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In order to make her work more accessible and useful to organizations and non-academic audiences, Fiona has become a scientific communicator over the past few years and now spends a significant part of her time giving keynotes at both national and international events.

She speaks on the topics of neurogenesis and the neurophysiology of human interaction – whether it is interaction between humans, or of humans with technology. She has spoken on the neuroscience of leadership and the fact that great leaders can grow people’s brains; the power of shared values and collaboration; creativity and the ideation process (Fiona has been lucky enough to spend time with such organizations as Cirque du Soleil); and such unusual topics as the neuroscience of space, learning, engagement and how different artistic hobbies change the brain as we age.

The neuroscience of engagement

Applying her expertise in complex systems, Fiona works with ministerial and government bodies both here and overseas, looking at shaping creative bureaucracies, long-lens policy design, the neuroscience of engagement and democracy reform. All of these combine the areas of systems and neural complexity (hence her title) which are profoundly intertwined in the majority of complex, long term societal issues and challenges.

Fiona is part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Innovation framework group in South Australia, and advises the Premiers department on capacity building and methodologies around community engagement. Here, she discusses the neuroscientific basis of effective engagement.

Open State: Partnering with AI for a human-centric future

In this keynote, Fiona discusses the ways in which the proliferation of technology and the advancement of artificial intelligence will affect us, and the unique effects of direct human interaction that cannot be replicated by or through technology. What will this mean for the fantastic things we can do with technology, what does it mean for the fantastic things that humans do, and how can we balance the human and the technological at personal and societal levels?

Shaping is the key – we shape ourselves and we shape the world all the time through what we do, who we interact with, how we interact, and what decisions we make. Humans have an amazing impact on each other, and this is affected by our interaction with technology. So how do we shape technology to ensure that the future is human-centric?

(From Open State, 2017)

Open State: Out of touch

In London in July 2005, Gill Hicks (founder of M.A.D. MINDS) boarded a train carriage at the same time as a suicide bomber. Since her life changed irrevocably on that day, she has experienced the transformational power of love from strangers. When they met, Fiona gave Gill the scientific basis to talk about the capacity of love and human contact to diffuse extremism and violence and foster human flourishment – and the fact that this is not soft, but is instead a powerful basis for building a positive world. For Fiona, Gill was the living proof of her research into the neurophysiological impact of direct human interaction.

In this conversation, they explore Gill’s quest to create a confident global community and sustainable peace, the neuroscience of that journey, and their shared vision of the power of human interconnection.

(From Open State, 2017)

Open State: Is your diet making you dumb?

Unapologetically and provocatively titled, this conversation, between Fiona, chef and food activist Simon Bryant, and Paul Henry of Tasting Australia, explores food beyond purely the role of nutrition as we understand it – to grow, to maintain and repair – and takes you on a journey that looks at not just how we feed ourselves and why we feed ourselves, but in what context we do that, and how contexts can change. It examines how we respond to the social activity of eating, how the body responds physiologically to the processing of nutrients, and how the body, the brain, the food we eat and the context in which we eat it are inextricably linked.

(From Open State, 2017)

Open State: Q&A with Dr Fiona Kerr and Dr Jordan Nguyen

Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and the world is changing with it. But are we becoming a fairer place, and what role does technology play in that? If technologisation is creating a fairer world, what is working well, and if it is not, what should we do about it?

In this discussion, Fiona and Dr Jordan Nguyen explore the positive and negative impacts of technology, and the role that each of us can have – through research, policy development, design and distribution, or adoption and use – in driving the development of technology to create a fairer world.

(From Open State, 2017)

Changing our minds: How great leaders rewire brains

A published book chapter called “Operationalising Innovation” discusses some of the key elements of shaping and leading an innovative company with a case study example of practice.

As part of South Australia’s Thinkers in Residence program Fiona worked with Professor Goran Roos’ team on building Innovative capacity in small and medium Enterprises (SME’s), and worked with Alister Haigh and his staff on the project of taking Haigh’s chocolate on line, resulting in a book chapter case study called ‘Taking a Premium Quality Chocolate Making Family Business onto the e-Market – Haigh’s Chocolates.

TEDx Northern Sydney: Look into my eyes

In this keynote, Fiona discusses how part of understanding and valuing the dynamics of human interaction is knowing when it offers advantages over the technology-based interaction which is becoming pervasive in human society. What is getting in the way, and how do we ensure we connect?

(From TEDx Northern Sydney.)

TEDx Adelaide: How leaders change brains and win hearts

Leaders change brains, for better or worse. Good leaders have a clear purpose, strong values and pragmatic optimism. They are empathically connected, and have brains that light up differently when engaging teams. In this keynote, Dr Kerr explores the capacity of good leaders to engage with their teams, connecting in ways that not only grow trust and empathy, but increase capacity for long-lens, complex problem solving and collaborative creativity – qualities that align people and help them to navigate an ambiguous future.

Wired for Wonder: Look into my eyes

In this keynote, Fiona discusses how part of understanding and valuing the dynamics of human interaction is knowing when it offers advantages over the technology-based interaction which is becoming pervasive in human society. What is getting in the way, and how do we ensure we connect?

(From Wired for Wonder.)

SBS Insight: Sleep

There are a number of ways we can build new brain, particularly complex schemata, and these can include face to face positive interaction with others, exercise, engaging with novelty (learning new things), and sleep, which encompasses certain types of naps and even has connections to daydreaming. Fiona recently appeared on SBSs Insight, speaking on the cognitive role of sleep, naps and biphasic rhythms, and the addictive nature of technological devices and their effects on the brain.

