The Promise of Neuroplasticity

As new grandparents, we’ve had the pleasure of watching our grandchildren learn many new skills including beginning to talk. We have listened in awe as they demonstrate a rapidly expanding vocabulary each and every day.

Every time they encounter a new word, something has to change in their brains for that word to be stored for later use. That store will include, not only the sound of the word, but also what it means, what the object looks like (if it is concrete) or signifies (if it is abstract), the part of speech and, eventually, how to use it in sentences. That’s a lot of neural links.

This begs the question: What might be able to change in the brain moment by moment that would operate with the sort of speed and durability necessary for this task? And this takes us straight to the amazing reality of the human brain’s neuroplasticity.

In this workshop, we’ll explore both what neuroplasticity is and how we can benefit from it at any age.

This will necessarily involve us in some mythbusting. Common misperceptions about how the brain works can actually hold people back. For instance, it just isn’t true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or that neurologically it’s all downhill after a certain age. It’s hard to overstate the liberating - and productivity! - consequences of debunking such myths for individuals, teams and organisations.

Actually our current understanding of the brain means that optimism about learning at any age is the only scientifically viable position.

This optimism arises partly from a neuroscientific understanding that the essential function of the brain is to adapt and learn. Without this ability, we would not have been able to survive changes within our evolving environment be they changing weather conditions, new predators, the need to find new sources of food, or develop new tools.

We now know that the old view of the brain as a fixed asset is inaccurate and unsustainable. Indeed, not only can your brain change, we now know that it cannot NOT change. And we know that this happens throughout life. The implications for how we understand our own potential are extraordinary.

By providing a basic understanding of the plasticity of our brains, creating a common language with which this understanding can be discussed and communicated, and busting some myths which continue to prevail about how the brain works, we hope to communicate our scientific optimism about the potential we all have to learn. Specifically, we will consider what this understanding might mean for individuals, teams and organisations.

In summary, this workshop will:

1. Provide greater understanding of current neuroscience thinking.

2. Increase appreciation of how outmoded brain metaphors can limit lay thinking.

3. Introduce a new model and language for describing what really is possible.

By Professor Patricia Riddell and Ian McDermott