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Sean Pillot de Chenecey chats with Martina Muttke, neuroscientist and mentor for CEO’s and executive teams.

Included in the discussion:

  • How neuroscience is applied in the business world
  • What happens in Martina’s workshops, and how people learn and remember.
  • Martina’s background
  • What makes a great coach and how different cultures respond to coaching
  • What inspires Martina
  • Virtual versus face-to-face coaching

Connect with Speakers Associates

Episode #128

Applying neuroscience in the business world

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:04): Hello. This podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders. Founded in 1999, today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of the Post Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist’s areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Martina Muttke.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:53): Martina is a Swiss-based executive with 25 years of senior leadership and expatriate experience. Her passion is to create and develop global leaders and to support them with an ability to translate knowledge and expertise into commercial success. She’s engaged with the global leadership development company Merryck as a mentor of CEOs and executive teams. And her clients benefit from her individual approach, which pairs a leadership experience with elements of scientific advances in medicine and neuroscience. Martina is a speaker specializing in healthcare and leadership providing keynote and workshops around leadership through neuroscience. So Martina welcome.

Martina Muttke (01:41): Thank you, Sean. Happy to be here.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:43): Fantastic. Now Martina tell me, my experience of neuroscience really started many years ago and stopped fairly shortly afterwards. When I interviewed a fascinating individual, a guy called Russell Foster, who was Head of Neuroscience at Imperial College. So for our listeners, wherever they may be. Be it in Shanghai or Berlin or Helsinki or Rio or New York or whatever, perhaps you could give us a, you say, an everyday explanation of exactly what neuroscience is about and what it’s about and how it applies to the conference world in terms of making direct impacts on an audience interested in that subject. So what is neuroscience really about and how is it applied in businesses today?

Martina Muttke (02:33): Well, Sean, let’s start with a question to you. Are you sure you want to have this podcast with me because in these 30 minutes or however long we speak, you should be aware that you will be changing your brain in this time. So that’s one fact about neuroscience, which many of us don’t know. When we speak about neuroscience, we speak about the workings of the brain or our central nervous system. And the brain is one part of it. But when we speak about neuroscience lately, we speak not only about one brain, but three brains. It’s the head brain. So the one in this box, we know, and then we have a big brain in the gut with millions and billions of neurons, nerve cells. And we have a small brain, which is totally independent itself. It’s the heart brain. So these news about neuroscience affect all of us in the way we are. We understand the signs as such our leadership, our behavior. And that’s just one of the news we have because there’s many more neuroscience has not spoken about so much in the last couple of years. And it is fascinating how these news about neuroscience really influence the way leaders can work on themselves to become more efficient and more successful with their teams.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:01): And so in terms of, being more successful, being more efficient, being a more effective leader, helping organizations to be, to be themselves more effective. I know that one of the sort of terms you use is GMC, which refers to the gardener, the magician and the coach, which is really fascinating. So what’s that? What is that all about?

Martina Muttke (04:24): So just think about when you are speaking to me and I mentioned you are changing your brain, you yourself, because your brain is something which is an eternal construction site, actually. You turn on a couple of systems all the time. When you speak to people, when you interact, when you behave, when you’re sad, angry, and stressed. And when you are a leader, you have a natural tendency. Like for example, I always wanted to be a leader I had in my first couple of years, who was this extremely charismatic, British guy who was just full of seniority. And he never waved his hands too much. And he never spoke too much like I used to do so over years and years, I tried to modelize myself to become different, but it’s the chemistry in my brain. And some parts of my brain, which we have to accept. I’m more the gardener or captain or magician type of leader, but we can do a lot by balancing these systems once we know them and turning on and off a couple of chemicals with some tips and tricks, we can all learn and just adapt our style. So it is complex but we can really learn a couple of modes and tips and tricks in order to modify our brains and our leadership.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:48): Okay. So in terms of, let’s say, cause I know you also run very, very successful workshops and you’re highly in demand in that area. So in terms of workshops, when you are talking about how to build better brains on a practical level, what do you actually do? What do you get the audience doing or the delegates doing?