UnWired: How technology shapes us

Fiona examines the impacts of technologization on our working lives, and how it can either enable or block such things as connectivity, communication, productivity, creativity and deep thinking depending on how it is designed and used. So how do we best leverage human-digital partnerships, and when is direct human interaction best?

(From WorkTech17, Berlin)

Adobe Think Tank: The future of work

How are our lives transforming with the ever-increasing integration of machines at work? Explore with Think Tank thought leaders as we consider a future where people and machines work seamlessly together, redefining our experiences at work and in our everyday lives.


Fiona’s extensive work has sparked numerous articles on her areas of expertise. She has also published her own thesis and other works on various topics.

Thesis: Creating and leading adaptive organisations: The nature and practice of emergent logic

One of Fiona’s particular areas of interest is that different styles of leaders have different brains. In particular her research looked at the difference in the brain of the emergent logic leader who builds adaptive organisation’s and creates a flourishing environment, and how this contrasts with the more linear, autocratic leader in terms of how they think and what they do.

Fiona’s thesis is based on thirty years of experience in industry.

The Conversation: Health Check - what determines whether we’re night owls or morning larks?

Sleep is critical for physical and mental health, and our quality of life. While 3% of the population are genetically programmed to function with less than six hours sleep regularly, the rest of us need around 7.5 hours a night. But what determines whether we like to go to bed early or late?

ABC: Short power naps energise but don't make up for a long sleep

Fiona is becoming a regular on ABC radio, and was interviewed in June 2016 regarding polyphasic sleep. The linked article was written following that interview.

SBS Insight: The power of naps - creativity and efficiency

Naps can be divisive.

Some people swear by them, noting the improved prowess of their mind after a short kip, while others hate them, complaining that they feel even more tired, groggy and disoriented after a rest. Some say they don’t work at all.

What if our love or hate of naps had less to do with the individual, and more to do with the length time our siestas last for?

Here, Fiona helps dispel some myths about our napping habits, pointing out that the right type of sleep can make us more efficient, skilled in complex problem solving, and creative.

Telegraph UK: Daydreaming ‘can boost your daily productivity’ – research suggests

Employers may see daydreaming as a complete waste of time, but taking a quick time out during your working day can actually boost your productivity, experts suggest.

As Fiona explains in this article, letting your mind wander can increase your creativity and help you when it comes to tackling complex problems.

Ockham's Razor: Neurogenesis - a force for creativity

A short written summary of the broadcast where Fiona was a guest on ABC RN’s Ockham’s Razor with Robyn Williams.

Fiona has spent a number of years investigating the building of new brain, which can be done at any age with the right conditions, and is currently working on a non-academic book which outlines in lay terms how to grow new brain.

HealthCanal: Good leadership can positively change people's brains

While it’s common knowledge that a leader plays a critical role in the success of a company, the research Fiona has conducted as part of her PhD (based on thirty years of industry experience) uncovered how strong leaders think and what they do to make the companies they lead more adaptive over time. She discusses how and why this happens with Kate Bourne.

CMO's The Great Debate: Is data killing creativity?

Speaking as part of a lively debate at the Vivid Festival in Sydney and entitled ‘Is Data Killing Creativity’, Williams and fellow panellists, Dr Chelsea Wise, founder of the UTS Behavioural Marketing Lab, and Holly Joshi, senior manager optimisation and analytics for Asia-Pacific at Sapient Nitro, defended data’s role and argued it actually fuels and supports creative thinking.

Opposing this view, Fiona was joined by Oliver Freeman, director and co-founder of The Neville Freeman Agency, and Luke Chess, partner at creative agency, Mammal. Together, they presented an equally compelling and scientific view for data killing creativity.

INDaily: Is your diet making you dumb?

A healthy diet is critical for a healthy brain – and it may be that how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Here, Fiona discusses the scientific findings regarding the myriad ways in which diet, eating habits and brain function are linked with INDaily’s Suzie Keen.

The Advertiser: The Art of the Leader

Fiona discusses what it takes to be a great leader with Clare Peddie of The Advertiser.

SMH: Research fellow Fiona Kerr thrives on complexity

Fiona defines her approach as “staunchly multidisciplinary”. Certainly, her professional concerns are diverse. She discusses her eclectic career path with David Wilson of the Sydney Morning Herald.


Fiona has been interviewed on various radio shows and podcasts, exploring many different concepts, including neurogenesis, ageing and sleep, and the interaction between humans and technology as artificial intelligence proliferates.

Ockham's Razor: Neurogenesis - a force for creativity

How are the brains of charismatic leaders different from the rest of us? How do you build creative bureaucracies? And can the performing arts keep the brain healthy as it ages? These are questions explored by Dr Fiona Kerr, a systems and neural complexity specialist at the University of Adelaide. In this episode of Radio National’s Ockham’s Razor, the seemingly disparate lines of inquiry are all connected by one powerful force: neurogenesis, the creation of new dendrites and neurons.

RN Counterpoint: Keeping a human touch in the AI future

Humans need technology but technology also needs humans says Dr Fiona Kerr. She advises business and governments in how to keep the balance between the allure of Artificial Intelligence and the unique benefits of direct human to human interaction. Dr Kerr says its important to push back on the march of AI into our lives and make sure the future remains human-centric.

Adelaide Festival of Ideas: Will we shape or be shaped?

Direct human connection is critical to fostering an empathic framework for building our thoughts, decisions, relationships, culture and society. How do we craft a future that maintains connections while leveraging technological advancement and ensuring the goals and uses of Artificial Intelligence remain human-centric?

Recorded at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, 22nd October 2016

View all international and national keynotes and presentations here