Unlocking brain capital is a unique and interesting way to rethink the way we approach the future of work. By combining technology, AI, and Neurosciences, Brain Capital is fast becoming an organizational asset that has the power to generate greater worker productivity, make better hiring decisions, and build a stronger, more resilient workforce.
This episode of Hireside chats features an intriguing conversation between SatJ, CEO Diamondpick, Naresh Nagarajan, CTO Neurowyz – a brain capital company that uses the latest thinking in neuroscience, advanced analytics, and AI to optimize employee brain health and performance; and Nav Vij, Chief Digital Neuroscientist, Neurowyzr. The three talk about how putting a premium on Brain Capital will help us all thrive in today’s complex world.
- Brain Capital is an exciting, cutting-edge, and new thought process with the perfect combination of technology, AI, and neurosciences, driving innovation in today’s economy.
- Many people suffer from brain decline, dementia, and other complicated brain diseases. With the application of digital technology and neuroscience and the superimposition of AI analytics, and predictive analytics, we can foresee brain diseases and control them.
- Neuroscience can help to build a high-performing, productive, creative, and agile workforce, especially in an environment where people are experiencing burnout in large numbers.
- As the world moves forward with generative AI and recruitment, a powerful concept of neurodiversity comes into play to build better and stronger, and more diverse teams.
- A fundamental and must-have cognitive ability for a successful employee is – attention! Attention is a powerful feature that most of us don’t have. Harnessing brain capital, can neuroscience can help us measure brain capacity and improve it.
Read the blog version of this exciting conversation where Naresh Nagarajan and Nav Vij from Neurowyzr share with us plenty of practical takeaways to take care of our brains and be prepared for the future of work.
Listen to the Podcast here
Hireside Chats Episode 8: Unlocking Brain Capital: The Power of Neuroscience and AI in Recruitment
Sat J: We are faced with a rapidly changing world of work dealing with the effects of the pandemic while being expected to keep up with new tech, learn new skills to stay relevant, adapt to changing cultural norms, and so much more. It’s a lot to handle, making brain drain, poor mental health, and burnout the number one issue most professionals face.
Unlocking brain capital is a unique and exciting way to rethink the way we approach work by focusing on optimizing brain health. By tapping into an employee’s full cognitive potential, brain capital is fast becoming a new organizational asset. Optimizing brain health and skills to generate greater worker productivity, hire better, and build a stronger, more resilient workforce.
Our brains work 24/7, and it doesn’t stop even when we sleep. Always thinking, resolving, and making decisions. This cutting-edge concept of optimizing our brains using deep learning-based digital tools is trending across industries.
What exactly is this concept of brain capital, and how does it drive innovation in today’s economy? And also, it’ll help if you can tell us a little bit about what you guys do. And what led to the creation of Neurowyzr?
Nav: I’m always excited to talk about brain capita, it’s a very exciting, cutting-edge, new thought process, especially in the combination of technology, AI, as well as neurosciences. Brain capital generally means the combination of everything we think about how we feel better and think better. It combines our mental status, which means our mental health, as well as the productivity in our brain, the cognitive capability of our mind, and even the health of our brain. It also extends into the economics of brain health and productivity. When I say economics, I think about businesses and running efficiently, retaining employees, and keeping talented people, talented. So they’re all encapsulated under this big umbrella label of brain capital.
SatJ: Naresh, what led to the creation of Neurowyzr, where did this idea originate, and how far have you guys come along?
Naresh: There are a lot of ventures in mental health and mental well-being or brain space. If you look at the landscape around you, a lot of them are technology first, and then the domain is applied.
Unlike these ventures, the genesis of Neurowyzr started with a couple of the most famous neuroscientists and surgeons in Asia today. So one of our co-founders, Dr. Prem Pillai, has eclectic qualifications from the US and was invited by the Singapore Government to come and set up the National Neurological Institute in Singapore way back. He put in a lot of research and technology application and spun off a whole set of new areas that he applied neuroscience to – both the medical and emerging corporate ideas.
