into their potential, bringing it to the table❓
Here are some practical tools to think of. Read these and dive into the book and our podcast for more tools, insights and a deeper understanding of neurodiversity and neurogap that will allow all of us to work and live better.
DESIGNING BRAIN-FRIEDLY WORKPLACES
ALLOW FLEXIBLE HOURS
We all know that different people are most productive at different hours. Some are night owls, some are early birds, and some are in-between types. Why do we still require everyone to work on the same schedule in cases when there’s no real reason for that?
Do you want half of your people to deliver half of their efforts because of some schedule clash? I don’t think so!
All that matters is the QUALITY of work, doesn’t it?
It’s not the number of characters I type. It’s the impact they’ll have.
Speaking of quality…
CULTIVATE OUTCOME CULTURE NOT HUSTLE CULTURE
The number of hours worked does not correlate with the quality of the results produced.
At times we feel more productive, prolific almost. At times, we need to take a break to show up as our best selves to deliver the best quality of work later. As long as the outcomes are produced and the quality is what it needs to be, who cares about the hours?
On the podcast with Friederike, I asked her, “Maybe leaders focus on the hours because it’s the easiest way to measure the work? How do you suggest leaders approach in a simple way outcome measurement for each role?”
And Friederike said, “Simplify it. Figure out what you hired this person for and measure THAT with 2-3 simple metrics. No need for a 40-point item list to measure someone’s work. Who’d remember all of that even if they all were equally important?”
Outcome VS Hustle.
(I also loved this idea of creating “I’ll do no less than… and no more than…” to-do lists from the book “Effortless”. To never overwork ourselves into burnout and not get lazy.)
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MATCH PEOPLE’S TALENTS WITH THE TASKS THEY DO
The main idea is to keep people from being bored as much as possible with tasks that are crushing their souls and wasting their talents (wasting the company’s resources, slowing down the mission)! It’s not just great for people’s well-being, job satisfaction and productivity, to do the work they love most of the time - it’s great for business! When we are happy we are ready to outwork, outperform, and outshine without burning out, without any need for daily inspiration and butt-kicking with artificial deadlines.
CREATE A MIXTURE OF CLOSED AND OPEN SPACES
Some people need more private time and space, some people need more time spent in open and interactive spaces - let your people choose and move to where they do their best at any given time, for any given task. The golden solution? - The flexible one!
A friend of mine, an artist, recently asked me for advice on the best place for her to do the work, "So maybe from now on I’ll work on my editing of art while facing a wall in my apartment (a closed, box-like, optimal for focus space), - I need all the focus I can get then. But when I’m in the ideation phase - I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop? What do you think? - I think it’s a brilliant idea!"
CREATE SCIENCE-BASED LIGHT SOLUTIONS
To respect circadian biology, to boost productive and happy brain chemistry, to keep your people happily and sustainably doing their absolute best, energized, focused and motivated.
I like to repeat this phrase often (supported by a lot of neuroscience-research data) - “We aren’t plants but our productivity depends on the Sun too”.
Dopamine, serotonin, cortisol and our whole brain-body chemistry depend on the right kind of light exposure. A lot of bright, preferably natural light during the day, no bright artificial light at night. It's great to remind people in the workplace that spending time outdoors early in the day and later boosts productive brain chemistry and well-being, and ensures a great night of sleep.
These solutions are often free to low-cost, requiring only different thinking. And they make a MAJOR difference in the quality of our work. Very often, working with my highly-driven CEO clients, all it takes to get their energy back up and creative juices flowing - change of light!
PROVIDE HEALTHY MEALS AND SNACKS
A common thinking mistake of people outside the nutrition world - “Food is fuel and therefore as long as I’m not starving I should be ok”
The truth - “Food is not just fuel, it’s also what we are made of! From every cell up to our mental and emotional states”
Think about that next time you get some pastry or pizza for breakfast.
