Can neuroscience help us rethink our organizations?

In recent years, everyone responsible for designing and implementing organizational strategies has recognized that something has changed forever.

Using an analogy, in the middle of the last century, organizations could look like a diamond, for its strength and stability over time. However, over the years, these became more and more “liquid”, as postulated by Bauman (Z. Bauman 2015) and, by the 21st century, they were practically turned into soda. In today’s business world, uncertainty is inevitable. However, neuroscience can help us cope with this new reality.

    Companies, faced with an increasingly unstable environment

    The current challenges of attracting and retaining talent, keeping abreast of innovation, discovering new niches in a globalized market or protecting those already conquered in the face of increasingly undefined challenges have become continuous.

    This new context was called “VUCA”, Term of military origin and acronym of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (Stiehm & Townsend 2002). Continuing the analogy, we could say that the environment in which organizations are currently thriving is more like a plasma or, in other words, a highly energetic and totally dissociated state of matter.

    However, the main need of organizations today is find the optimal way to modify the structure to adapt it to this new scenario and that the organization can survive or even grow.

    And this is where neuroscience can find a new application, beyond helping us develop artificial intelligence. Following a transdisciplinary approach, we can say that organizations are very similar to the nervous system of living things.

      Neuroscientific models applied to organizations

      Organizations receive information from the environment (markets, competition, regulations, etc.), process it and decide whether it is beneficial or threatening, and react accordingly, either by doing what they already know how to do (production, operations , marketing, distribution) or sales) or develop new strategies or products (R & D & I, new markets, export, alliances, acquisitions). Interestingly, this is exactly what our brains have been doing successfully for millions of years.

      This conceptual similarity, along with the significant advances we have made in the field of neuroscience and in our understanding of the nervous system, can help us a lot in this difficult task that we have identified as a priority: restructure our organizations.

      To do this, we need to take advantage of all this knowledge that nature has refined throughout the process of evolution, and transfer it to the realm of organizations. So we have identify the functional elements and strategies that make our mind a powerful tool for adaptation and replicate them in our organizational designs at different levels and scales.

      Some of the high-level neuroscientific models recently developed (Garcés & Finkel, 2019) can help us in this task, as they clearly define the different functional and dynamic elements that they generate during the interaction, allowing us to identify the factors keys affecting their operation. These models can be easily reproduced on a small scale and gradually implemented throughout the organizational structure, Allowing to profit from the knowledge which own nature has already chosen as effective.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bauman, Z. (2015). Liquid modernity. Economic culture fund. http://bookfi.net/dl/1382252/9882bd.
      • Garcés, M. and Finkel, L. (2019). Emotional theory of rationality. Frontiers in Integrative Neurosciences, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2019.00011.
      • Stiehm, Judith H. and Townsend, Nicholas W. (2002). The US Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy. Temple University Press. p. 6.

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