Second was Nav, who is also an emerging neuroscientist who had done his studies in Australia. So these two gentlemen, coupled with a host of other researchers from three or four countries, got together to understand two things – one, how today the whole concept of the science behind the brain box in terms of, if you really zoom out and look at the way health is measured, if you take any other physiological organ for example if you take sugar, which is from the pancreas or fever or even COVID. The idea is it remains a stigma or a fear because of the data surrounding it and the knowledge surrounding it. It initially remains very weak. As you understand more and more, the science behind it and the fear are replaced by successful endeavors to overcome it, and then come mitigations and medications.
So Covid, for example, took about 3 years of Governments and Science who get together and democratized the entire data. So, unlike any other physiological organ, the brain, which is the command center, is not fully comprehended. Science understands only 9 to 10% of the entire concept and the physiological aspects of that wonderful part of the human body. With the rest of the human body, so much has been researched. The heart, for example, almost everything has been researched, but for the brain, research is still emerging. It’s a very complex space.
The 2nd dimension – if you look at health itself as a continuous form of wellness, from clinical wellness to your normal self-care, how do you address it? Suppose you have a fever, and you can go into a clinical setting or get hospitalized. You can measure your temperature and determine if you are well or not. On that kind of spectrum, in every part of the human body, you know how to gauge your health and how things can be improved. Exercise can help with all other parts of the body. That aspect can be applied to any other part of physiological health.
But the brain, it’s another physiological argument. Unfortunately, we as human beings do not exercise the brain. In fact, we don’t exercise it at all. So when this team, who knew the neuroscience behind it, knew that the brain, in fact, is the command center. And that’s where most of the issues start first. The concept was, how do we bring all these things into one scientific-led measurement technique? Because first of all, you got to have a measure. The minute you say brain, everybody thinks MRI, something is wrong with him, you know, even get into aspects of is he mentally unwell and things like that. Whereas the brain is also another physiological organ. Just like you measure a fever or a stomachache, you have to start by measuring your brain.
So the team put all their research together and decided to make it simple. A science-backed way of measurement, and in doing so, unlike the traditional, current methods where it involves measurement techniques, which is pen and paper-driven through three or four days of extensive meeting with the patient.
And number three, which is very expensive – how do I look at technology and apply it to the art of measurement? So the advent of the cloud, the digital tools lent itself very well. So they married the two, the science behind measurement and the digital tools to come up with this wonderful way of measuring the current brain performance of a human being.
And that’s the genesis of our first test, which was called a digital brain function screen. Now, from there, we’ve evolved a lot in a couple of years, and we have created a variant of it for the corporate setting that Nav talked about a little bit earlier. And now we’re also advancing into the other parts of the food chain in terms of brain science. It is also not understood by many people that the brain, just like any other organ, the performance starts diminishing from an optimal age. And science and research have shown that till around the age of 20, 30 is when the peak performance is achieved, but after that, it slowly starts deteriorating.
For most – 80 to 85% – of the people, you don’t feel the decline, but over 50 or 55, you know, depending on what we call the neuroplasticity of the brain, the gap between the neurons increases. And in some cases, if the gaps are too much, then you hear cases of dementia and more complicated diseases.
So we believe that the application of digital technology by applying neuroscience, which is FDA backed and HSA-backed kind of test with the superimposition of AI analytics, can eventually lead to more predictive analytics and foresight for brain diseases because that’s the way in terms of future that we can control a lot of other diseases, which affects the human body like we’ve been seeing in the last two to three years.
Nav: I think the key takeaway from what Naresh said was the concept of measurement actually being at the forefront of all change, all intervention, all improvement, any performance growth always starts with objective measurement and continuous and follow-up longitudinal checks to make sure that we’re on the right track at improving and hence the genesis of Neurowyzr. The creation of Neurowyzr was to create these tools that can be easily adopted and based fully on deep neuroscience fundamentals.
