What I learned about human behaviour at the WPO conference

Last month at annual Women Presidents Organisation conference, held in Baltimore, USA, I learned more about human behaviour.  Over 850 attendees came from all over the world to listen to the speakers, learn from one another and get inspired.   This not-for-profit membership organisation supports women business owners running companies with annual revenues in excess of $1m, and their membership is growing.  In the USA alone, there are now over 10 million women business owners, yet only 2% of them have revenues over $1m.  Some of the great takeaways from the speakers included:

Too often we are more focused on recharging our devices that ourselves. Jessica Herrin, Stella & Dot brands

When we feel powerful, we speak more slowly to take up time, in other words, we feel more expansive.  Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor Harvard Business School 

The vast majority of our decisions are made by our unconscious mind. Over 40,000 times more decisions than our conscious mind. So observe yourself like a scientist. You will notice unconscious patterns that you are normally not aware of.  Dr David Bach, Platypus Institute

Developing Presence

Amy Cuddy, whose TED talk is the 2nd most viewed of all time, presented on the subject of “Presence”, which she defined as ‘ a state of being attuned to, and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential’.  She explained that when we naturally expand our bodies we feel more powerful.  Think of athletes winning a race; they throw their arms in the air in a V shape.   

Amy Cuddy speaking about human behaviour

There are now lots of examples that people have shared with her that when they have prepared for a stressful situation by doing a power pose before hand (the V shape with arms, or hands on hips) they have been much more able to cope with the situation.

Cuddy’s research is also relevant for those who enjoy yoga. It has now been proven that if you hold a yoga pose e.g. Cobra pose, for 2 minutes, it can increase testosterone by 16% and reduce cortisol by 11% (the hormones related to confidence and anxiety).   Also, people who had adopted a power pose and then were subjected to some sort of physical pain, were much more able to withstand the pain.

A little more concerning is Cuddy’s research on what happens to our assertiveness when we hunch up using an iPhone, compared to a tablet, or an iMac.   Her results show that the smaller the device, the more we must contract our bodies to use it, and the more time we spend in this shrunken state, the more powerless we feel.   Her advice is to configure your space to allow for the most upright and expansive posture you can create.

Measure, Interrupt, Replace

Continuing on the theme of human behaviour, Dr David Bach outlined how we can identify and change our unconscious patterns of behaviour by using a three step approach Measure, Interrupt, Replace.

  • Measure – if we don’t know how we are behaving unconsciously we cannot change it, so the first step is to measure what we are actually doing.  He gave the example of a high powered executive who wanted to be more productive, so he set an alarm to go off every hour, and when it did he wrote down on a scale of 1 to 10 how productive he had been in the previous hour, and what he observed about his productivity.  This gave him useful data to work out what he needed to change in order to be more productive.
  • Interrupt – this means continuously and vigorously interrupting habitual behaviour for 30 days, which will dissolve the neural pathway in the brain and enable your brain chemicals to make a new pathway.  The alarm in the above example, was the interrupt.
  • Replace – this is about replacing the unconscious behaviour with a new, more helpful, behaviour.

Dr David Bach speaking about human behaviour


Another way that Dr Bach believes that we can improve our performance is to increase our cognition, so that our brain is more relaxed, and able to be more creative.  Alpha waves are the brain waves that generate this state, so he showed us a live experiment where the subject on stage, at a given moment, was asked to close their eyes, in order to become more focused and less distracted.  The image we saw on the screen of their brain waves showed that alpha waves increased as a result.  So whilst you may not spend your day at work with your eyes shut, there is something to be said for creating environments at work where your people (and you) can have the ability to focus and not be distracted.

This article also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.



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