Tapping Employee Brain Power
to Work Smarter
When the tailor Motel from the musical The Fiddler on the Roof finally
got his sewing machine, he exclaimed: "From now on my clothes
will be perfect, made by a machine!"
This idea of perfection everything exactly the same, standardized,
predictable, and uniform is a vestige of the Industrial Revolution.
And it is strangling business potential today.
Looking at creativity in a new way has become a central challenge
in the business world. It seems that the traditional paradigm of business
simply doesn’t allow it to embrace creativity because its structure
reflects those outdated concepts of the Industrial Revolution. In
order to become truly creative, business will have to update its very
Outdated philosophies have to go
During the Industrial Revolution, people were fascinated by machines
and the science of the day. The universe, society, and the human body
were thought to be mechanical devices deterministic and predictable.
The structure of society in that era was strictly hierarchical, ruled
by time, discipline, logic and productivity. Darwin’s "survival
of the fittest" concept gave rise to "claw your way to the
top" philosophy of business survival. The human brain was considered
essentially passive and reactive. Its activity was described by words
such as power, energy, drive and discharge. It was also thought to
be organized hierarchically, with one central control system that
told the other parts what to do.
All these concepts combined to create the pyramid-like business structure,
which is supposed to work "like a well-oiled machine," with
"vertical chains" of command and top-down communication
It’s time to update our beliefs
We live in a very different world now that did the Industrial Revolutionists.
Post-Einsteinian science tells us that the Universe is ruled by possibilities,
not certainties. Biology claims that ecosystems thrive with cooperation
far more than by competition. And neurology has advanced the belief
that the brain is at all like a machine "at least not like
a machine that anyone has every encountered," says prominent
neurologist Richard Restak.
In fact, it seems the brain does not resemble a computer, even though
it is always compared to one. Rather, it resembles the Internet. Instead
of one "command center", the brain is now thought to process
in a modular fashion. One task can be handled by different autonomous
parts of the brain, each processing a different aspect. By maintaining
communication across the various parts and overlapping some functions,
the brain then comes out with the finished product by synchronizing
its output in time. Words now being used to describe brain functions
are code, message, information, communication, and network.
Another interesting contribution from the field of neurology is that
play is now considered in brain development. In laboratory experiments,
animals that lived in an "enriched environment" (characterized
by frequent changes of toys and interactions with other animals),
grew bigger brains. But that kind of growth does not happen in highly
competitive environments, which science has demonstrated to be anti-brain’.
Indeed, say the experts, such environments tend to crush creativity.
A struggle for survival tends to accelerate rigidity, while play leads
to innovation, more flexible behavior and a more versatile and interesting
How to meet the challenge
In order to meet contemporary challenges more effectively, it makes
sense for business to tap into these discoveries. Thus, the traditional,
highly structured, organization needs to give way to a more flexible,
communication-based and interconnected network.
Fortunately, a trend in that direction has already started. Many
companies hire creativity consultants or theater groups to help develop
the atmosphere of play. Seminars and books now urge companies and
business leaders to transform business structure, relationships, and
There are companies that have already been wildly successful in this
new, less centralized model. One better-known example is Ben and Jerry’s
Homemade Ice Cream, where employee participation is expected, fun
is a way of life, and the CEO can only earn seven times more than
the lowest paid worker. Herb Kelleher, head of Southwest Airlines,
has been known to dress as a leprechaun to greet his passengers! And
Boardroom Reports has created Ipower, a program of continuous feedback
from employees, suppliers, and clients.
Of course, changing the structure of internal business operations
is a decision that requires a high level of thought, energy, and cooperation
from the entire organization. The good news is that applying the most
up-to-date concepts from science and neurology can strengthen the
bottom line by allowing individuals to thrive in a brain-friendly