Peter Burow zum APG Neuroinnovation Workshop

APG: What inspires you?

Peter Burow: What inspires me is the ingenuity that I see right around the world. The human spirit by nature is simply amazing. Everywhere I go I see the thirst for innovation, and we’re slowly shifting the perspective that innovation is a separate task or department in an organisation, but that rather something that can spring anywhere, from anyone. For example, in Hong Kong I’ve seen people recycling and reselling items that others would simply throw away, in Thailand I’ve seen a young family create a business of thousands of thumb drives in the shape of cartoon characters.

However, we tend to think that innovation is a holy grail that needs to be superimposed. I see it a bit differently; I’m inspired that the human condition is innovative by nature. We need to develop systems that aren’t about removing ingenuity but that enable it. We’re not all just cogs in a machine. The human condition is such that it can come up with ingenious ways of arriving at a solution. What inspires me is innovation and the innovative spirit of human beings.


APG: What does the NeuroPower system have to do with leadership?

Peter Burow: Every human being on the planet has social (emotional), cognitive (thinking) and biological (body) needs. As a leader, if you can get two of these right, the third one will usually fall in to place. Most of us are pretty good at one of those three, but we need to learn one or two others. Some are good at the thinking component, the ‘why’ and the strategy; but they can’t translate it in to action. Some are good at the action but can’t explain the ‘why’. Some people are good at the social and emotional part but are not good at the action or the strategy.

Typically, organisations that are good at the ‘why’ are universities and academic institutions, but they need to learn the action. Organisations that are good at the social and emotional part are not-for-profits, but they have to learn how to do strategy and follow through with strategically-aligned behaviour. Often, transactional organisations are good at behaviour and service delivery but they need to embed emotion and good strategy. NeuroPower looks at the neuroscience of ‘why’, the neuroscience of ‘how’ and the neuroscience of ‘connection’ to provide very practical tools and processes to get at least two of these right. We do this through the six social, cognitive, biological needs.


APG: What will participants get out of the workshop you will be running in Hamburg? How specifically can leaders in the Advertising industry benefit?

Peter Burow: Innovation is no different from any endeavour. It goes through different phases, so during the workshop we will explore the four seasons of innovation. This is a very helpful frame for introducing the concepts and precepts to clients and is very helpful to embed more effective innovation in systems and processes in your teams and organisations.


We start by exploring the winter, which is a period of reflection on the deep emotional needs and pain points of our clients. Right throughout the world, people living on the breadline create opportunity for themselves by observing people around them and the pain they experience. Innovation must spring from a genuine need. In the seasons of innovation, winter is the time to look at your current offering and your clients’ offerings so they can be streamlined to appeal more effectively to the limbic system.


After winter comes spring, and similarly from a deep understanding of our clients’ pain points comes opportunity to respond with innovation. Rather than an innovative idea emerging from an individual, as the 1980s heroic leadership model suggests, in reality innovation takes place in teams. So our task as leaders is less about coming up with the seeds of innovation ourselves, but about building innovative teams. In the program we give you the opportunity to diagnose your innovation quotient from a team health perspective and provide practical actions that you can do to increase your team’s ability to breathe life into their innovation mindsets.


In summer, the new shoots of innovation often give way to negative perspectives which hinder innovation. One of the reasons for this is that under stress, the human brain is adverse to innovation. Even though we are innovative by nature, this is balanced against the fact that we’re programmed to do what we’ve always done. Too often we think of a scenario or possibility but then talk ourselves out of it. We opt for the well-trodden path rather than the new path, which is seen as less predictable and a higher risk.

Our research at NeuroPower indicates that there are distinct patterns of thought that kill innovation, which leaders need to weed out. This unconstructive thinking in just one individual spreads and can demoralise an entire team. One of Steve Jobs’ key roles at Apple was to weed out the negativity, doubt and other unconstructive views to create space for innovation. The Apple University teaches people how not to fall into common habitual survival patterns that remove innovative thought.


Once the weeds are removed, we need to replace them with constructive and innovative thoughts. We believe that everybody is innovative by nature, and our research suggests that people tend to have a preferred style of innovation. In the media, product innovation is prevalent, but that’s just one type. There are eight innovation mindsets, and each adds to innovation and ultimately becomes a competitive advantage. The more effective your team is, the more these eight innovative mindsets will come to the front. This gives rise to better marketing and business solutions and more fulfilled people.


APG: Can you please give us a few relevant examples where companies (agencies and/or corporates) have used your system to become more innovative?

Peter Burow:
Case Study #1: NeuroPower was challenged with the task of improving hand hygiene in hospitals. Each year in Australia, 7000 people die in hospitals due to poor hand hygiene. Using our methodology, the NeuroPower team discovered that in this context, identity was a key driver of clinicians’ and paramedics’ behaviour. Rather than commission standard, professionally designed posters on the wall, we created posters from drawings by the children and grandchildren of the clinicians and staff, which read, “my mum/dad/grandma/granddad is a life saver.” It was recognised as a very innovative way of solving a very linear issue and increased hand hygiene compliance from 18% to 60%.

Case Study #2: NeuroPower was tasked to differentiate a major Australian bank in the market. We found that the Australian population was concerned about sustainability and the government of the day were not showing leadership in this dimension. Sustainability became the bank’s unique value proposition. The bank chose to cease funding for any activity or any client that didn’t foster sustainability. We developed a campaign based on the NeuroPower framework that fundamentally repositioned them as the world’s most sustainable bank. The bank became seen as a moral leader in our society. The flow on effect was a shift in that bank’s customer footprint; they attracted a high socio-economic group who shared similar values. This also meant that their new customers were easier to work with, were more responsible with their money (less risk) and were more conservative with their lending requests.

Case Study #3: When the Bible Society in Australia wanted to introduce a new, contemporary bible, NeuroPower did a research piece and discovered that while most people had a bible at home, they were kept due to sentimental value (i.e. from a christening). Most people found it challenging to read and understand their bible. The Bible Society engaged us to work out how to sell contemporary bibles into the market. From our work, the new bible sold more copies than any other bible in the history of Australia. The way we were able to create demand using NeuroPower was through a trade-in system, where people could give their treasured bibles to those in developing countries who wanted bibles in English.

Case Study #4: NeuroPower was engaged by a major mining company to help with significant union negotiations. We discovered that the entire negotiation to date had been focused on a single dimension, and union delegates were shaping the narrative that influenced the workers’ perspectives. A NeuroPower team went out into the community and spend time with the wives of the mining workforce to explore the kind of community they wanted to build for the future. Based on this feedback, we put together a 10- and 20-year plan for the community, which we rolled up in the industrial relations agreement. This ensured that what the mining company was offering was aligned with the community’s identity and future. It was an innovative way to shift debate from being financially driven, to being about their family’s future.


APG: What are the 3 top take aways that people can get from this workshop?

Peter Burow:

  1. Every single person has the potential to be highly innovative, given the right context.
  2. The role of the leader is to create an environment where the seeds of innovation are sown, nurtured and reaped.
  3. The NeuroPower framework provides a methodology to create this environment.


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