Mind Fitness and Engagement: What’s the Connection?

Last week my oldest son sent me an intriguing article from USA Today that got me very excited as it seemed to be part of a much larger pattern I have seen developing slowly for the past twenty years and more rapidly in the past five.The article,‘Brain- training games are new exercise craze’ provides a very high level teaser about a field of software development, mind fitness games, that is not very far from its infancy but is projected to be a $1.5 Billion industry by 2015. That’s just around the corner!

While the title of the article is pretty self explanatory the notion of equating mind fitness with physical fitness may seem radical to many people. However, the implications of the growing market for home based brain-exercise equipment (“Own a Bowflex for your brain!) for anyone involved in workforce development should be fairly evident.

This is a pretty standard USA Today piece, “Hey, here’s something interesting you might want to look into!” Not exactly hard hitting reporting but definitely what you expect from a publication that is intended to promote popular mainstream news. I’ll bet that if you read the article and you are anything like me you’ll dig through the references and begin looking for ways that software applications like those described in the article can be worked into regular ubiquitous opportunities for employees in your place of work to keep their minds fit. Right after you have this inspiration your spark will start to fizzle as you realize that the toughest task you’ll have in front of you is convincing your management that if employees can have tools like these available it will likely have a positive effect on both the quality and quantity of work, especially in situations where the nature of work still tends to be mind deadening to a large degree.

But take heart workplace warrior! News like this in USA Today is one more piece of the growing evidence that companies are beginning to take seriously the science that strongly suggests that the demands of work today require that we take into account the needs of our brains.

Remember Margaret Wheatley’s Breakthrough work, ‘Leadership and the New Science?’ Doesn’t its first appearance in 1992 seem like a long time ago? Actually, given the progress of technology in the meantime it was. This book was among the very first to introduce us to the notion of a connection between hard science and management science. At its publication the book became an instant sensation. Business thinking was apparently open to entirely new possibilities, perhaps finally ready to depart from the basic notions of Frederick Taylor that had served us well in the industrial economy.

Since that time we have gone from the initial work of Daniel Goleman popularizing Emotional Intelligence  in the mid-1990’s into the fascinating work of Malcolm Gladwell,‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, Daniel Pink’s , ‘A Whole New Mind’ and then more recently ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ and then on to works like ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard’ by Dan and Chip Heath  and ‘Your Brain at Work’ by David Rock. With each step along this new pathway we are laying down the first foundational elements of an entirely new way of looking at ourselves at work; and we are doing it fairly rapidly helped along no doubt by technology advancements that are demanding that we change.

And not all this new science is about mental acuity. “Mindfulness” , a term long associated with eastern religion has gone from the mystical to the very practical as evidenced in this terrific piece by Louise Altman, The Neurobiology of Mindfulness- Reshaping Your Brain. Sometimes our very fit minds need to rest as part of the fitness practice.

From all this new research and integration of knowledge more than one thing is becoming clear:

1) We have entered an entirely new era in our thinking about what it takes to develop and manage a workforce

2) A lot of the work in this arena is being done by individuals taking the initiative on their own behalf to insure that they stay competitive

3) If learning has now become a lifetime activity then brain maintenance, fitness or whatever you may call it becomes a critical practice.

4) And companies that recognize the value of mental fitness and partner with their employees to provide resources for this purpose are going to be more attractive places to work and likely more highly engaged workplaces. 

  • Where would you say your own company is when it comes to being mindful of the need for greater mind-fitness?

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