No, you aren’t gonna be made of that pizza - but you are gonna be made of what pizza is made of. The quality of building materials matters for the final structure.
I remember attending a future of food event in Spain, Valencia. They served pastries and soft drinks for breakfast.
I thought to myself, “If this is the future of food - I don’t think I want to live in that future”.
Talented brains of all kinds thrive on a high-quality diet. Brains are the most demanding for nutrients organs!
Simply provide a variety of colorful fruit and veggies, quality protein and fat sources, dark chocolate, hydration solutions. When it’s free, convenient and tasty, with creative presentation, fun catchy names and benefits explainers - people will absolutely love it and performance will sky-rocket!
CREATE MOVEMENT NUDGES
People love to move!
The brain groves when the body moves!
The easier we make movement at the workplace - the more people will move and the better their work, health and well-being will be.
A “thinking path” around the office with some plants along it; a squat-and-stretch corner with movement picture guides and pads with videos; sit-stand workstations? The possibilities are endless! The only limit is your imagination!
Speaking of more movement…
ALLOW WALKING MEETINGS
Walking encourages a change of opinions, future and progress-oriented thinking. Oxygen and blood circulation increased during walking boost cognitive performance and prevents cognitive decline. Movement lowers anxiety and stress, boosting collaborative vibes and open-mindedness.
Sitting for hours at meetings promotes “stuck” thinking. If it was up to me - I’d always be moving (except for very deep work like writing, which I still interrupt with a set of burpees and squats every 30 minutes).
Some nudging suggestions:
Have stations with pads for notes to take on the walking meetings, provide to-go snack and hydration kits, perhaps creative maps of scenic meeting routes even?
Priming and nudging are the best solutions for creating cultures that last.
CREATE A FOCUSED CULTURE
People produce at least 50% more of quality work when they aren’t interrupted every now and then. Would you like to get your people to do 50% more and better work?
First, maximize people’s time spent in their talent zone - fun, while doing what we love is a natural focus amplifier.
And then design the environment that says “focus is our priority”
Places to leave the phones while at work, that you can access during breaks; separate places for calls and quiet work; “boring” places with no distractions for focused work and creatively-designed spaces for collaborations, ideation and brainstorming; workplaces with flipping signs “focused/open to collaborations”.
By the way, open door policy? There’s a better way to maximize your own and your people’s talents…
SET MEETING HOURS AND FOCUSED-WORK HOURS
Nobody can get into deep focus to solve complex tasks when there’s a possibility to be interrupted or a need to monitor communication.
Want your people to “dig” deeper? Design for them the right setting!
Teach people to set boundaries and schedules for effective collaborations, at the same time letting people set their focused hours, when they aren’t allowed to be interrupted so they can get deep work done and bring deep insights out to solve problems. Open/Closed doors hours (perhaps with a flipping sign) are actually the best of both worlds, deep work and prolific collaborations.
What I took away from Friederike’s work - every brain is truly different. If we want to maximize productivity and well-being and potential of everyone at work, we need to figure out how to allow neurodiversity to thrive, not just gender and race diversity. We can do that through workflow, workplace and collective lifestyle design.
Listen to our podcast to learn in an audio way about neurodiversity, neurosignatures and brain types with 4 chemicals, shaping them; about neurogap and how to close it (the spotlight is on the genius of introverts at work); about a simple hack to find your flow state entrance easier, and another one to create possibilities for breakthrough group brainstorming!
And of course, for all the possible insights and details on how to maximize your and your people’s brain power - pick up both of Friederike’s books and start putting what you learn into practice.
TO DO NOW:
▶️Check out Friederike’s work at
▶️Check out something cool we are doing this spring at the Brain Factor retreat in Bansko, Bulgaria - 4-day immersion into practices of high-performing brains of emerging leaders and mission-driven, daring, moonshooting entrepreneurs.
Thank you for reading! Brought to you by your brain’s coach - Angela Shurina, committed to sustainable productivity and human potential.