Michael Platt

  • Director, Professor Marketing Department
  • Wharton School Department of Neuroscience; School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania at The Wharton School


Michael Platt is a scientist known for asking some of the most challenging questions in 21st century neuroscience – and conceiving innovative ways to find the answers.

Question and Answer

The rapid pace of technological innovation, globalization, and social change demand flexibility, openness to exploration, and willingness to change. HR can now harness big data to develop deeper, more precise insights into individual talents, traits, and motivators, and use that information to enhance the fit between employees and their jobs. This approach also empowers both HR and employees to personalize learning to be most effective and efficient themselves and the firm. Data-driven models offer new opportunities for precision HR, thereby accelerating innovation and reducing friction that impedes organizational change.
  1. The first step is learning to distinguish fact from fiction and hope from hype. Neuroscience can provide insights that help to identify best practices and provide the scientific motivation to implement them. Learning from the scientists who actually do the science and then validate it in HR-relevant settings is key to getting this right.
  2. The second step is accessing behavioural and biological data that drive precision HR. These data permit insights into hidden talents, traits, and motivators that are often opaque to surveys and self-report. I advise companies to work directly with neuroscientists, behavioural scientists, and data scientists at universities to take advantage of their intellectual and technological resources prior to trying to build these capabilities in-house.
  3. The third step is implementing trainings and interventions that have been validated by neuroscience, in order to enhance the employee journey. Neuroscience findings can also inspire changes in organizational structure and company culture to simultaneously improve efficiency and employee wellbeing.

All three of these success factors have been validated through neuroscience:

  1. Whether you manage through a flat or linear hierarchy, applying the same standards to yourself and your team drives both more effective and more accepted leadership.
  2. Effective communication depends on getting on the same page and taking the same perspective as others.
  3. Getting outside yourself through value affirmation or even kindness meditation opens the mind to change.
The global and integrated workplace is more diverse than ever. Yet our backgrounds and experience growing up shape the way our brains respond to others who look different or think differently from us. This is a natural consequence of our brains trying to make statistical sense of the world. To overcome these implicit biases, it’s necessary to focus on shared values and goals. This sense of being on the same team makes it easier for our brains to connect and empathize with others, ultimately enhancing trust, improving communication, and creating a more inclusive work culture.
  1. Neuroscience research shows that opposing brain circuits support routine and divergent thinking. Innovation thus requires unplugging from rote tasks like email or filling out spreadsheets. Companies should provide time and space for employees to take breaks and recharge their creative batteries.
  2. Neuroscience research suggests mindfulness meditation activates the brain’s “innovation network” thereby boosting creativity. Brief mindfulness exercises improve both creative problem-solving and protect against stress. Companies can provide employees with prompts and opportunities to engage to incorporate mindfulness into their workday routines.
  3. Brain research shows that decisions can be either fast or accurate, but typically not both. Leaders need to decide whether speed or accuracy is more important in any given situation. Generally, stepping back and slowing down improves decisions.
Neuro-agility means adopting behaviours, mind-sets, and other approaches inspired and validated by neuroscience to improve resilience, foster divergent thinking, and sustain behavioural change. We know that unplugging, walking in nature, exercising, and mindfulness meditation all boost the brain’s ability to think outside the box and help keep this system healthy and high-functioning. Getting outside yourself through value affirmation and kindness meditation for others opens the mind to change and helps sustain the change you desire.
About Michael Platt:

Michael Platt is a scientist known for asking some of the most challenging questions in 21st century neuroscience – and conceiving innovative ways to find the answers. Principle questions focus on the biological mechanisms that underlie decision-making and social interaction, the grasp of which has broad-scale implications for improving health, welfare, and business in societies worldwide. Broad expertise in anthropology, psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, ethology, and marketing, in addition to collaborations with colleagues in these fields, have enabled him to reach ever-deeper levels of understanding about the neural bases of decision making and cognition. Current interests focus on applying insights and technology from brain science to business, particularly questions in branding, marketing, management, finance, and innovation. Michael received his B.A at Yale and his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, both in anthropology, and did a post-doctoral fellowship in neuroscience at NYU. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Klingenstein Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, the EJLB Foundation, the Simons Foundation, and the Department of Defense, among others. He is winner of a MERIT award from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Williams Faculty Research Prize in the Duke University School of Medicine, and was an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow. He has given the Neal Miller Memorial Lecture at Yale, the Sage Lecture at UC Santa Barbara, and has received the Astor Visiting Professor award at Oxford University (deferred). Michael has authored over 140 peer-reviewed papers and over 60 review and opinion papers, and his work has been cited over 13,000 times. Michael is an editor of major textbooks in neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience, and he is a former president of the Society for Neuroeconomics. A revered instructor and mentor, Michael won the Master Teacher/Clinician Award from the Duke University School of Medicine and the Teaching Commitment and Curricular Innovation Award from the Wharton School. He is the former Director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, former Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, and founding Co-Director of the Duke Center for Neuroeconomic Studies. Michael’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Guardian, and National Geographic, as well as on ABC’s Good Morning America, NPR, CBC, BBC, MTV, and HBO Vice. He has also served as a consultant on several films, including The Fountain (Warner Bros, Darren Aronofsky, director), currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of several companies, as well as the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Brain Science, and is co-founder of Cogwear LLC, a revolutionary new neurotechnology startup.