SatJ: How do we harness neuroscience to build a high-performing, productive, and creative agile workforce, especially after we’ve just come out of a pandemic with people experiencing burnout? There’s so much stress in the system that we see today.
Neurowyzr has been doing some exceptional work, and what are some examples of how organizations have been able to leverage brain capital to bring out their best in employees, and how has Neurowyzr been helping them?
Nav: I like your question. I especially like that you mentioned high performing, productive, and creative. You know, when we do our research in brain capital, we do our research in productive employees. And we always look forward. We look at the next 10; I would say even 10, 15, 20 years, maybe. And we look at what would be considered successful in the next 20 years. We are now entering a knowledge workforce, which means that the most important tool, that most important asset, that every company has, and we ask this of every employer – it’s the employees! And the most important asset that each and every employee has is the health and functionality of their brain.
So, as we move into the next decade, we move into the next few years. These are the adjectives that become truly important, high performing, productive, especially creativity and agility. So agile is a word that we use a lot. Agile, actually, from a neuroscience point of view means it’s a term that we use, and we call it learning adaptability and learning agility, which means the ability to pick up new tools. You know, during COVID, a lot of people in the workforce, older workforce members, struggled with suddenly having to switch to Zoom.
And then one day it’s Google Teams, and it’s Google Meet and all these different types of software, all these little skills, no matter how small or how big. The change in your function is it involves a form of learning adaptability. So is your brain plastic enough? Is your brain sponge-like enough? Healthy enough? At the same time, is your mental status resilient enough? Are you free from the anxiety that you are able to pick up these tools in a quick, easy way that allows you to make some errors but then ultimately, you know, become a master of some of these tools? So that helps growth in companies, true growth in each individual.
So we use neuroscience by building these tools of measurement, then creating granular systems of support so that we can help employees on a granular level while employers create resources and systems that can hedge our resources and support people from a business point of view. So allow for resources and tools and, on a granular level, allow employees to understand when and where to access these tools.
We work with large finance-based companies and huge knowledge-worker industries, definitely suffering through burnout, suffering through stress, as you mentioned. In fact, the stress is a bit different because COVID is a situation we call unprecedented. So this is a stress an individual meets which they have not met before. They don’t know how to encounter it. They don’t know how to overcome it. So what happens a lot of times is we turn to tools that what we call one-stop-shop type solutions, you know, where we will answer three or four questions. So you may be asked things like, how angry did you feel the last week? One to 10, you know, so we must allow for the subjective score from an employee. A lot of times in burnout and stress, we don’t even know how stressed we are. We don’t know how it affects the rest of our lives. We don’t know how it affects our work.
From the neuroscience point of view, we support these businesses, especially the finance industry that we did here in Singapore by building objective tools. So these tools don’t need employees to answer and look within and try to come up with a 1 to 10 rating. They use our tools, and we give an objective view. So they are better understood where they stand, how well the status of their mental health is, their emotional status is, and also, more importantly, how well their cognitive capabilities are performing. Having said so, maybe I can give you one analogy of a very interesting back-and-forth we had with an HR team, and it was a wonderful question asked by the head of HR.
This is a very prominent company, and we noticed that mindfulness, which is a very powerful feature of both your cognition as well as your mental state. Mindfulness was low. The company scored low, the particular team scored low, and the HR was very quick to share, very rightfully so, that they had amazing sessions set up once a month for employees to access mindfulness. In fact, they have wonderful mindfulness and meditation teachers that will come, and people could volunteer and join these courses, she says. Nav, If I’m having all these wonderful monthly classes for mindfulness, then how come, number one, mindfulness is low? And secondly, what else can we do if we’re already doing these classes?
