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Busy brains, difficult older people and behaviour change

FBI Network Meeting – 26 February 2018

Presented by:  Dr. Lucia Kelleher PhD (Behavioural Neuroscience) from People Data.

Our 2018 theme is:  Behaviour-based strategies to support logical solutions.  We chose this theme because we’re seeing increasing numbers of older business owners struggling with the very concept of family and business succession, and with the challenges of “refiring, not retiring” as they contemplate living for many years without work being at the centre of their existence, as it has been for such people in all previous generations.

Lucia worked with a family and employees of an FBI-referred family business to increase their self-awareness. This motivated them to achieve measurable behavioural changes for themselves within weeks of her starting with the group.  I’ve frankly never seen or heard of this happening in quite this way, and was keen to share this with the FBI community.

In an evening network meeting we can barely scratch the surface of this topic, much less explore its potential applications for family businesses, and their advisers.  But … you gotta start somewhere.  Here are my key takeaways, edited by Lucia:

  1. Busy Brain Syndrome (BBS) what is it? Our modern, technology-driven, “always on” world has created a pandemic of BBS where many people feel overloaded and overwhelmed, making them shut down and operate on ‘autopilot’ much of the time.  BBS caused by sensory bombardment results in the stress response being locked on, annihilating awareness and attention capacity, and eroding available rational or thinking brain bandwidth. People procrastinate, cherry pick easy tasks, avoidance behaviours are rampant, and things are always viewed through a negative lens. All the while these behaviours are ‘unconscious’ as no one deliberately intends to procrastinate or avoid tasks, which is why BBS is so insidious. Trust is severely compromised as a negative lens promotes ‘suspicion and paranoia’.
  2. BBS is overcome through re-engaging our innate and natural intelligence, Sensory Intelligence (SQ). SQ is simply awareness of our environment and operates through the ‘survival brain’ unconsciously all the time. If it was not operating all the time, humans would be extinct. The foundation or ‘starting point’ for all thoughts and actions begins in the ‘survival brain’. Humans are ‘animals’ like any other species on the planet. Unlike other species though, humans fail to ‘use their sensory intelligence’ preferring to think they are smarter than every other species.
  3. The reality is the SQ is in the driver’s seat with all human behaviours because every action or behaviour begins from a ‘sensory input’ visual, auditory, taste, smell and kinaesthetic, or more powerfully ‘sensory memory’. Rather than harnessing the power of this incredible intelligence, most humans look at it with disdain and it is referred to as the “reptile” or “croc brain”.  Little do they know that the lizard is in charge – which is why so many people do and say such ‘dumb things’ – just look around you, read the papers, or watch television!
  4. Interestingly, narcissists and psychopaths, who are the experts at manipulating people and cause carnage in businesses and families, are fully in charge of, and are actively using, their SQ. The explosion of narcissistic behaviours in organisations has partly occurred because BBS erodes awareness, making people easy targets for manipulators.
  5. The other problematic fallout from lack of awareness is that ‘beliefs and attitudes’ become so buried that no amount of rational persuasion or understanding can change seriously obstructive/destructive behaviours. This may be what’s happening when peoples’ subsequent actions, or lack of same, look like precisely what they agreed not to do. Even more frustrating is that these people often argue that they have committed and changed, although their actual behaviours and actions are neither what they agreed to do, nor what they say they are doing.  For advisers, the question then is:  “how do I recognise and deal with that?” 
  6. So, if an adviser is confronted with a client who won’t (or actually can’t) do what a football team of Blind Freddies can see they should be doing, this will be due to these unconscious buried attitudes obstructing progress. No amount of forcing, cajoling or pleading will make a scrap of difference. The behaviours are buried, and they are functioning on autopilot.
  7. SQ is like the engine in a car. What we notice about a car is ‘the brand or badge’ and all the trappings that go with it – the brand promise: ‘The best or nothing’, ‘The ultimate driving machine’  ‘Italian Excellence that makes the world dream’, and the design, the interior plushness and driving comfort, being the features that make your drive wonderful. This is all we see consciously, using IQ and EQ. What most people don’t look at or understand (although many pretend to do so) is the engine. It has a 3.6 litre turbocharged fuel injected…. that is just another ego or mind talking point. The real point being, the engine is disregarded, but it is what makes the car a car – able to get you from A to B. This is why you really want a car – not for the show off value.
  8. As with a car – the only time many people pay attention to their ‘body’ is when it is sick, or something happens to it. The only time people pay attention to the motor of their car is when it breaks down. Just an interesting aside, the lizard human is what drives the car – road rage, being on edge in traffic, ‘going to be late’, ‘that idiot cut in on me’. Where is IQ and EQ? IQ has left the vehicle, autopilot angry man is in the driver’s seat.
  9. The key to overcoming BBS, so we can bring ‘unconscious autopilot behaviours to the surface to be changed’, is to re-learn how to access our SQ. SQ is not rational and in the words of Sir Ken Robinson; ‘most people view their body as a vehicle to get their heads to meetings’. It is the most powerful tool we have, as narcissists know well.

And there the evening had to end.  Lucia’s messages had clearly resonated strongly with the largely left-brained attendees, many of whom hung around for awhile to develop their thoughts over a glass or two of imbibable refreshment.

We’ll continue to explore this theme over the coming year, especially (but not exclusively) in relation to my favourite business family challenge:  “fossilised owners”.

FBI Network meetings are usually held on the last Monday of the month, from February to November, and guests are welcome.  We have a number of attendees connecting remotely, using Zoom.

More information about FBI is available at:         

More information about Lucia is available at:    


Written by Jon Kenfield

One thought on “Busy brains, difficult older people and behaviour change

  1. This sounds fascinating.

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