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Are you in the Red Zone or the Blue Zone?

The field of neuroscience has developed a great deal over the last decade and the findings are now beginning to influence how we teach and manage others.

In our brains there are two main sub-systems that we refer to as the “Red Zone” (amygdala) and the “Blue Zone” (pre-frontal cortex). The Red Zone evolved first in the brains of our reptilian ancestors, it is responsible for our flight or fight mechanism – our instinctive reaction to danger. When feeling anger, fear or depression MRI scans have shown the Red Zone to “light up”. The effects can also be seen physiologically, our breath becomes shallow and our muscles tense, internally dopamine and adrenaline are released into our system. It severely restricts our ability to think rationally and creatively, our responses will be instinctive and risk-averse.

The Blue Zone evolved later and provides humans with the ability to reflect and learn, it is the source of our creativity. When we are in this state we will generally feel calm, relaxed and better able to exercise judgement. In business it allows us the freedom to think constructively and plan for the future, during the recession we need to benefit from these faculties more than ever to ensure that we are able to create new businesses, new markets and a new economy having learnt from the mistakes of the past.

The brain only has enough energy to put into one zone at a time, understanding and being aware of what triggers each state in ourselves allows us to consciously manage our brains and our thinking.

The recession has offered many examples of organisations reverting to the Red Zone, daily newspaper headlines, TV reports and closing down signs have all literally affected our brains. The Red Zone is important in alerting us to danger and spurring us towards action, but it is only by thinking with the Blue Zone that we are able to effectively and creatively respond. In a recession it is the companies who do this who will be front of the queue in the up-turn.

Therefore as business leaders and managers it is vital for us to recognise when we are in the Red Zone and create strategies to us shift back into the Blue. We can influence not just how we think and approach our work but also that of others by listening deeply, promoting a sense of safety, demonstrating trust and showing respect.

- Peter Harrison, the author, works for entheo, an agency that helps organisations to understand and redefine their ways of thinking and working. For more information about who they are and what they do click here or e-mail him on peter.harrison@entheo.co.uk

The Red Zone /Blue Zone metaphor was coined by Group Eight Education – for more information about their work click here.

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