Neuroscience, The Internet and Leadership
November 4, 2012
The structures of the brain and the Internet look the same. In the brain there are neurons that link as a result of being active at the same time. This firing together creates a connection, a wiring together, that increases the strength of the connection. On the Internet there are wired servers and people that are linked in temporal interaction, sometimes as a result of being inspired and interested in the same topic, firing together. This short-term communication sometimes leads to a longer-term relationship, increasing the strength of the connection. New connections are formed, connections get stronger and connections are lost.
It is not uncommon to think that knowing is something that goes on in the brain. Yet the evidence that it is really so is not quite clear. Some scientists have expressed doubts. The mind, they have argued, is not a thing to which a place can be allocated. Intellectual life is essentially social and interactive, they say. Life is carried on through communication between people. These researchers claim that interactions are not secondary by-products of thinking. They are the primary sites of that activity.
We often think of individuals as independent and self-contained. The view suggested here sees individuals as interdependent nodes of the complex networks they form interacting with others and co-creating themselves and the reality in which they participate.
According to Cathy Davidson, attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain. Attention blindness is also the fundamental structuring principle of our society. We see and understand things selectively.
The opportunity lies in the fact that just as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things. If we can pool our insights we can thrive in the complex world we live in.
Amyarta Sen has written that wealth should not be measured by what we have but what we can do. As we engage in new relationships we are creating new potentials for action. Every human relationship, every connection, serves as a model for what is possible. Within any relationship we are in the process of becoming. Each relationship will also bring us into being as a certain kind of person creating a huge repository of potentials. What social technologies are making possible is a much, much richer repertoire than what we were used to before the Internet.
The dominant ways of thinking about the world have their origins in Newtonian mechanics in which the universe was simply the sum of its independent parts. At the moment, this part – whole thinking is being directly applied to the ways we think about leadership. Interdependence plays a minor role and anyway it is seen as the result of a deliberate choice. The Populist political thinking follows the logic that we can choose not to be interdependent.
The old ways of understanding human behavior are not up to the task any more. In contrast to Newtonian traditions, the science of social networks and modern neuroscience offer an entirely new way of understanding the fundamental interdependence of human beings and the human society.
There can be no change without changes in the patterns of communication. Organizations of any kind, no matter how large or how small they are, are continuously reproduced and transformed in the ongoing interaction. These patterns are highly correlated with performance.
In this way of thinking, we leave behind the idea of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established and developed in complex interaction with each other.