Cognitive Fitness: Chapter 1 – Cognition and Cognitive Fitness Research…why bother?

For some years, we at Advanced Workplace Associates have been supporting the professional development of ‘workplace’ leaders through our Workplace Performance Innovation Network (Workplace PIN). We’ve given many senior leaders the confidence, knowledge, support and tools to evolve to more innovative models of work, workplace and workplace management, providing higher levels of value to their organisations. The revent research AWA have been involved with is about cognitive performance and how to maxmise a knowledge workers cognitive fitness.

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The ‘PIN’ provides a number of groups to support leaders in their aspiration to deliver an advanced workplace environment. One such group is the Workplace PIN Research Group whose primary goal is to unearth the best unbiased science in the interface between people, place, organisation and technology and to translate the science into tools and a language that allow leaders to use it to make a difference.

To date we’ve undertaken three studies on the subjects of Knowledge Worker Productivity, Managing the agile workforce and most recently Cognitive Fitness. Together they are bringing our members bullet proof science that we and they can depend on in evolving to advanced models of working, workplace design and workplace management.

It is the story of the most recent of these studies on ‘Cognitive Fitness’ that we’ll be telling over the next 6 months. We’ll be revealing a new chapter in the story every 2 weeks or so, sharing the different aspects of the study and the conclusions we’ve drawn.

What do we mean by Cognitive Fitness?

In the end, we are our brains. All our activities, work and connections are dependent on our mental health and mental performance.  The effectiveness of our human brain makes a real difference to the performance and contribution we bring to our organisations every day. Especially, in knowledge based organisations, where people really ‘think for a living’, the effectiveness of the way our brains function really matters. I.e. if you are a leader, scientist, software developer, systems analyst consultant etc. your brain is the most powerful tool you bring to work with you every day, therefore improving your cognitive ability and enhancing mental performance will be majorly significant.

‘Cognition’ is a scientific term for the working of the brain and ‘cognitive fitness’ is all about getting your brain into the best shape possible to enable you to be at your ‘personal best’ every day.

Why bother?

Whilst we recognise that the fortunes of an organisation are dependent on many things (including the strategic decisions made by senior leaders and how they respond to changes in their external competitive environment) the way it derives competitive edge from all its resources will be a key factor and the most significant resource an organisation has is its workforce.

In the world of knowledge work, each person brings a brain filled with knowledge (generated over many years) and energy to the organisation each day. It is the responsibility of the leaders in the organisation to derive more from these ‘resources’ that the competition. The difference between getting 120% from each person and 80% is a big difference in energy. Small differences in mental performance can make big differences in results.

So in the world of knowledge work the ability to derive maximum value from each and every human brain on the payroll individually and collectively will be mission critical.

In our first study on Knowledge Worker Productivity we derived 6 factors that we can prove make a difference to the performance of knowledge based teams and communities. The factors work at a ‘social’ level and give you a good steer as to how to get the most from the knowledge resources in the brains of your people at a collective level.

In our Cognitive Fitness study we wanted to find out the factors that made most difference to the performance of the brain at an individual level. So working with The Centre for Evidence Based Management (www.cebma.org), our independent research partner and supported by some great sponsors including: BDO, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Sodexo, Kinnarps, Allsteel and MyCognition we set about exploring the world of Cognition and Cognitive Fitness.

Our primary research question was ‘what is known from the scientific literature about the factors that impact cognitive performance (i.e. concentration, memory, accuracy, problem solving, decision making), such as nutrition, hydration, air quality, sleep, physical fitness, posture, working position, physical environment/workplace design, ownership of space, and workplace culture?

The research team searched through key academic databases and selected studies that used a control group and/or a before and after measurement were included and where outcome measurement: (only studies that measured the effect of an independent variable on the cognitive performance of healthy adults) were included.

What transpired was solid science on what makes a difference to the working of the brain and that is what we shall share with you in coming weeks.

Read our next blog and find our what cognition is all about.


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