The Power Of a Word and The Need For Management Innovation

I’ve been working on some pretty amazing initiatives that I know will turn a few heads in the coming months and in the course of doing some research I recently came across something that I thought I’d share. It relates to the incredible advances that are being made in neuroscience due in large part to the ability of fMRI brain scanning technology to video neural changes that occur in your brain in response to stimuli from, for example, hearing different words.

Here is a direct quote from an article written by Drs Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman authors of  Words Can Change Your Brain:

flash the word “NO” for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.

I have seen references to this phenomenon in many places because it is generally accepted that the release of stress-causing hormones and neurotransmitters has been the major reason for our ability to survive as a species because we’re particularly adept at noticing and responding to danger. But we’re not so adept at noticing and responding to opportunity.

Newberg & Waldman note that there is a natural cognitive imbalance between the effect of negative thoughts and positive thoughts about circumstances and people. They point out that this is very important because it affects business relationships (e.g. team building and collaboration initiatives) and I would add that it’s becoming more of an issue as we move more and more towards remote working arrangements and lose the visual (body language) and tonal (word inflection) elements of communication.

I suggest that you take a few moments to read the article and take particular note of the importance of generating a conscious awareness of what you’re thinking and then generating three positive thoughts about a situation or person for every one negative thought.

The research that these guys and many other are now doing provides scientific support for what some astute people have been saying for nearly 100 years but were only able to support anecdotally.  I’m talking about the likes of Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich as well as Norman Vincent Peal, The Power of Positive Thinking.  I could mention dozens of books of more recent origin that carry the same message but if I had to single out one that embraces a more holistic perspective it would be Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

My interest in this evolved from being intrigued by the fact that no matter what the state of circumstances or location a small number of firms in our industry (and I’ sure this applies to all industries) out-perform the rest by an order of magnitude.  When I have dug into what they do differently there are no discernible “secret” strategies. But what really jumps off the page is the general level of what I call, for want of a better phrase, the state of personal development in the firm and in particular, the level of positivity, confidence and enabling vision — this is the mindset that puts in play a positive versus negative cultural spiral and both can happen very quickly.  It starts at the top and cascades through the ranks and it’s the reason I strongly believe personal development comes before practice development.

I am absolutely certain that a sustainable competitive advantage in highly fragmented, mature industries like the accounting services sector  is not going to come from the adoption of technology-based solutions simply because they diffuse so quickly that any gains are transitory at best. This fact is reflected in the competitive landscape over the last 100 years.

What is going to make a difference for firms that actually “get it” is the integration of innovative organizational design with a leadership and management philosophy that addresses “the mismatch between what science knows and what business does” that Dan Pink reveals in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

And the great firms of the future will go beyond just the question of motivation. They’ll embrace the concept of achieving productivity gains (and team member loyalty) by implementing strategies to manage energy that attempting to manage time – see Tony Schwartz’s book  Be Excellent At Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live.

Guru’s like Peter Drucker saw this coming 50 years ago in his book The Effective Executive. As did Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (and in the 7 Habits). The fact is, the command and control, carrot and stick method of management that worked quite well in the industrial environment of the 20th century will no longer cut it.  Firms that wake up to this and start working with (and you might want to read that as experimenting with) alternative management models will prevail. For example, take a look at Cali Ressler’s & Jody Thompson’s book Why Work Sucks And How You Can Fix It. Then you might want to take a look at Gary Hamel The Future of Management in fact check out the following video presentation of Gary talking about the challenges and opportunities from management innovation:


When I look at my bookshelf, I could list at least 50 books that talk to the theme of this post. And that’s just the ones in my own library! The idea that there’s an urgent need to change the way businesses are lead and managed is pervasive. Those of you who decide to do something about it are going to be the winners in the long run.


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