Martina Muttke (06:09): So I give you an example and we could do this even in the podcast, but let me just explain

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (06:15): Bring it on.

Martina Muttke (06:16): So there’s two systems in your brain, which is the one which is for rest and relax. And the other one is the kind of stress system, both have a real reason for being there because in our cave times there was disabled tooth tiger. And whenever this guy appeared, we needed to react immensely rapidly. So this one system in our nervous system and brain, it goes to the stress reaction and there’s couple of hormones being produced and all that. And then on the other side, you have the rest and relaxed part of your brain and your system, which you need when you want to renew your energy, renew yourself, build relationships, learn, have a functioning immune system, sleep well. So these two systems are constantly in balance. And now when we are stressed and you know, all these people who are telling you, oh, I love to be stressed.

Martina Muttke (07:07): I love these 60 hour weeks. And there’s great. And I’m always full of steam. This is so bad for your health. So I start by explaining them and then I give them a chance to go into this other system, the relax and rest system for a minute, by telling them to just close their eyes and think about a moment in their life where one person they really cared about told them one thing which influenced the way they are. And then I asked them to think how the feeling was when they think about this moment, what do they feel? And give them 20 seconds to just get this moment back in their heads and feel how it was. And then I asked them open your eyes and what they have then done. Congratulations. They have spent 20 seconds in their parasympathetic nervous system. And in this time there were no stress hormones. Their immune system was working. New nerve cells have grown in their brain all at these connections. And they were exactly there where you want to be your employee when you give him feedback. Because when you tell the guy tomorrow you’re coming into my office, you get feedback, you know what happens then? He goes in through the saber tooth tiger mode immediately.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:28): How fascinating. Can I ask? Do you tend to find the people, get very emotional when they go through this process? When they go through this sort of, yeah, exactly. This route that you describe. Cause I can imagine personally, if in most workshops, so that I’ve been in, or in most conference environments, they tend to be often very stilted. Very formal, a lot of sort of showing off and posturing. So people from a subjective level tend to be very, let’s say unemotional and unrelaxed. And what you’re describing is such a different way of thinking is fascinating. So I wondered, you know, the reaction from people do they tend to get very emotional or are they, I know almost quite euphoric afterwards? I mean.

Martina Muttke (09:15): No. You make a very good point, Sean. It is funny, but there is a couple of things you can do in exercises and people normally hate exercise, right? I remember when I was in this situation and then there was this moderator saying, oh, now you get up and we grab each other by the hand and you get together two pairs. I hated it. So this is deliberately not what I want to do, but you tell each other things. And there’s a couple of exercises. Like the thank you exercise where you can, can just interact two people and suddenly something happens and you build such a trust that there can, it can happen that somebody gets into tears, but it’s such a wonderful experience because you see everybody relaxing. So what happens in these workshops and I have in four hours, I have three nice interactive things I do with them.

Martina Muttke (10:04): They speak, they tell me, we spoke during the next day still about that. And this was, I never knew it. I could do that. And I want to train more on this and that because there’s some simple things they can learn without being one of these perfect people who sit down two hours every morning to meditate. And we know this is what everybody know tells us. You go into a newspaper and everybody tells you again how important it is to meditate and to drink enough water and to Jesus, just eat without cups. And no, I don’t expect these people to get perfect, but you can learn some tips which are tailored to your style in order to become better yourself and then also get a better leader.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:47): So on that exact point, cause again, I think it’s a common complaint from conference delegates that, you know, let alone a day after, let alone say a week after people very often forget everything that they’ve heard at conferences. You know, it’s a rare speaker that communicates something that really resonates with people and that either leads to genuine change in the business environment or in brand strategy or wherever it may be or on a personal level leads to actual sort of behavioral change or indeed attitudinal change. So you mentioned about the various exercises you go through. So perhaps talk a bit more about some of the things you mentioned, the thank you exercise. I think you said there, so exactly what are people doing in your workshops or during your talks that helps ’em to actually make positive, positive changes?

