A recent study proves that meetings can actually lower your IQ. Seriously.
According to research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the act of seeing someone who seems smarter while doing a presentation can make us feel stupid and get in the way of how our brains process information.
The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to find out how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity.
They took individuals matched for IQ, placed them in small groups in which they were ranked by performance on cognitive tasks against each other and broadcast those rankings back to them.
The findings showed dramatic drops in the ability of some of the subjects to solve problems. The scientists have noted that the social feedback had a significant effect.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, what these scientists are describing sounds a lot like performance anxiety – that feeling you get when thoughts about not measuring up invade.
What can possibly counteract this feeling of fear and help turn your meetings into productive, enjoyable experiences that foster collaboration and creation?
Encourage an environment of non-judgement
We do much of what we do with an eye toward how others will view it. This activates parts of the brain that create caution and an avoidance of being noticed.
When we trust, it sends hormones such as oxytocin through the body, creating a sense of peace and connectedness. We are able to let go of the judging mind (lateral prefrontal cortex), which allows other regions of the mind to become more active. Creativity is supported and empowered when there is a sense of trust.
The ability to recognize where things can be improved is a skill that must be nurtured, but it must be done with love and a light touch.
In improv, for instance we use various methods of recognizing mistakes in in a light, fun, non-punitive way. The fun, non-judgemental atmosphere encourages more participation, which leads to fewer mistakes, effective collaboration and creative thinking.
In improv, in particular, it’s easy to be intimidated by what appears to be genius. Just watch Robin Williams, Asssscat or Who’s Line Is It Anyway and you are likely to believe that all improvisors are super-humans with thinking and creating skills that are FAR above average. However, the genius you see lies more in the improvisors’ willingness to follow improv rules and risk failure than anything else.
In fact, improv pioneer Keith Johnstone is known for encouraging improvisors to “Just be average.” Think about it. If your goal is to just be average, you are not under pressure to perform and when that pressure is eliminated we are all MUCH more creative.
Make Others Look Good
Del Close, another legendary improv pioneer said an improvisor’s first obligation is to support his fellow players. Imagine what this would accomplish in a business meeting.
If, rather than comparing yourself to the rockstar colleague with the amazing presentation, you are finding ways to support him and make his ideas even better, you are not in the fear mode but in an open collaborative mode that keeps you positive and thinking more creatively. You are also more likely to experience a meeting that actually accomplishes something other than lowering IQ’s
There’s evidence to support the idea that beginning a meeting through some form of play, is a great way to prepare the brain to think more effectively.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown founder of The National Institute for Play, “Nothing lights up the brain like play… Three dimensional play fires up the cerebellum, puts a lot of impulses into the frontal lobe, the executive portion; helps contextual memory be developed; and, and, and…”
Play keeps your brain healthy and ready for learning. It helps you stay present oriented which makes you more productive and creative. It lowers your stress levels and keeps you from getting depressed.
I realize that envisioning a business meeting without judgement and competition; where participants are encouraged to be average and play may be quite a stretch. But science is once again proving that our old tried and true methods may not be so true after all. Isn’t it time we actually use the research it provides to create better ways of doing things?
For creativity, productivity, collaboration and even just for our own individual happiness, let’s ban meetings that make people stupid.
(Some of the information for this post was provided by neuroscience researcher, Andrea Sullivan.)
(Photo by Lord Jim)