Are We Entering an Era of Neuromanagement?

 
 
Will you be taking a brain-scan for your next job interview? Jim Heskett explores the emerging world of neuromanagement and what it means for both organizations and employees. What do YOU think?
 
 
by James Heskett

Summing Up:

Where Do We Draw the Line on the Use of Technology in Hiring Practices?

The idea of using brain scans in hiring, while it generated limited enthusiasm among respondents to this month's column, nevertheless was rejected by only a few. Respondents instead generally treated it as a possibility and addressed the possible practice on its merits and demerits. As Shadreck Saili put it, "… all other methods we use seem to be part of neuromanagement … any method that can be used to refine the identification of a perfect fit ... for a particular assignment is naturally welcome …"

Gerald Nanninga, after citing a number of conditions for the idea's introduction, even ventured to describe the path by which the practice will be implemented this way: "It would start at places where people already do almost anything to get in, like Google or McKinsey. Then it will move to other businesses."

The predominant view was that the practice at present has many limitations. Ann Romaine-Adelstein commented, "I doubt we can predict with validity from a scan yet who will work hard, be innovative or exercise great influence… Potential derailing behaviors are often kept in check by high levels of ambition and values or leadership behaviors at companies." Johnny added, "Neuromanagement will be based on electronic testing … however it will not detect 'will-power.' It is our will that determines how disciplined a person is and it is this will that really determines our choice(s) in life." Henry Kwok commented, "The field of neuroscience and brain scanning will only get more advanced, and thus we can expect better reading… However, the job of managing and leading will be evolving in a fast changing business environment … This goes beyond ethics to the strategy of the organization for talent management. At the end of the day, neuromanagement is a tool-it can never be an end."

Some were repelled by the notion. This group included AIM: "As a human, I feel very belittled … by such notions." Diane agreed, saying: "May I be long gone when such things are implemented." Kapil Kumar Sopory speculated, "The very idea of scanning someone's brain before employing him/her is mind boggling. And at present it may be illegal too … it is all so complex that a laboratory testing is not at all enough…" Steve Flick added, "We don't know enough about the human brain to make hiring judgments based on monitoring activity within certain parts of the brain, or about the people who plan to use neuromanagement or about their motives… I caution you to be careful what you wish for."

Others suggested alternative uses for the technique. While Dulji Sum opined that "we are not anywhere close to using brain scans for hiring," he suggested that "this could be quite an interesting tool for career guidance." Debra Feldman elaborated on this idea, asking "Has the idea of screening individuals to help them identify and choose career paths been explored … Using brain scan results to guide careers and to recommend … those who have the requisite neural structure likely to enable them to master the skills necessary for success involving financial risk taking?"

Only two respondents raised the possibility of legal issues associated with the practice. But the concern leads us to an important question: Where do we draw the line on the use of technology in hiring practices? What do you think?

Original Article

For years, behavioral scientists have been telling us that they have a great deal to contribute to decision theory and management. Their work most applicable to business, however, was often overshadowed by that of economists. But as the assumptions of rational behavior and "perfect information" that formed the basis of much of the work in economics concerning markets came into question, behavioral science not based on those assumptions gained ascendance.

At first, the contributions from behavioral science were based on laboratory tests, too many of them involving handy college students. They helped describe biases (at least among those being tested). For example, we learned that people tend to devalue long-term returns in relation to short-term gains. They tend not to buy and sell according to self-set rules.

A person willing to pay up to $200 for a ticket to a sporting event is not, once he owns it, willing to sell it at any price above $200—counter to what economists would predict. Behavioral science regards it as perfectly reasonable behavior, explained by what they call the "endowment effect." It is one of many behaviors that help explain why markets are not always "rational," why they may not be a reflection of perfect information, why people buy high and sell low.

“We can begin to learn which parts of the brain govern how we feel, how we respond to stimuli, and how we react to challenges”

Brain scanning technology adds a new dimension to this work. It has provided fodder for books on a variety of subjects, all of which rely to some degree on brain reaction to stimuli. By introducing various stimuli while scanning a person's brain, we can begin to learn which parts govern how we feel, how we respond to stimuli, and how we react to challenges.

A recent study of "midlife northeast American adults" raises questions about whether we are entering the next stage in what might be termed an era of neuromanagement. In it, a group of researchers claim to have found that brain structure and the density of cells in the right posterior parietal cortex are associated with willingness to take risks. They found that participants with higher gray matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion. The results "identify what might be considered the first stable biomarker for financial risk-attitude," according to the authors.

