Unleashing Creativity: A Tech Designer's Journey Into Neurocoaching

Silvia Damiano
6 min read

I was so excited to speak with Sally Grisedale, who specialises in creative design. She has worked for some of the biggest names in tech, beginning her career with Apple as a designer. Sally worked for other large companies and worked her way up the corporate ladder.

However, at one point in her career, Sally’s coach spoke with her and reminded her that she had already been filling the role of a coach and leader, so it was a natural progression to become a working coach herself. Coming from the rural English countryside, she is a self-professed poor student, yet she has still achieved so many incredible milestones in her life.

My conversation with Sally delved into the world of neuroscience, which is especially exciting due to our upcoming diploma program. The i4 Neuroleader™ Certification and the Diploma of Neurobiology of Coaching, Wellbeing and Brain-Friendly Practices are aimed at anyone (not just coaches) interested in personal development, coaching skills development and the application of brain-based leadership.

Developing Leadership Skills in Creatives

Sally’s story is inspiring; we can learn from her experiences to help ourselves become better coaches. She emphasises the importance of spending time on herself, which allows for the development of leadership and creative skills.

How can we coach people who are extremely creative? Sally’s clients are often successful in their mid-late career, but the tools that made them successful in years past are no longer working as well. She was interested in showing people how to adapt and continue to develop their leadership methods.

In Sally’s own life, she progressed from a creative person at Apple and then from management to leadership. She suddenly found herself lost because she no longer had the skills or experience needed to succeed as her role changed.

The Not-So-Secret Secrets of Neuroscience

Learning about how the brain works helped her develop the agility required to adapt to new working conditions. Understanding the task-positive network, which is very focused, and then the default mode network, which is more creative and visionary, can explain why there are conflicts in different industries.

The task-positive network, which is responsible for focused and goal-oriented thinking, is often emphasised in industries that require a high degree of structure and precision. Industries prioritising creativity and innovation tend to engage the default mode network more prominently. Conflicts can occur when people with a more rigid thinking style clash with those who bring a more flexible, imaginative approach. By recognising the value of both focused execution and creative exploration, leaders can foster interdisciplinary collaboration, bridge gaps between conflicting perspectives and drive innovation within their organisations.

By understanding the brain’s neuroplasticity, or the capacity to reorganise and form new connections, Sally realised that her brain could adapt and learn new skills at any age, even after a life-altering event such as menopause. This knowledge empowered her to embrace change and approach unfamiliar challenges with a growth mindset.

She recognised that her brain’s ability to rewire itself meant she could acquire new knowledge, develop new habits and adapt to the evolving demands of a new industry (coaching, in this case). And if she could harness this power, she could also show others how to.

Dr Einstein was not successful in school, but he found something in the air from his own imagination and his own brain power, and look what he did.

Eartha Kitt

Trying to Adapt as a Creative During Times of Stress

People come into positions with different mindsets and brains, which means things don’t also move smoothly. For some, there is also a fear of conflict. But, working out of our comfort zone is often required in leadership.

Many successful people who find themselves in new roles also experience imposter syndrome. Someone may now be working with diverse teams from around the world, and learning how to become an effective leader can be challenging, especially coming from a creative background. It can be difficult to share your vision with others if they sense you don’t believe in what you are talking about.

People at different career points typically experience different ambition levels, which can cause conflict within teams or organisations. Some people may be particularly driven early on, striving to reach a certain level by a certain age. Others may feel the urge to further their careers later on as they approach the pinnacle of their working years.

Unfortunately, many people are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety.[1] Leaders are also facing a great deal of stress. Some leaders are doing the work of many people due to reductions and budget cuts, and they are expected to move mountains with shovels and buckets for resources. 

With an understanding of the brain's chemistry and how stress negatively impacts the overall body, coaches like Sally can see when people are overstressed and overstimulated. This cycle of anxiety and stress must be broken if we are going to nurture and support effective leaders. 

Harnessing the Brains of Creative People

The skills that creative people have can be a wonderful solution to these issues and challenges. Design thinking is a problem-solving approach highlighting empathy, creativity and collaboration to address complex challenges and generate innovative solutions.