Now, this goes back to what Naresh and I said, I think, around the idea of measurement because from our research, what has been happening, I can tell you, is that the people that are mindful are the only ones going for the mindfulness classes. In essence, people that are not mindful are not going to these classes. It’s a very basic form of human instinct. We do things that we feel we’re good at or that we can achieve. So how we support them is by creating these digital tools or allowing for objective measurements and then supporting and nudging individuals to the direction that would help them the most, in essence, give you the highest form of ROI as an individual on a trajectory of positive growth as in your brain, as well as in your mental state.
SatJ: Naresh, you’ve been a successful entrepreneur. You’ve successfully managed and run product companies, start-ups and I’m sure you agree with me that comprehending the human brain and understanding the full range of employees, behavioral, psychological, and social attributes throughout an employee’s life cycle can help make new achievements possible in the whole process of recruiting and hiring. And you have had the experience of hiring several people in your career.
So can you elaborate on how neuroscience can help organizations attract potential employees? And does Neurowyzr have plans to enhance the tools and technology that are available today to use neuroscience to help with this whole recruitment process?
Naresh: This is an extremely relevant question to today’s times. The transition of how employment and the business itself have evolved over the last three decades, enough has been said about digital. But today, if you really look, even large companies are trying to behave, function, or organize themselves as start-ups simply because the environment outside is changing so fast. The geopolitical market business drivers change by the quarter.
So that’s the number one attribute. The second attribute is in terms of time. So whether you are a public company or not, whether you’re funded by a VC or promoted by individuals does not matter. Everybody is now looking at how in the least amount of time, you can start generating profit. Because at times when the capital to fund is plenty, no questions are asked, but one wrong moment, like, for example, we have heard enough about the funding today, there’s a lot of wide costs in the cost of the balance sheet in terms of, how profitable if not profitable, then start looking at cutting people, the other costs so that, you start generating meaningful returns for investors. That’s the second attribute.
The third attribute is the human centricity itself. Now, while 30 or 40 years ago, most of the skills requirements were very linear in terms of the ability to understand what was told. And in some kind of a very sequential fashion, the tasks were done. Today, it’s very global. I mean every part, whether it’s manufacturing or even services, every part of whatever is conceptualized from order to cash in terms of a process is done in multiple parts of the world and in, most often, a very rapidly changing environment where the customer himself or herself is not very sure about the requirements and is looking at the solution provider to, address these. So that’s the third dimension in terms of the skills itself is going very normally.
The fourth dimension which is added to it, like what I was attributing, is very recently, huge disruptions like COVID, right? I mean, so if you combine all these four and really look at it and apply it to this so-called digital age, they need to be very resilient, highly adaptive. What is relevant today is not relevant tomorrow in terms of skill sets. The ability to program manage multiple things at the same time yet deliver to the timelines required of various stakeholders. That’s becoming very important, and change is only moving faster. In all this, how do you ensure that you stay very productive and be very mindful in terms of not just yourself but your team and carry the team along? So these are very definite requirements.
Now, about a decade back, neuroscience was not so important. So as long as you had the technical skill sets or the engineering skill sets or the physical skill sets that would, kind of suffice in meeting the requirements of the job at that time, but today those things are secondary compared to the ability of the brain to understand what it is and flow with the change.
How do you flow with the change? The performance of the brain and managing the complexities of the mind becomes very crucial. So neuroscience has been gaining a lot of traction in the last couple of years, and I believe going into the future in the next 5, 10 years with the advent of AI where there’s a whole lot of things right from fear psychosis to actual implementation like automation jobs being taken away is going to become a reality.
It’s very important that the employees of tomorrow really have brain health and neuroscience at the center. That said, what are the various techniques and technologies being applied? The whole concept of neuroscience is about not about asking like Nav said, a set of questions. And we look at like a net promoter score of yes or no, and then come up with an aggregated score. No, it’s all about the experience.
So if you want to make sure that the performance of the brain of a person is improved, it has to be done over time. I mean, there’s no magic bullet saying that it can be done in one month or two months. It’s a sustained effort. In order to do that, there are various techniques. So first, you start the measurement, and even the measurement, the way of administering the measurement is very important. The experience of that measurement for a person should be very unique.
