Having arrived at the world renowned Royal Institution, we made our way to the library and eagerly settled at a table, surrounded by hardbacks as old as the wisdom within. The room soon filled with a plethora of budding professionals biting at the bit to gain insight form one of the world’s leading scientists. Set up as a breakout area with numerous tables and rooms, it wasn’t long before we were joined by a lady who’s office was based around the corner from Featherstone Street, and a man who worked in FX. What were the odds…? A mere coincidence or decisions based on gut instinct?
We streamed into the Faraday Theatre, notably where electricity was first demonstrated almost 200 years ago. The founder of the
Lord Winston was every bit the character you would expect, particularly if you have seen any of his television series, notably ‘Human Instinct’ on the BBC. As the theatre filled, he sat modestly on the stairs. Within minutes of being introduced we were all mesmerised by his great anecdotes ranging from Nobel Prize winners to politicians, neatly referenced as he began his story of Evolution and its link to the rather controversial subject of Evolutionary Psychology. His presentation told a captivating story and we have relayed the key topics and concepts below:
Topics and Concepts
- Evolutionary Psychology
- How we learn
Mirror neurons in our brain enable us to mimic the behaviour and sensations of others, feeling the frustration of a footballer missing a penalty, joy when people share a joke and stress when caught between two disputing colleagues…
The interesting thing is we can overlay instinctual behaviour with the learning process and overcome such things as phobias and the instinctual behaviour to freeze when we are confronted by fear. Later in the talk we were shown in simulated experiments how the ability to lie and even form false memories could be affected by the learning process.
A footnote to the learning process is the use of visual metaphor, a technique that Lord Winston has honed to an art. By thinking of a problem in different ways (which is a method of overcoming instinctual reactions) we can often find innovative solutions, an important technique in both science and business.
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Instinct and the incubator twins
- The Eugenics movement and Gene Sequencing
Interestingly, Lord Winston then began to speak about the human gene sequencing today and an Observer article by Carole Cadwalladr who had her entire genome sequenced, much of which he found to be over inflated in its value and not something he thought was terribly useful. He then spoke about epigenetics and how environmental factors effected our bodies, using the example of how an area in Glasgow had a male life expectancy of 54years old that was lower than that of Malawi and Mozambique, where as less than 10miles away another area of Glasgow had male life expectancy at over 75years old. There is a strong relationship between experience and how our bodies function.
- Laughter & Reassurance
In conclusion, there is strong evidence to support that so much of our behaviour has been shaped by evolution and our decision-making is quite often based on instinct. If we understand the underlying mechanisms then we are better equipped to modify our behaviour and stand a greater chance of success in life and business. Lord Winston also advocates making business decisions primarily on a rational basis but on the other hand also suggests that making a choice based on instinctual feeling is also very important and something we do more often then we would like to admit. Although we’ve built up highly complex societies, managed to grow synthetic cells and explore space, we are nothing more than mere mortals (albeit highly intelligent), driven by simple needs like every other living organism on the planet. These drivers have a huge effect on the way we conduct ourselves in the work place. What does this mean to us in the business world? Ultimately we are driven by powerful triggers in our subconscious, of which we shouldn’t try to suppress, more try to understand.