Building Intelligence: A Living Systems View — Part 2

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Photo by Logan Scott on Unsplash

This is the second part of a series on the three human intelligences and how they can be developed to create extraordinary outcomes in business. Last time, we reviewed the three parts that make up the human brain and saw how the reptilian brain manages habits to attend to material concerns. This time, we’ll cover the other two parts: the mammalian brain and the neocortex.

Daniel Goleman, of Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, has recently popularized this form of intelligence and given us an extended view of emotional intelligence and its role in a business environment. The intelligence that is added here is of a nature that makes us more adaptable, resilient, and richer in feelings. The limbic brain can give direction to the reptilian brain and from its emotional processing, add greater aesthetics and increased desire for pleasure. But it also adds anxiety over our social standing and memories from past experiences — hence the agony and the ecstasy.

Of major significance is that this brain level contains our built-in intuitive intelligence, which can take into account the well-being of ourselves, our offspring, our colleagues, and our species. The limbic brain’s intelligence maintains relationships between systems, such as our immune system and our emotional bonds. It also serves as the switching engineer for the brain stem and the neocortex, directing the attention of any one brain to the needs of the other. So if we are about to give a performance review to a subordinate, a well-developed emotional/relational brain can make us aware of the need to think clearly about what the person needs and remind us to avoid being overly negative with this person. In contrast, underdeveloped emotional intelligence can cause us to have imaginary problems, defenses and reactions that come under the command of the reptilian brain and its more limited capacities. When the reptilian brain co-opts the emotional brain to its own purposes, we see fear used as a tactic in the work situation to command conformity. This “brain-napping” can also lead to one being overly focused on competitive assessments as a source of business decisions or abdicating of our role in “social responsibility”.

The highly popular ideas of right and left brains are linked to the anatomy of the neocortex. Each region has its own work to do and yet they are most effective when working in unison. This upper brain, which is five times larger than that of the other two brains combined, provides us with a “knowledge developer”. When consciously developed, this brain blends our creative and critical thinking processes with our capacities for empathy, compassion, and altruism. It has the ability to “futurize” and direct the other two brains in higher order tasks and purposes that can create a better future for us and other living systems. As a result we can override the purely stimulus-response mechanism in our reptilian brain and evaluate the validity and appropriateness of our emotional responses. We can put these other two brains to work in the service of higher purposes conceived of by the uppermost brain.

If however, the availability of higher work — that is, work requiring the creative/global intelligence, is not forthcoming, then the lower two brains frequently co-opt the neocortex to do their work, and do not call upon its intelligence. For example, if a worker is not required to use their critical thinking intelligence on the job, they may fall into complaining about work (limited midbrain use) and cause unintentional but expensive errors or off-quality products (limited lower brain use). The neocortex will be called upon to develop the justifications and rationale sought by the lower two brains, which requires very little effort, leaving its reflective capacity to see the whole of the situation and it’s creative power to invent, largely untapped.

The base intelligence available through each brain takes on a profoundly different character with development of the triune brain network. Our highest brain, the neocortex, can then act upon the patterns of the two lower brain systems to change them to varying extents, thus leading to new patterns of interpreting the world and new behaviors. In many ways this serves as the antidote to the old notion that “people resist change”. Only the lower brain, the reptile in us, resists change. We can develop and fine tune our channels of intelligence to a greater extent and have more control over our intelligence and our mental energy. From this position we can then apply our higher brains to emergencies, or use the lower brains in the service of creative thought or innovation. Without this development, the brains tend to be somewhat dysfunctional in their use as the upper brains are put in the service of the lower brain. This basically puts the higher functions of the neocortex on idle for long periods of time, as its takes little of the available energy and neural network of the neocortex to work on these lower tasks. The result, a huge waste of human intelligence.

Most contemporary work and measurement systems, training, and interactions tend to tap the lower possibilities of these intelligences by creating programs and procedures that encourage repetitive and automatic behavior patterns in the way people work. Good training for a reptile perhaps, but not for a human being.

When business systems are effectively based on the premise that “intelligence is the core factor in overall success”, then all organizing structures are designed based on this premise. Some examples will be offered in the next part of this series to show how several businesses, including P&G Lima, have fostered the development of a triune intelligence and reaped the financial benefit as well as moral and social returns.

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Carol Sanford is a regenerative business educator, the award winning author of The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes, and executive in residence and senior fellow in social innovation at Babson College. She has worked with fortune 500 executives and rock star entrepreneurs for 40 years, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Learn more about Carol and her work at her website.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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