Like we have completely gamified the whole thing. It’s like playing a set of puzzles. So the employee really doesn’t know that actually the whole thing is about brain performance. So once that is measured, then there’s a whole set of support procedures available from normal counseling or even in terms of coaching, etc. Some of the technologies that are emerging in therapies in terms of improving brain performance are in the form of games. So there are these small games that are being developed that can be played on the mobile phone. If you are having a stressful situation or you want to improve mindfulness or a particular aspect of the brain, there are specific games that are being designed by neuroscientists to be deployed for the end consumer. So that’s the 2nd area of technology that is being developed.
The 3rd area is very specialized, highly articulate brain coaching. There is this concept of brain coaches that is coming up, which is high and over above normal counselors and therapists. So these are highly trained neuroscientists armed with the right set of tools who have digitized the course content, and it’s a very highly tailored kind of program for a specific set of corporate executives. It can be across any level. That is the third.
The fourth is, of course, the whole concept of AI and, more recently, generative AI. So if let’s say the set of technologies has been deployed across 100 000 people over a period of time, we build models, and we can train these models and thereby apply a set of rules and AI or generative techniques to come out with a new set of recommendations or insights that can help the individual. Of course, there are some challenges in applying these technologies straight because most of these are evolving. Because the minute you bring up the concept of AI, there is a concept of bias also included in it. So currently, there are a lot of studies being done to see how some of those can be mitigated over the next three to five years.
But technology offers a lot of potential in terms of how you simplify this so that the next set of recommendations actually learns from hundreds of people, patients, and consumers having gone through these stressful situations and learning from it and tracking the model with it. So that’s the fifth area that is developing. I think the fundamental aspect is neuroscience. Let’s see the start of the measurement and apply the science behind it to make sure that the digital tools are the eye that is driving it and go towards a certain objective.
So these are some of the techniques and technologies that are in play, but most recently, generative AI, and I think that will develop more and more.
SatJ: There’s been so much buzz in recent months about generative AI and the interactions between generative AI and neuroscience. And you brought out some of the advances that AI has the potential to transform the whole talent landscape as we know it. But there is a lot of fear. Psychosis is being spread around in terms of people losing jobs, AI creating a lot of unemployment in the world, and so on and so forth. So my question to Nav you know, very often when we talk about these topics in organizations, the first reaction is fear.
And now, with generative AI and so much neuroscience being spoken around, especially when you speak about brain health and all that with employees. How do you think the reception has been, and has Neurowyzr been successful in convincing organizations that this is the way to go?
Nav: The way that we look at this question is rather the positioning or understanding of neuroscience, especially things like brain health. Yes, there is a stigma when you talk to employees about brain health. But when we switch the conversation, we talk about brain performance, or we talk about turbocharging the use of your brain, people start to get very excited. There are very few people that we meet who do not admit that they would like to sharpen the way they think, you know, manage stress better. The problem when it comes to brain health is because of what’s happened during COVID. During COVID, the spotlight was on mental health.
This actually served to amplify the stigma a little bit. Most people get worried. The human instinct is to get worried when it comes too close to what we call a disease state or a disorder state. And that’s what’s happened with mental health. But neuroscience sits on a very different level. It has a lot of opportunities to live in the preventative space in the space of brain turbocharging, or like I said, brain performance growth.
So in speaking with companies and businesses, we found some interesting success when we come in and work with people whom we say are very healthy, who are feeling fine. The mantra is that they want to feel fine for a very long time. And hence, we find the adoption of these tools to be quite high.
The moment the conversation is switched to anything to do with your mental state or your mental health, or how you’re doing, people start to get a bit wary to get a bit stressed out. In fact, that is what we call a white coat effect. Just the idea of a mental health test makes you feel like you’re anxious, makes you feel like you’re upset.
