The performance missing link: intelligence
The arrival of a new year forces upon us a setting out for the year ahead and predictions of the future years to come. We predict market trends, investment forecasts and look to better understand the human body and influencers of longevity. For years now we wonder where modern medicine will take us and what it means for health and human performance, but I fear that in our excitement, we are not fully versed on the incredible innovations that have already arrived.
The drive to better oneself is hardly a new phenomenon. Human evolution arguably does just that, tracks a journey where each generation has in some way progressed. At an individual level people ‘better themselves’ through their daily lifestyles perhaps making resolutions to exercise more or vowing to adopt a cleaner diet. Organisations too, in their own way, strive to better themselves achieving this through bettering their people. After they have attracted the top talent, they must retain and maintain it and so they roll out initiatives designed to improve their people’s capability and enhance their performance.
Interestingly, traditional development approaches are focused on knowledge and competency acquisition and behaviour change when the real driver of performance is intelligence. Research studies continue to demonstrate a link between intelligence and academic success and a link between intelligence and job performance. That personal development has been focused on knowledge, skill and behaviour to some extent is understandable as until recently the notion of increasing intelligence as a means of driving performance was not a consideration.
Relatively new when compared to the timeline of human biology, the acceptance that the brain is malleable and plastic (neuroplasticity) only really caught people’s attention in the early 1970s. Study after study showed us ways that the brain changed, structures growing or shrinking, the building of new neural pathways etc. UCL’s Eleanor Maguire’s (2000) London Cabbie study is the research most often cited as the team showed that the hippocampus regions of taxi driver’s brains, a pivotal area for learning and memory, appeared to grow larger the longer drivers are on the job.
All of this showed us that the brain was not static and that it was able to change often doing so as a result of the environment (learning, experience and sometimes injury) and in that learning, everything we might understand or expect from personal development swiftly changed. That the brain changes opened up a world of possibilities in treatment and rehabilitation but also for healthy, high functioning intelligent individuals who wanted to optimise themselves, get the edge, perform to the absolute best of their ability and sustain that performance over the long term.
A paradigm shift is underway. Researchers, clinicians, healthcare professionals, lifestyle gurus are all offering clients numerous applications to enhance their cognition. Some empirically backed and others still new and experimental but we are seeing results. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Neurofeedback, Nootropics, Cryotherapy are just some of the practices gaining traction in this space. Individuals want to know what they can do to improve their brains, they want to know what they can do to increase their intelligence and that information is available to them.
We have seen an influx of clients from the private equity world as they face the reality that their greatest asset at work is their ability to think, make sound judgements and effective decisions – all of these higher order cognitive tasks. So naturally they want to improve these areas and give themselves a competitive edge over their rivals, something that they can now do by leveraging the latest developments in neuroscience.
We now find ourselves on the verge of an exciting new world in which people are able to improve their performance by increasing their intelligence. Gaining a foothold in Silicon Valley, people are taking advantage of innovations in medicine, healthcare, neuroscience and HR to discover new ways to extract greater power from their brains and so it comes as no great surprise to see that here in our own city, demand is on the rise.