I recently had a very interesting chat with cognitive psychologist Dr. Kimberly Halvorson, CEO of @Brainsatwork. This is Part 2 of that conversation. We ended up talking about how human brains work at their best, and how multitasking makes it nearly impossible to influence lasting organizational change.

Dr. Kimberly Halvorson: There’s this sort of joke in academia and in a lot of fields where you study what you’re bad at. Right? For example, in hindsight, it is not an accident that I wrote a dissertation on doing two things at once because I cannot multitask!

Brandi Olson: One of the things that got me so deeply fascinated in the cognitive science and the brain science of all of this is what actually happens when you’re multitasking — understanding and learning more about executive functions in our brain.

What got me so especially fascinated is what’s not happening when we are multitasking.

All of the other executive functioning tasks aren’t happening when you are goal switching and rule activating all the time.

For me, that unlocked why so many organizations have such deep problems — because we’re spending all of our time doing this goal shifting instead of creative analysis, or particularly, perspective shifting.

Those of us who live and breathe organizational change and agility know that at the core of any effective transformation is a mindset shift.

You can’t change your mindset when you are context switching all day long.

The same same part of your brain that manages context switching is the same part of the brain that is responsible for perspective shifting. And that part of your brain can only do ONE activity at a time.

It’s no wonder this seems like an intractable problem. It’s not actually an intractable problem if you back up and connect the dots between the reason it’s hard to change your mindset and the reality that most people spend their days in a contact state of multitasking and context switching.

It happens because you are pursuing too many competing priorities at the same time.