The study is a distant cousin to those that have located the side of the brain associated with creativity and the portion of the brain that is stimulated, for example, by gambling or music. Assuming: (1) there will be more research efforts combining the results of brain scans with behavioral exercises, and (2) findings are proven to be more valid than, say, those associated with phrenology, it raises some interesting questions about the future.

Is it possible that some organizations selecting and hiring talent may, in the future, require a brain scan, just as some require psychological testing today? Is hiring on the basis of brain structure much different than hiring, for example, on the basis of height or other characteristics required to perform certain jobs? Or does it raise too many ethical questions? For example, who will own the data? How will it be used? How would we apply the results?

Are we entering the next stage in an age of neuromanagement? What will it look like? What do you think?

To Read More

Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Agnieszka Tymula, Nicole Cooper, Joseph W. Kable, Paul W. Glimcher, and Ifat Levy, "Neuroanatomy Predicts Individual Risk Attitudes," The Journal of Neuroscience, September 10, 2014, 34 (37): pp. 12394-12401.

Jason Zweig, "So You Think That You're a Risk-Taker?," The Wall Street Journal, October 25-26, 2014, p. B1 and B9.

    • JOHNNY
    • Director, Nigerian civil service
    Neuromanagement will be based on electronic testingof chemical changes withs regards to introduced stimuli, however it will not detect 'will-power'.
    It is our will that determines how disciplined a person is and it is this will that relealy determines our choice in life.
    Example a person who by neuro analysis is said to be a risk taker or even a gambler may by will/discipline surpress such intuition.
    • Steve Flick
    • Owner, Q9C Quality Consulting, LLC
    To those who would like to see brain scans implemented in the hiring process, I caution you to be careful what you wish for.
    • Pascalis Claudius
    • Owner-Manager, Lotinggi Dampian Books & Stationery
    This approach could be useful in determining whether any candidate for a job opening is not only a risk taker but could be someone who has dangerous traits.

    But how will this be treated under equal employment opportunities laws?
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • Principal Consultant, Planninga from Nanninga
    If you assume 1) we are in a knowledge-based economy and 2) how your workers use knowledge is critical to your success, and 3) you believe the studies that say the most productive knowledge-based employees are over 20x more productive than the least productive, and 4) Millennials are used to giving up privacy if the reciprocal gain is high enough, and 5) you believe that brain scans will let you find those most productive knowledge-based employees THEN I suspect that brain scans for job interviews will be inevitable.

    It would start at places where people already do almost anything to get in, like Google or McKinsey. Then it will move to other businesses.
    • John Barr
    • President, Transformation Through Leadership
    David Rock has some great information on this subject, the emotional brain (Limbic) controls much of what we think is our rational brain, and it often hijacks us. Kathy Kolbe is doing "conative" research using brain scans as well. When you are open to learning, you continue to learn, when you know the answer, you can't learn.
    • Zufi Deo
    • Founder, www.bizstuff.co
    I can see the concerns being highlighted in the article. However, feel that the science side has gone into sufficient depth for us to know as a matter of fact that the brain changes with the purpose we give it.

    Please see the you tube video http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OoIqkQuxAJc .

    In terms of scanning brains. That'll just give a snap shot of what is going, no different to a photograph. Hence, limited value for building long term relationships.

    Look forward to other comments.
    • Aim
    • Drilling Supervisor, KOC
    Professor,

    In one of HBS articles it was stated that employees leave the managers not the companies. Thus if a brain scan is to be requested from a candidate then the candidate should be able to request interviewer's brain scan. This is to ensure the candidate does not get disappointed in continued irrational behavior of one individual in an organization that may be standing for higher virtues.

    That said, since neurological activities are highly related to "use/depreciation" which in turn is dependent on age the above method leaves a room for moving average system which may dictate that should the concerned area of the brain deemed as asset decreases below a certain threshold of activity the person may no longer be valuable to the organization. In other words, such scans, once started will decrease in price and companies will use it extensively to keep their stock "fresh".

    As a human I feel very belittled actually by such notions.

    Best regards,

    Aim
    • Nilesh Mistry
    • Manager Materials, SE Electricals Ltd
    Good idea of having right candidate on board with brain scan. However to my limited understanding, I believe alike psycometric tool which is made based on a group study and compare results with the candidate response, brain test result and decisions thereof could never be so accurate in determining exact match.

