Brain as machine or a plant?

An interesting analogy came about in a dialogue with a friend, who leads global operations for a technology MNC. We were discussing the best practices on managing people, influencing change & self-growth. Considering what it takes to be authentic, inspire workforce, manage silos, innovate & create, we touched upon various aspects of human psychology & biology. My friend kept referring to the human brain as machinery consisting of various parts pieced together with nuts and bolts, which can be operationalized, enhanced with good knowledge set of toolbox. I disagreed in some ways. By the very nature machine thinking promotes silos-ism. To me, considering brain as machinery implies there are defined start to end processes, pre-set hardwired programs that are influenced by external stimuli for its design & operations. The machinery analogy also suggests, if a part gets damaged, you either remove it or replace it. Unlike machines, human brain grows new cells, forms distinct neuro-circuits, decays, and reshapes its intelligence in mystical ways, throughout lifespan. Factors such as motivation, social environment, lifestyle, culture, linguistics, genetics, and belief systems regulate the biology, personal growth & social behavior in an individual or a group. 30 minutes later into our conversation, I almost screeched out,  ‘You see brain as machinery, I see it as a plant’J With the comparison of plant vs. machinery analogy, we shared an interesting dialogue on people side of change management, what does it take to manage organizations roots-up, group nature and role of leader as a nurturer, providing suitable environment and surrendering to process of decay and growth. Great learning. I appreciated a healthy dialogue, as it challenged and enhanced my perspective on the subject.  

Thinking holistically, organically, rather Essence-fully one of the most common distinctions in the literature on cognitive style is between analytic and holistic styles. I think further distinction can be drawn towards cognitive style of thinking essence-fully. Thinking is an action of mind to produce thoughts. Thinking essence-fully, is when the mind pays attention to the significance of a thing, a person or a situation and acts accordingly. Thinking essence-fully is a beautiful practice of internal awareness, connected to the roots, regulating internal & external environment in a holistic manner. In today’s information surplus world, our brains are becoming addicted to ‘thinking’. Those neural circuits in our brains are getting wired to stay active & process information all the time, including when the brain rests in sleep state. This ‘thinking-addiction’ prevents brain from being essence-full. This waste of cognitive & emotional processing leaks away the potency, at the very least, and in extreme cases it can lead to serious mental damage. Jonah Lehrer’s recent blog recalls interesting scientific explanation on difficulty exercising will power when the working memory is at overload & how it impacts the executive center of our brain – Self Control & Prefrontal Cortex‘. Connecting this back to my point, thinking essence-fully minimizes the waste and maximizes our “thinking resources”, which further stimulates “self-control” & promotes intelligent responses to the matters of significance. Would be nice to see scienctists conducting fMRI study & show us some data points on the subject.

To a broader context, during the last two decades, scientists have gained a new, far more accurate view of human nature and behavior change because of the integration of psychology (the study of the human mind and human behavior) and neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain). In my recent pursuit on educating in the field of neuroscience & people side of change making, I am noticing few new trends. Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in neuroscience can influence change that takes into account the physiological aspects of brain. Learn more on neuroplasticity, mirror neurons in my article Neuroscience Basics for Change LeadersHere are few practical tips based on related science research: 

  • Repeat Critical Information, 5-7 times at least
  • Engage Visually & Emotionally
  • Generate Common Motivation
  • Reward Socially
  • Show Empathy


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