So from a neuroscience angle, we use a lot of clinical back tools, you know, clinical back concepts. In fact, so neuroscience is one of those interesting subjects that sits all the way from preventative health and healthy people all the way to people with disease state. It’s just that Neurowyzr focuses with businesses on keeping healthier people healthy and keeping talented people even more talented, and this has helped to attract and simplify or even empower the recruitment process. In fact, one of the things that we try to look for, if you look at, if we speak to HR teams, and if you look at recruitment over the last few years, diversity and inclusion is a very powerful topic, and this drives a lot of the hiring and recruitment landscapes.
From a neuroscience point of view, we look at it from a point of view that we call neurodiversity. So as we move forward with generative AI, AI, and recruitment. Even in building better and stronger teams, neurodiversity is a very powerful point, a very powerful topic. For example, if you have a team of nine people and you’re looking to hire and fill in a 10th person, they may all have sound technical skills. As Naresh said, it may be good in engineering concepts. If it’s an accountancy team, they may be wonderful in mathematics and the principle of accounts. And they are able to manipulate numbers in a very good way. But when you come to soft skills, imagine if there are nine people in a team, and all nine are risk-takers.
You may want to hire a deaf person who is not a risk taker. That is neurodiversity. So, having team members in smaller teams have differential types of thought processes, all driven from a preventative mindset. So, we found that it has de-stigmatized the entire event in the workplace.
SatJ: Now, before we conclude, you know, we usually have a customary rapid fire:
Nav, if there is one brain boosting best practice in your day-to-day regime, what would that be? And what would be your suggestion to our listeners?
Nav: I talk about this all the time. I’m passionate about brain boosting practices. I’ll share one that I do every week, at least once a week for one hour. To keep your brain sharp in fighting away mental stress, spend at least one hour a week of quiet time, with no distractions, and spend that time thinking. For me, this is every Friday afternoon, either 1-2 or 2-3 pm and when I say thinking, I mean thinking about an independent project. It should be nothing to do with work. Think about a topic in the world. Think about a problem that you think from what you’ve read from current news that would be wonderful to solve. You don’t need to research anything. You don’t need chatGPT. Sit in a quiet space and use your brain and think. What you’re doing is you’re creating new neuronal linkages. You’re allowing yourself to think what we call laterally and horizontally. You’re thinking creatively. This allows you to improve the way you innovate. It’s a very powerful feature, and I can tell you within three weeks of doing this, you’re going to see a massive shift in how you look at problems when they come to your plate – both professionally and personally. It will elevate your mental status, elevate your emotional mood. So something that most people don’t do, and I encourage everyone to do, is spend one hour a week just simply thinking.
Second – one of the major fundamental cognitive processes for a successful employee for a successful person in life is actually attention. This has weaned across the world globally over the past 10 years. Attention is a very powerful feature, and most of us don’t have it. And this trick is a clinical trick. If you spend hours in front of the computer as I do, look out any window that you can and look at the furthest object that is organically green. If you cannot find organically green, you can find anything that’s painted green that’s fine. Organic green is powerful – look at a tree, anything from nature. As the furthest thing you can find, it relaxes your iris muscles. Spend 30 seconds to one minute doing that; it improves your level of attention and relaxes your brain. Decelerate any of the stress you may be feeling. So these are my two tips that I actually do fairly regularly.
SatJ: Now Naresh, one cognitive skill that you feel is a must-have for all our modern workplaces.
Naresh: I think one cognitive skill is resilience – the times are changing. And I think even in a very big corporation, things are like a start-up. So you’re not very sure whether tomorrow you’re going to have the job or not, or even how the customer is changing. So how resilient you are and how you can develop resilience. There are a lot of techniques and written material about it that you can reach out to, whether in the form of apps or on the net, but resilience is key. And the more resilient you are both in personal life as well as in corporate life it’s going to help an individual.
This enriching episode was filled with takeaways on destigmatizing brain health, the importance of measuring and improving brain capacity and the interactions between generative AI and neuroscience that has the potential to transform the whole talent landscape as we know it.
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