A Brain for Business

Rock, D., & Sctiwartz, J. (2007). The Neuroscience of Leadership, 10–17.


Concentrating on three main parts of the brain:  the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and the amygdala, Rock and Schwartz (2007) explain some of the functioning of the brain and implications for leaders of change.  The prefrontal cortex is where working memory resides and where new information is processed.  The basal ganglia is used in routine activities that we know how to do well without a lot of conscious thought and links simple behaviors from different parts of the brain.  If someone wants to change a routine or process that is already well-known, he has to concentrate on that change until it is embedded in his memory.  This means he has to override what is stored in his basal ganglia, a low-energy part of the brain, by using his prefrontal cortex, a high-energy part of the brain.  This expenditure of energy and effort causes an actual physical sensation of discomfort.

The brain also has the ability to detect “errors” or patterns that are different from what is expected.  The unexpected input causes the brain to give “strong signals that use a lot of energy, showing up in imaging technology as dramatic bursts of light” (Rock & Schwartz, 2007, p. 12).  These bursts of energy alert the amygdala, which is where the primal emotions of fear and anger are located.  They also take energy away from the prefrontal cortex.  So, when something is different from what we expect, we reduce the energy used for logical thought and increase the energy used for fear or anger.

The implications are that change is truly physically painful as high-energy areas of the brain are at work. Change arouses the basic feelings of anger and fear, which can inhibit learning. Focusing on new behaviors is powerful and can actually change the pathways in the brain, especially if the focus is repeated until the change has moved from the prefrontal cortex (working memory) to the basal ganglia (long-term, automatic memory).

Strengths and critiques

This is a well-organized article that takes a dense subject and makes it understandable.  With the projected audience of business leaders, the authors probably assumed that the readers do not know much, if anything, about brain functioning and research.  The practical, clear advice delineated in each section is supported with brief technical explanations of the workings of the brain.  Everyday examples help exemplify the technical points.

This is a unique contribution to the field of business management because few authors combine the fields of management and neuroscience.  The authors,

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Dr. David Rock, are unique because they come from different fields, yet their collaboration is essential for applying the findings of brain research to other fields.  Dr. Schwartz is a psychiatrist who has done research on brain functioning, concentrating mostly on brain imaging and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Dr. Rock is an international business professor who has written articles and speaks widely about the implications of brain research in business.

The main drawback of this article is that the studies that contributed to this body of knowledge are not identified with in-text citations nor with an end-of-paper bibliography.  Schwartz & Rock are respected in their fields and are reliable sources of information.  The researchers for various studies are noted in the text, but direct reference to a particular journal is not included.  Perhaps Schwartz & Rock did this by design so that the article would be more accessible to the general public and to business professionals who are not academics.


I think this article informs some of the work of Dr. Michelle Jordan.  In our class discussion with Dr. Jordan (2014), she pointed out that uncertainty can be productive and is essential for learning.  However, in a study of uncertainty in a robotics task in fifth grade collaborative groups, one student, Roy, had difficulties with interpersonal skills as part of his group seemed to ignore or chasten him.  Jordan and McDaniel (2010) comment, “So salient was Roy’s need to resolve his relational uncertainty that he seemed unable to attend to the robotics task” (p. 24).  Roy’s brain was reacting to an “error” where what was happening in his group (they were ignoring him) and what he expected were different.  His brain is now using a large amount of energy to relay error messages and to activate the amygdala, the home of primal fear and anger.  This use of energy reduces the ability of the prefrontal cortex to process the higher-order thinking necessary to attend to the engineering problem.

Further study

This article focuses on the implications for business management and change.  However, the field of education can also benefit from this type of study.  It was a good place to see how neuroscience can inform practices in another field.  Many of the ideas are directly applicable to an educational setting.

Also, I would like to go back and delve in to some of the actual scientific studies mentioned.  The field of neuroscience is still new.  Much of the research is recent and more implications may be found as the research advances.


Jordan, M. E., & Mcdaniel, R. R. (2010). Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams : The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity, 00(2002).

Rock, D., & Sctiwartz, J. (2007). The Neuroscience of Leadership, 10–17.

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