Martina Muttke (11:42): I give you a very clear example, which you can apply in leadership situation because this, these are all leaders and senior executives. They’re the funny, and really still very valid first advances in cognitive neuroscience was the so-called scarf model. So a very clever guy found out that the reactions our brain has when it gets stressed by social stressors. And I’ll tell you then what they are, are the same. Then when this tiger appears. So I have one exercise which is called how tame a tiger in my workshop. So when there is an accident in front of you, a car coming, you see a child running over the street, you see somebody just aggressively coming up to you. Some physical threats perceived by the brain in a certain way, which I have mentioned just slightly, you turn on this sympathetic system, you bring your court is all your stress hormones into, into play.

Martina Muttke (12:42): And this is something which we have to understand does not only happen when you have physical threats, but what this cognitive neuroscience found out is that when certain stresses happen in your workplace or your social life, your body has exactly the same reactions, your brain lights up and exactly the same place as produces the same kind of neurochemicals initiating these stress reactions. Like when you have the tiger front of you. So this can be when your status is threatened. For example, in a position of somebody who is in the middle of an integration and doesn’t know if you find a job. When your boss tells you, as I just said tomorrow at three o’clock, I’ll give you feedback. This is frightening. You don’t know what to expect. So there’s uncertainty. This model speaks about the different stresses which you can have and they’re difficult and different for everyone.

Martina Muttke (13:40): So I had a person in our last integration who came to me and said, look, I just, you know, I’m fine. I will get a job in this new company, but you know, I’ve always been a VP vice president. And in this merged company, I know they don’t have VP positions. I will be a director. I don’t want to be a director. I have fought all my life to be a VP. So I don’t know if I want to stay. So what do you do? And I’m coming here to the exercise. What do you do? You try to de-stress and find a solution together with this person. Second example, a person who says, look, I don’t really know care what position I get, but I have to pay the mortgage for my house. So I heard that on pay the salaries, which are so good as ours.

Martina Muttke (14:29): So I confirmed after a week that the salaries will be kept for the next 24 months. And he stayed and his stress level went down. So in the exercise I’m doing, we get together in groups of three or four people and say, you all think about one situation where you were socially stressed. So your status will threaten, you were uncertain. You’re feeling not treated fair. You felt your autonomy threatened. So it’s scarf status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. These are all kind of wonderful elements. This neuroscientist discovered if you threaten one of these things, then you go into this alert situation. So think about a situation when this has happened to you and now the other guys in your group, what could you do? What would you do to relieve somebody who is in your team, who is a colleague of yours in this situation? How do you take away the stress? How do you mitigate this situation? And this helps because it’s exercise and practice. So learning happens because of attention, awareness, deliberate practice, and then somebody recognizing and holding you accountable. So once you start becoming aware of these things, you have learned it and you will use it in your life. So that’s what stays after the workshop.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (15:52): How fascinating. And in terms of how you got to be where you are now. So perhaps just going back a while, what path of you sort of led in on a, in terms of your business life, I know you’re at Harvard and so just talk me through the stages that have led you to where you are now.

Martina Muttke (16:11): Yeah. Let’s not make it too long. I’m originally a medical doctor and my grandmother owned a pharmacy, so always kind of like drugs. And I remember I was then after the medical studies, I was happy to start working in pharma and biotech. And that’s where I worked for almost 24 or 5 years. And did a business education in Harvard. And then a couple of things happened, you know, why I choose to now after this long time, take other pieces of my experience and career and promote these knowledges to something which makes me what I am and what I’m doing now. So I was in Mexico for three years and I was working a lot in the Middle East. And my boss always told me, Martinez is the one who wants to work in the country. Nobody wants to go to the funny countries.

Martina Muttke (17:12): You know, was, there was normally a security, a safety issue, but what this showed me as a German person is how we need to adapt to not only cultures in society, but to different styles of people. So this is humbling. And especially as a German woman who was actually fighting her way through her career, you need to be able to be humbled a bit. So I love that, and I especially love to work in these countries. And that’s why throughout my career, I searched for new opportunities, which were very intercultural and did a lot of conferences and speeches also in these funny countries, in emerging markets, actually. I did, I love to work in the Middle East, for example, it’s a wonderful culture. I really appreciate. And my funniest experiences where in the Middle East and in countries like Kazakhstan or Russia, for example, but what I found, at, after a certain time is that my learning curve and I’m a learner for my personality style was stopping.

