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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Leadership, Change and the Placebo Effect

By Randy Sabourin

Leading change is one of the most difficult tasks faced by every level in an organization. Traditional ‘carrot & stick’ and humanism behaviour motivation is being replaced by a ‘brain based’ neuropsychology approach. Discussion and research continues on why we resist change and the often predictably irrational opposition seen when an organization adopts new strategies or systems. The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon that may be an additional tool to assist us in realizing our change objectives.

The placebo effect has been a well documented phenomenon in the medical and scientific community for several decades. It can be defined as “the physiological or psychological response to an inert substance or procedure”. For quite some time, it has been observed that administering a remedy with no medical value (a sugar pill) can have positive results because the patient ‘assumes’ they feel the effect of the drug they believe they are taking. Although employed as a “commonplace method or medicine” as early as the 18th century, it was first brought into modern medicine context by an army nurse during the Second World War who lied about administering pain-killers to wounded soldiers. The soldiers would report a significant reduction in pain despite being given saline.  Placebos are an important aspect of the drug approval and research process known as the “blind” study. Over the last decade pharmaceutical companies have been struggling with the increase in the effectiveness of placebos in blind studies during Phase II and Phrase III drug trials. Half of all drugs that fail these late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat placebos. Continue reading

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