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Posted by Jaime Danielson on October 11th, 2010
You finally get five minutes with Dr. Sanchez. As you pitch your product, she looks like she’d rather be anywhere but listening to you. You’re doing what was discussed in the semester’s POA meeting, the product has some distinct benefits over its competitors, and your breath is minty fresh. So, what’s gone wrong? The culprit is science. Actually, the culprit is the brain, and science reveals the strategy you can use to overcome it.
When you tell Dr. Sanchez about your product, you are—at the most fundamental level—asking her to make a change. You are telling her to switch from Oldazol, which she has successfully prescribed for two years, to Newazol, your company’s latest product. You’ve heard the cliché change is difficult, so you expected some pushback from the doctor. But the cliché doesn’t satisfactorily explain why she looks so uncomfortable as you stand there in front of her talking about your product.
Neuroscience offers a more satisfactory explanation. Advanced studies and analyses of the brain have proven that change “provokes sensations of physical discomfort.”2 In other words, “change is pain.”2 Change activates the brain’s prefrontal cortex, a high-energy working area where new information is compared to old information. Thinking in the prefrontal cortex requires much effort, as opposed to thinking in the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia make up the habit-center of the brain, where routine tasks are processed without expending much energy. Humans are hardwired to want to operate in the basal ganglia, since less effort is required to think there. And, like Dr. Sanchez, they will be predisposed to avoid change because it threatens to move their thought process out of the basal ganglia and into the prefrontal cortex.2
Human brains are also hardwired to avoid errors. In neuroscientist speak, errors are “perceived differences between expectation and actuality.”2 Changing a habit that has become embedded in the pathways of the basal ganglia will be perceived as an error. It will spark activity in the brain’s fear center—the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the oldest parts of the brain. It is associated with lower level thinking, or animal instincts. The amygdala perceives threats and produces an away (i.e., flight) response. When the amygdala is active, no higher-level intellectual thinking can occur. So, as you tell Dr. Sanchez to change to Newazol, her brain perceives an error. And when she realizes changing one drug will lead to additional changes in things like reimbursement rates and dosing regimens, her brain perceives even more errors. Her amygdala comes to life. Her instincts take over, and she wants to move away from you and your discomforting idea.1, 2, 3
If Dr. Sanchez, like the rest of us, is built to want to run from the pain caused by change, how can you ever sell Newazol? There is a way, and we will examine it when we dig deeper into the neuroscience of change in next week’s entry.
1 Goleman D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books; 1995.
2 Rock D, Schwartz J. The neuroscience of leadership. Strategy + Business. Booz & Company. 2006; 43: 1-8
3 Taylor SE, Eisenberger NI, Saxbe D, Leman, BJ, Lieberman MD. Neural responses to emotional stimuli are associated with childhood family stress. Biological Psychiatry. Society of Biological Psychiatry. 2006; 60: 296-301.