Design thinking involves a cyclical process typically consisting of five stages: empathise, design, ideate, prototype and test.[2] Throughout these stages, both divergent and convergent thinking play essential roles:

  1. Divergent thinking: Divergent thinking refers to the ability to generate multiple possibilities, ideas and perspectives. In the context of design thinking, this involves expanding the range of potential solutions and exploring different viewpoints. During the ‘ideate’ stage, divergent thinking is encouraged to foster a broad exploration of possibilities without premature judgment or evaluation. This phase aims to produce many ideas, encouraging wild and unconventional thinking. Divergent thinking allows for creative brainstorming and helps uncover innovative solutions that might not be initially obvious.
  2. Convergent thinking: Convergent thinking, on the other hand, involves narrowing down the options and selecting the most promising ideas for further development. This process involves evaluating, refining and synthesising ideas to converge on a few high-potential solutions. During the ‘define’ and ‘prototype’ stages, convergent thinking is applied to analyse and prioritise ideas based on feasibility, desirability and viability. Convergent thinking helps to filter out impractical or less effective ideas and focus efforts on the most viable solutions.

Design thinking recognises the iterative and dynamic nature of problem-solving, allowing for movement back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking. By integrating both types, design thinking encourages a balance between exploration and evaluation, nurturing both creativity and practicality.

As we continue to incorporate science with leadership, we can create a leadership method that focuses on the whole human instead of just specific skills needed to be temporarily successful. We do not have to accept that all jobs are stressful with no relief. We can make changes that create better working conditions for others while improving life for ourselves at the same time.

Accepting Your Inner Leader--The Secrets of Neurocoaching

Sally is passionate about helping people accept their inner leader, and she wants people to understand that tangible things are not the only measure of meaning or success. Coaches in modern times need a variety of tools and skills to help support leaders.

Neuroscientists have turned an eye to leadership, and supporting coaches to incorporate science and leadership has created the blended field of neurocoaching. I asked Sally to explain how she first combined neuroscience and coaching, and she was happy to explain.

Once Sally decided to become a coach, she went to coaching school to learn the necessary skills and was introduced to the world of neuroscience. She used the analogy of an orchestra and how we should consider our brain like an orchestra. With all these moving parts and different components, the brain can somehow create beauty and joy.

Neurocoaching is essential to create a brain-friendly workplace. This coaching method combines principles from neuroscience with more traditional techniques to help individuals achieve their goals. Neurocoaching recognises the influence of the brain and its function on behaviour, emotions, learning and performance.

Neuroscience provides valuable insights into how the brain works, how people think, and how they can optimise their cognitive abilities. Neurocoaching offers a deeper understanding of how and why we make decisions by integrating this knowledge into coaching practices. It helps coaches tailor their approach to individuals’ unique neurobiological makeup, increasing the likelihood of positive and sustainable change.

When Coaching is ‘CYA’--or After the Fact

Many organisations bring in professional coaches--at the wrong moment. It’s often too late to see true results because the culture is already toxic in the organisation. However, when companies understand their most significant expense is their people and leaders are often the most expensive people, they can build loyalty, the brand and leadership strength.

But how can we persuade the people who control the purse strings that coaching is a worthy investment? Most people only change when one of two things happens--something terrible happens, or a teacher comes along to show them a different path.

If we are not open-minded, most of us only change under pressure. However, this is not a growth mindset and can stifle growth and the potential for greatness. When people have better brains, we can help them become better leaders. We need leaders who are open-minded and ready to promote growth in the Imagination Age.

Sally’s research found that many teams (up to 75%) were dysfunctional, equating to lost productivity and profits.[3] There are so many new roles in modern companies, and we somehow need to find ways for these people to work collaboratively with fewer resources and higher expectations. It is no wonder so many teams have difficulty communicating and working together.

In her parting words, Sally spoke about how the mind is not the brain. Rather, we should focus on the whole body because our brain is not just enclosed within our skull. Creative people have so much to offer, but their talents are often underutilised or even overlooked. When we understand the link between neuroscience and coaching, we can help create the kinds of leaders the world is desperate for.

Want to learn more about brain-friendly practices?

Consider joining the i4 Neuroleader™ Certification and the Diploma of Neurobiology of Coaching, Wellbeing and Brain-Friendly Practices. You can expand your toolbox while learning about an entirely new way to approach coaching.

Citations:
  1. Santomauro DF, Mantilla Herrera AM, Shadid J, Zheng P, Ashbaugh C, Pigott DM, et al. Global prevalence and burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancet. 2021;398: 1700–1712.
  2. Murtell J. The 5 Phases of Design Thinking. In: American Marketing Association [Internet]. 14 Jul 2021 [cited 29 May 2023]. Available: https://www.ama.org/marketing-news/the-5-phases-of-design-thinking/
  3. Grisedale S. 75% of Teams Are Dysfunctional. Here’s Why. [cited 29 May 2023]. Available: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/75-teams-dysfunctional-heres-why-sally-grisedale
Originally posted on: 15 June 2023
Last updated on: 18 February 2024
Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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