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  • Nicole Lisson

The Social Brain is the Big Boss



I’ve just returned from Agile Prague, an eight-year-old gathering of change agents at which I spoke on this topic. It was great fun. I love being in learning communities, and this one is especially vibrant.

The experience also re-upped my gratitude for the brain scientists who have made so much progress in the last several decades. What they have revealed about how our brains operate illuminates many of the challenges we face in the workplace. I have much deeper understanding of what’s going in among people I have the honor to work with. More than most of us ever suspected, our brains rule our experience, not the other way around.

The adult brain avoids change. Our brains evolved over 300,000+ generations to know our ecosystems and our roles by puberty. The image below is a stark snapshot of the results.



Many of us are working to help organizations deal with change. The Agile method has enabled great strides in IT, but does not readily spread enterprise-wide.

In Prague I shared the powerful [leading] metric that we developed from Ecosystem Mapping: track your progress toward Ecosystem Intelligence – and drive Business Agility – by measuring your percentages of Rich and SweetSpot Exchanges.

Those kinds of exchanges create the experience that our brains long for. Once opened, they rejuvenate the parties and breed the social security, loyalty and knowledge that enable people to co-invent new value exchanges as our ecosystems morph and re-morph.

The practice is powerful, but not easy. We have the ancient advantage that social animals take care of each other, and the ancient disadvantage that we all learn as infants who is and is not part of our ‘group’. Modern business makes it impossible to exchange only with members of our own group. That, combined with the fact that the adult brain evolved to largely stop learning at puberty, makes Business Agility a demand for retraining our [ruling] neural networks.

We have a lot of work to do. For my part, I have developed a guiding tool and begun speaking and writing more seriously.

Reader, please help me illuminate this important subject. Please point out where my writing and speaking is obscure, loses your interest, or is otherwise ineffective. And please share your stories. I do have a habit of talking to myself…my intent is to make this rather difficult subject accessible.

I won’t succeed alone. We never do.

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