Martina Muttke (18:16): And, I looked for something which gave me pleasure again. And what had given me pleasure mostly in my career was to be able to develop people and to bring people to, from the bottom of the Muslim of pyramid of needs, which we all know to somewhere where they can reach the self-actualization. So coming back to the model, which I actually developed for leaders and like to train or to get into the minds of people, I’m the typical gardener I like to provide the basis. I’ll make always sure that the people I work with have enough food and get enough sleep and quality of life. And they’re not too stressed, but what people nowadays want is more it’s the self actualization,. is somebody who gives them a purpose. And this creates a motivation to reach the goal and to work with you as a leader towards the goal. So I really like to see that, and I like to change and to adapt my leadership in a way that the people having the foundations of safety, belonging, physical needs, but that they together with me, can we just state of development, we just really reaching their own purpose. And this is what I’m doing now, mentoring and coaching leaders. And I find this really fulfilling.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:38): Sounds absolutely fascinating. But what I have to ask is in terms of, you know, you mentioned, I think your term was, you know, these strange countries. So in terms of cultural differences, if you are coaching a business leader in Mexico City or in Jeddah or Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, or back in this Condor for Hamburg in Germany, are you using the same process and the same model for each person in front of you, or does it, is there a big issue here about cultural differences that impacts on how you are explaining what it is that one is putting across?

Martina Muttke (20:15): That’s a very good question, Sean. Everybody is different. Every everybody’s brain is different and everybody will react differently to the way I coach or I introduce coaching models. So I’m not a fan of coaching models for once because you know, every 28 year old psychologists can have a back full of coaching medals and apply them to you and call themself, great mentor or coach, but what makes great coaches to, first of all, listen to what does the person want? Who is the person? And this you can do in every culture and he need to do in every culture. And then you’ll see, what does the person need, because for example, I have a client who is the typical, not gardener, but from the three, the magician captain and gardner, he is the clear captain. He’s not inspirational at all. He never puts chocolate in front of me or brings me a coffee.

Martina Muttke (21:12): When I come and have been in the plane for a couple of hours, he just doesn’t think about it. But he said, clear directions. He wants a style of coaching where I’m on the flip chart and he makes sure he has a couple of things, which he has learned at the end, a person from the Middle East. You will need hours to speak about personal things. To ask about things around the actual topic before you really get to the actual topic. This is the different style, right? You need to build a personal relationship with somebody from a culture like the Middle East or like Latin America, totally different to a German or a guy from US, for example. ‘Cause they’re more direct. You can get to the, what you want and what they need. Right. But this is fascinating. And again, Japan, China totally different. Right? So there, I find it most tricky because I feel most strange that the brains work in a different way. They have very different needs. The people they react differently to stresses because of their upbringing and their culture also. So things which are trained in your brain are very difficult to untrain because they’re physiologically as little speedways already ingrained where they are and deconstructing them is not possible. You can just override them with some new experiences.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:35): Wow, absolutely fascinating. Well think we got back another sort of five or so minutes left and I could happily talk about this for hours with you. So it’s extraordinary, but tell me in terms of, I mean, you’ve been talking about some incredibly inspiring, interesting things. What sort of things inspire you? So I’ve for you to know, you know, have you been reading anything recently in the last year or certain? Any books that have been really inspiring to you? Or listening to any other sort of podcasts or whatever? So where do you get your yeah, your inspiration from?