    One can always experiment with innovative technology to help in finding right talent, but total dependency upon such tool may result in wispy outcome. As humans are hardwired to keep first information in consideration while taking decision, which might given biased selection.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    The very idea of scanning someone's brain before employing him/her is mind boggling. And at present it may be illegal too as this means going too deep in to someone's privacy and a violation of human rights.

    This apart, what would brain scan ultimately lead to. Risk taking is good but not callous risks. Similarly for other so felt advantages of scans.

    Human thoughts which evolve from time to time do determine actions we take, positive or negative. How attitudes develop depends on our surrounding environment...it is all so complex that a laboratory testing is not at all enough. It could lead to disaster : afterall we have to deal with human beings and not robots who may be developed in accordance with what brain scans tell us.
    • Dr Shadreck Saili
    Good observation Prof. My argument is that any method that can be used to refine the identification of a perfect fit (personel) for a particular assignment is naturally welcome, and as a globe we are moving in the direction of refining such methods. Over the years, for instance, we have been using methods to understand actions of persons,generated by their brains and manifested through behavour patterns. Such methods may include interviews , aptitute test etc. But the question is, how refined are they to procure a resource you would term " a naturally good worker ".

    I would further argue that ,in essence all other methods we use seem to be part of neuromanagement and has existed all along even before Professor Qingguo proposed it in 2006 in this context.
    • Shann Turnbull
    • Principal, International Institute for Self-governance
    I can accept the idea that pilots of passenger planes and astronauts should have brain scans to identify neurological risks like aneurisms that could lead to a stroke. But I would counsel against using brain scans to select for behavioural attributes. This is because social animals like humans have hard wired into them contrary characteristics like being competitive/cooperative, selfish/generous, suspicious/trusting and so on.

    The reason nature has hard wired contrary behaviour is to provide social animals with very little intelligence is to allow them to generate a rich variety of reflexive responses to perpetuate their survival and reproduction in dynamic, complex unknowable environments. The natural science of governance reveals that complexity can only be managed with a requisite variety of complexity.

    To allow businesses to survive in dynamic, complex unknowable environments executives also need to possess contrary attributes. Executives selected to conform to any one preferred pattern of behaviour will reduce the ability of a firm to survive in dynamic, complex unknowable environments.

    Executive search firms typically select individuals with similar experiences and culture. As a result a lack of diverse behaviour is already being built into firms without brain scans. The bigger problem is that when diverse personalities are employed the power relationships in boardrooms or in a chain of command inhibits contrary behaviour.

    So rather than introduce brain scans, businesses need to amend their constitutions to separate the power to govern from the power to management while introducing a rich diversity of contrary views from their key operational stakeholders. In this way governors can obtain a rich diversity of views independently of managers to cross check their information. Paradoxically this then allows management to become integrated into what becomes "network governance".

    In this way the architecture of decision-making found in our brains becomes replicated in firms to improve their resilience. Details of network governance grounded in the natural science of governance are posted at https://tinyurl.com/NetGovernance
    • Mok Tuck Sung
    • Business owner, Profit Tools
    It is exciting that researchers from different fields are able to contribute new information to advance our knowledge and make this world a better place. Neuromanagement is indeed an exciting field provided it is not use un-ethically.

    Psychological testing has been in used for decades and yet we still have more to learn to improve the accuracy of these tests. Just as the marketer are constantly trying to understand consumers' behaviour to sell more of their products or services.

    This bring us to face the reality of the economic functionality of these "brain scans" in the future even when we can have a common agreement on the ethical and un-ethical aspects of this technology.

    A better way forward is for behavioural scientists to work closely with research colleagues from other fields to triangulate and generalise the findings and make it more acceptable in the economic arena where real contribution to economic profit can be measured.
    • Sayed Subhani
    • MLS, preferred not to disclose
    what if someone with good academics, appropriate skill set, hard-working nature is not hired simply because their brain makeup does not match the employer's idea of "ideal brain."

    scenario -

    "...well Mr. Xyz, we are sorry we can't hire you..coz your skull size and brain structure values do not fall in the range of our ideal employee chart!..u can leave!!!
    • Joe Schmid
    • Managing Principal, Oak Leaf Consulting, LLC
    Brain scans on the horizon as a hiring screen?

    Not until they can scan for common sense and grit.

    Moreover, diversity of thinking is the best proven leverage for superior organizational performance and outcomes. Screening that out would be a grievous mistake.

