• Randy Swaim

Neuroscience and Preparing Your Team for Success with Unpredictable and Unexpected Challenges

For this blog I include a technique employing Neuroscience for success in situations that could not have been expected or predicted.Realize that often the situation that develops could not have been predicted and it may not fit an “Academic Situation”.

Leadership: Neuroscience and Preparing Your Team for Success with Unpredictable and Unexpected Challenges

As I teasingly have said, it is when Murphy (from Murphy’s Law) comes on stage. For anyone that may not understand, Murphy's law is an adage that is typically stated as:


"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong"


Let me first offer an example about a historical event that all have heard about and I will then offer how as a Learjet Captain, I developed the crew to be able to be more successful when Murphy Came on Stage.


First of all, let me offer the historical HMS Titanic event and I will then illustrate a fact about it that most do not realize. Remember that in 1912, the HMS Titanic left Southampton, Great Britain on her maiden voyage to New York. The Titanic was the leading technology of the time and in fact before she left the harbor, Captain Smith was quoted as saying “I cannot imagine a situation that would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that”. Captain Smith was also trying to break a speed/time record highlighting the new technology and the ship was at high speed.


At 2:20 AM on 14 April 1912 (4 days after leaving England), the ship hit an iceberg and a few hours later it sank with a tremendous loss of life. There were several aspects about the ship’s design were contributing factors but I wanted to point out one other that most do not know. When they saw the Iceberg come out of the fog, they pulled the throttle back to slow the ship and give some time while they turned the wheel hard over to try to miss the iceberg.


However, Fluid Dynamic testing suggested that when they pulled the throttle back, it changed the water flow over the rudders and totally reduced the turning ability of the ship. The Fluid Dynamic testing suggested that had they left the throttles up where they were, the water affect over the rudders would have been much better and it is suggested that the ship may have been able to miss the iceberg. The crew’s reaction in a startling situation was a normal reaction but it was not what needed to be done then. The decision making had to be more applicable to the situation. In a Neuroscience aspect, they went to their habit pattern when they should not have.

Let me simply offer how as a Learjet Captain for years, I led in such a way that the Co-pilot’s thinking was where it needed to be in a sudden Startling situation. You always want your team to use their brain’s Prefrontal Cortex which is the Processing Center.


How can you do that?


When we were flying, often we might be coming up on a very unique approach or such. Often the Co-pilot would say, Randy do you mind if I request a certain approach or something like that. If we had time, I would always tell them “Request it from ATC and if they approve it, it is your aircraft!” 2 Reasons why did I did this regularly?


Reason 1 (The Primary Reason):


I wanted them to always be thinking and processing the situation. This kept their Prefrontal Cortex involved throughout.


Reason 2 (Collateral Reason):


If, in the heat of the battle, I had to forcefully say “STAND BY…STOP!”

THEY NEVER HAD TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY AS THEY KNEW WHO I WAS.


There were 2 times when I had to point to them and say “Do not accept that clearance and coordinate a different option” and they understood and it never shut down their brain.

What I was truly doing was preparing them along the way to think and to not shut down if they felt I was saying shut up. I was priming the success when “Murphy Came on Stage”.

When you are leading your team, it is never about you just telling them what to do. Startling Situations will require brains to be engaged to see the unexpected solutions, perhaps like the Titanic.


Let me ask:


As you look at your team, to what extent are you really keeping your team’s processing engaged successfully to see the really applicable solutions?


What do you need to do differently?



Randy Swaim, Coaching for Relevance, LLC

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