Martina Muttke (23:10): Yeah, to be honest. I got my inspiration when I was a child very much from everything from Steven King to Isaac Asimov and Stanlislaw Lem. So I love science fiction and I very much already like this. I don’t, I’m not convinced that this brain and what we have up there is all what we can use, but there must be more in it. Unfortunately the latest brain research has shown what we do actually use a hundred percent of our brain almost all the time, not the colloquial. We only use 20%. No, it’s not like that. We do, I, we can do much more with it, but that is something. So it was a farmer, which I had a beautiful idea, which I had and I liked, and that inspired me as a kid. Nowadays, what inspires me really is, what medicine can do to move from the, from the fire trucks to smoke detectors.

Martina Muttke (24:07): I like what you can do with yourself, your body and your brain and how you can influence the interaction between body and mind in order to become and stay more healthy age in a different way, stay much more alert and really improve yourself. So things about self-improvement and being the best person you can be is for me the most fascinating. Plus then some things which are, which are quite interesting going into what the Silicon valley guys and are interested in the nootropics, the cognitive enhances. So.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:42): Yeah, yeah, sure.

Martina Muttke (24:43): You may know the movie Lucy from Luc Besson, which is super, and she’s my hero at some stage. I want to be like that. So it is really an inspiration, but things like imagine the FDA has approved a stimulation, which is an electro stimulation of your brain from the outside, with an electrode that helps people with epilepsy to detect once some kind of, epileptic seizure is starting to come and giving a little shock in this part of the brain prevents the seizure.

Martina Muttke (25:16): So it’s kind of like a pacemaker for the brain. I find this is exactly the way we need to go in medicine. And this is something which I really like. I remember this episode from Star Wars, Star Trek, where captain Kirk and Spock are somewhere in the future. And they’re in hospitals, see this guy on the gurney who looks terrible. And they say, what is happening to us? Had all these chemotherapies for cancer treatment. And they look at each other and say, this is so last century medicine, how can they still do that? This is impossible. And he takes out little advice and says, no, we just stimulate your energy in the right way. And this is my dream, right? And this is what I believe we can do with our brain. And part of this neuroscience can help us with, because there’s a lot we know now. So let’s try to just utilize what we can use in our lives and in our leadership to just become the better people.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (26:13): Okay. And then sort of final sort of point. And that’s really, really interesting. What about the difference between virtual coaching and personal coaching, as in, as we are now, eye to eye, as opposed to via screen. So is there anything.

Martina Muttke (26:30): Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (26:30): That you want to talk about there?

Martina Muttke (26:32): I, it, it’s an attempt I have met people who say, and my partner’s one of those who just would never make a phone call, if not something is really, really urgent people who hate virtual communication, but once they get into it, they don’t stop. So this is something I think we cannot avoid that we need to connect better and better virtually. And coaching is absolutely possible virtually. What I think is important, you need to have a physical connection at least once, because you need to feel the emotions. You need to see the person is what interconnecting, what we call the limbic systems. So the old ancient part of the brains, you see somebody, you get some vibes, you interconnect some brains and you need to build up some trust without that it doesn’t work. Then you can absolutely go on to virtual coaching. And I think it’s a good mix to have that because once we coach now over continents, we are not able to every week fly to Singapore from Zurich, like I would need to do or something.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (27:38): Yeah. Yeah.

Martina Muttke (27:39): So I think it’s still something we need to improve, but it’s definitely the future.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (27:45): Okay. So in that case, last question, and I say, unfortunately, we are just about out of time, but it’s been obviously fascinating. Just to sum up exactly what it is that one of the Speakers Associates clients, if they’re listening to this wherever they may be in China or Australia, or the somewhere in the Middle East or South America, et cetera, or back in Europe, in terms of the really key benefits from what it is that you do. So they can benefit from just to be clear about this. Exactly. What is that? So what do they get from you, Martina?

Martina Muttke (28:19): Leadership is learnable. Your brain is plastic and in an internal construction mode. So this is such a great opportunity. And there is a saying, come in and find out, do that together with me. I think I can show you how you can build and balance some parts of your brain in a way that you can become an authentic charismatic leader and you can stay and come in touch much better with the people you lead and you will have much more success with your life and with your team’s success.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (28:55): Sounds absolutely fantastic. Martina Muttke. Thank you.

Martina Muttke (29:00): Thank you, Sean. It was a pleasure to be here.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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