    Neuromanagement is a novelty fraught with downside and absent of upside starting with the person(s) setting the go/no-go criteria.
    • Yadeed Lobo
    I think neuromanagement certainly makes things more interesting when going for interviews. Just imagine having to wear all that fancy gear. It would certainly make conversations with human resources so much more interesting.

    A pertinent comparison would be that it would feel like a trip to the dentist. Not as expensive but continually testing the limits of our reaction to stimuli which we may have or may not have felt before or would like to feel again!

    A point to note. This new field is missing something fundamental about people. Human beings have this inherent capacity to change, improve, develop in the course of their life. Would a one off testing regimen capture such improvement? The efforts of human endeavor have and will continue to surprise us for generations to come. Just imagine if the late Steve Jobs or maybe Buckminister Fuller had to go for such an interview!

    The late Stephen R Covey's book, the Seven Habits had this saying ( if I recall it came from Viktor Frankl) , that between the stimulus and response is our unique inherent ability to choose. That means we are endowed with the ability to improve. Is that not what performance development , improvement and management, service improvment or the service profit chain all about? Perhaps something to ponder a bit more.
    • HENRY KWOK
    • CONSULTANT, SPACES@Work
    The field of neuroscience and brain scanning will only get more advanced and thus we can expect better reading. However, the job of managing and leading will be evolving in a fast changing business environment. 40% of the existing jobs will no longer exist in less than a decade. So the perfect candidate for an existing job may not be the perfect person for the next job that will evolve

    So the question will be how do we define the perfect candidate? Do we as management take a short term view and be prepared to a hire and fire? Or do we prefer to take a longer term view to offer job permanence? This goes beyond ethics to the strategy of the organisation for talent management.

    At the end of the day, neuromanagement is a tool -- it can never be an end
    • Steve Flick
    • Owner, Q9C Quality Consulting, LLC
    We don't know enough about the human brain to make hiring judgments based on monitoring activity within certain parts of the brain, or about the people who plan to use neuromanagement or about their motives. I would caution those who would consider neuromanagement that it is, at its best, just one more "tool in the box" of Human Resources.

    Be careful what you wish for.
    • Dulji Sum
    • Business Analyst
    I don't think we are anywhere close to using brain scans to judge a person confidently and determine whether to hire him or not. Not without at least knowing the persons ability to suppress instinct. However, this could be quite an interesting tool for career guidance.
    • Ann Romaine-Adelstein
    • President, Leadership Action Consulting
    I think neuroscience is still too much in its infancy in the area of predictive behaviors to be used with validity for hiring. More research needs to be done,; we still today can't clearly identify who of those who are mentally ill will resort to violence. I doubt we can predict with validity from a scan yet who will work hard, be innovative or exercise great influence. I find, as a high user of Hogan, that you can not hire based on personality, you must assess prior behaviors along side the psychometric profile to really understand what motivates them and what behaviors result. Potential derailing behaviors are often kept in check by high levels of ambition and values or leadership behaviors at companies.
    • Debra Feldman
    • Executive Talent Agent, JobWhiz, Executive Talent Agent
    Has the idea of screening individuals to help them identify and choose career paths been explored as opposed to screening candidates who have already expressed their interest in a position that requires financial risk taking? Using brain scan results to guide careers and to recommend a potential career track to those who have the requisite neural structure likely to enable them to master the skills necessary for success involving financial risk taking?
    • Diane
    • Consultlant
    May I be long gone when such things are implemented. What kind of world will we live in? One we surely will wish we did not.....Aim has it right, it is belittling.
    • Marie de Guzman
    • Strategic Neuroscientist, Newman Sumner
    I believe that organizations should look to brain physiology to better understand what may DRIVE certain responses and behaviors - but is selecting and hiring on the basis of biology effectively endorsing biological determinism? If so, it flies in the face of the fact that the brain is (a) highly sensitive to context; and (b) highly adaptable and physically flexible (i.e. brain plasticity, which underpins the human ability to adapt and learn throughout life). So while scanning technology may show the brain (and therefore humans) reacting in a certain way within the confines of experimental design, once you incorporate context (and by that I mean not only the external environment, but also individual experiences, biases, moods, etc.) the response you get can be entirely different and will be subject to change over time. Until scanning technology can effectively incorporate a multitude of contextual variables - together with the brain's c
    apacity to change and adapt - its predictive power for selecting and hiring talent will be both limiting and somewhat disappointing.