Neuroscience in business

A new vitality for our time?

More than anything, I want you and yours, and our enterprises and communities, to enjoy the gift of ongoing vitality. Despite the escalating challenges of modern life, genuine resilience is within our reach (even if sometimes counter-intuitive.)

Our brains really do determine what’s possible both personally and in business. Neuroscientists say that aging is a process of rigidifying. Facing almost intolerable uncertainty, it’s tempting to fall into habits that reduce resilience. But recent insights from brain science offer the choice of boosting vitality instead of losing it.

I am writing today with two gifts: this delightful article shows the interactive drivers working in a real example. And this new eBook shows how to apply them in your personal life as well as your enterprise.

It takes a bit of determination, but you can put the drivers to work for you. Open your holiday gift. And pass it on to anyone you care about. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

From my heart and mind to you and your loved ones,

Business is a Social Activity - A Business Anthropologist's View

For many, the insight that business is social is something of a surprise. In much of Western tradition, work and play are viewed as a dichotomy: business falls in the former, and sociality in the latter. But that’s not how the brain is organized. New insights from Neuroscience clarify how the brain functions to keep us focused on others (with emotions – ever heard of them?) A recent article from Strategy and Business explores the implications for managers.

Through the lens of Business Anthropology, it’s apparent that trading is old as the first human communities. Commerce is in our biology. Though I’ve been writing about that for decades, it’s delightful to see what Social Cognitive NeuroScience labs are revealing with fMRI studies; businesses large and small can seize new opportunities.

Our brains naturally respond to change as though it’s dangerous, and shut down our ‘thinking centers’ rather than firing them up. But we can train our brains to be ingenious when exposed to risk. I’m with Jim Collins’ assessment that the ability to face uncertainly with curiosity is the most important skill of our times. Neuroscience illuminates the challenge as well as how to focus on the desired competences.

Unfortunately, our brains are not geared to be effective in the face of ongoing stress like a global recession. We don't tend to get smart. But we humans have a rare gift: we retain plasticity into adulthood. We can learn new moves. And the current business environment certainly demands that we do so.

Perhaps most important to my practice over 3 decades is understanding how we’re inclined to respond to vulnerability. On this subject, current Neuroscience research is stunning. Even when informed that a situation is simulated – even using cartoons and stick figures – smart people feel intense pain of rejection and strong pleasure of belonging and contributing.

The actions we take, the decisions we make, the possibilities we recognize are determined by this powerful programming. Focusing on the vulnerabilities of others inspires our best work. We become ingenious. We can spark our enterprises and fire customers’ curiosity and commitment.

Solopreneurs and small business have a huge advantage in using this force, because we can be so nimble. We can quickly respond to emerging vulnerability and invent new ways to add value. Our forebears have done so for 150,000 generations – that’s how we got here. Any business can be vulnerability-centric. It’s the most powerful force at hand.

Have examples? Please share!

Brain, Body, & Business

Entering Q4 of a very challenging year, I’ve been asking myself, what would it take to be:
Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?
Is it possible?
In my Business Anthropologist hat, it’s clear that human beings have been finding ways to generate value for each other as the world shifts around us for, oh, at least 150,000 generations*...and probably we’ll find ways to do it too…

That begs the question, how do we go about being effective in the face of – often unwelcome – change? The imperative is urgent, though the combination of skills required are rare.

The lens of Business Anthropology that I find so handy illuminates how commerce and the human brain evolved together. It’s no accident that we sustain Neuroplasticity – so important to innovation - into adulthood. Below is a very rough view over 4 major Ice Ages and countless periods of warming/rising sea levels, no doubt accompanied by earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, not to mention predators, drought…honing groups’ ability to keep each other alive.


3,200,000 years
160,000 gens
500 cc
Large male 5’
Large female 4’
Fully upright, arched foot
Sloped forehead
Cooperating for protection
Primitive tools

1,000,000 years
50,000 gens
1000 cc
Heavy brow ridges
Less sloping forehead
Good cutting edges
Spread throughout Asia, Africa, maybe Europe

25,000 years
1,250  gens
1500 cc
Large male 6’
Large female 5’5”
Fully modern
Trading over thousands of miles
Elegant tools
Asia, Africa, Australia, and maybe the Americas

Our ancestors’ stressors differed from ours in several important ways. Understanding how our brains tend respond to the challenges of modern commerce allows us to build new neural pathways: becoming more competent to navigate our changing world as individuals, and revealing how to keep our enterprises viable.

Change is a moment of opportunity for those who can keep their brains curious, bodies vital, and enterprises nimble. I’ve developed Fit to Thrive in Any Economy, a new synthesis of brain, body, & business, based on recent insights from Neuroscience, perspectives from Business Anthropology, and practices from the Martial Arts. What are you doing?  What are you seeing that’s working?

This moment in commerce is unprecedented. It’s a call for ingenuity and leadership. Let’s get the job done.

*The newly-published Ardi fossils appear to push that back to at least 210,000 generations.

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?