Can behavioural science give us all a better day?

02 November 2018 Discovery

How can we shift our perception to create a better reality? Caroline Webb, renowned leadership coach and economist, shared critical views on getting the most out of the human brain to have a better, more productive day, every day.

Webb was one of the speakers at the 2018 Discovery Leadership Summit, held on Thursday in Sandton, Johannesburg. Webb started her presentation by asking the 3000-person audience, “Are you having a good day? What does that mean to you?”, before putting them through a series of short-burst mental exercises aimed at shedding light on the way in which the human brain works.

Webb’s passion for leadership that enables the very best in others, is palpable. “At the end of the day, the filters that we take into situations really matter,” she adds. “Our starting point drives the reality that we experience and the most effective leaders understand this dynamic well.” Her presentation focused on three key areas of personal growth, also answering the question posed above.

Ensure you ‘edit your reality’ to serve your aims

The brain practices selective attention. “It’s a very elegant solution to filtering the onslaught of information and data that come at us every day,” says Webb. “Ours is a complex world. But, our aims, attitudes and assumptions are, in fact, what tell our brain what to focus on and what to filter out. The wrong aims, attitude and assumptions might lead us to miss relevant or critical information.” Only by reviewing all these and asking ‘Are my assumptions serving my real aims?’, adjusting as needed, can we ensure that we see the world in a way that allows us to rise to our greatest potential.

Get more productive - ditch multi-tasking

“It’s a myth that women are better at multi-tasking than men,” emphasised Webb. “Regardless of gender, the mind can only consciously focus on one thing at a time and it’s designed for single-tasking. When we think we’re multi-tasking we’re in fact switching the brain between tasks, and these tiny switches, all day long, use up and waste significant mental energy. We end up exhausted and less productive.” People take 30% longer and make two to four times as many errors when doing two tasks at once, than one by one. “Multi-tasking makes people less creative, more stressed, and results in poorer decision-making.” She suggests going offline for a predetermined time every day to focus entirely on one’s most important work. Web encourages leaders to allow their staff this way of working, to boost their productivity.

Assume the following: ‘Good person, bad circumstances’

“We all suffer from Fundamental Attribution Error,” says Webb. “If I turn up at work and I am cranky and slow for any reason, I attribute my own bad behaviour to that day’s poor circumstances. But, we are quick to attribute the same in others to them having a bad character. Is that fair?” asks Webb. She warns against bias that blinds us to the best in others, particularly at work adding, “My go-to story when a colleague is being difficult is, ‘Maybe their cat vomited on them this morning’ and that changes my demeanour.”

The above insights are some of the top productivity processes in Webb’s leadership coaching arsenal. Her recent book How To Have A Good Day, lays out more on setting deliberate, daily intentions.

Webb’s work is founded in behavioural economics – an understanding of the way in which the human mind works and of the dynamics that fuel decision-making. This science also underpins the Discovery shared-value insurance model, rooted in Vitality, a scientifically validated health-promotion programme that draws on behavioural economics to support, guide and incentivise individuals to improve their health and reach their highest wellness and potential. Webb is driven by the same mandate. She has worked alongside organisations across the globe to assist their employees in increasing productivity, energy and success – first as a partner at McKinsey & Company, where she continues to serve as a senior advisor, and now as CEO of her own firm, SevenShift.

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