Building Intelligence: A Living Systems View — Part 3

This is the third and final part of a series on developing systematic intelligence across a business. In parts one and two, we reviewed the three brains that compose the human mind and how they work together to create intelligence. We’ll conclude with a look at ways to build intellectual capacity in practice, as demonstrated by regenerative organizations like P&G Lima.

Some processes that increase intellectual capacity

Breaking Routines

Avoid doing the same things twice in exactly the same way. The reptilian brain cannot guide this process. It requires the neocortex, the upper brain, to interpret meaning and utility and invent applications for the new ideas. It increases the neural networks and makes the mind flexible.

External Focus

Connect people’s minds to the external environment as their source of motives. (Team, Organization, Client, Market, Community, World) Where internal measures are the source of motivation, we generally create conditions where the middle brain tends to care in regard to self-interest or toward political motives. More often than not, internal measures promote the reptile in us to look for the “threat” or the impending “battle.”

On the contrary, when we focus externally, every employee takes stewardship for and is measured by a customer’s or market’s effectiveness and the success of the whole. Although our experience is that they are insufficient by themselves, this is why profit sharing systems are more effective than incentives for individual employees or teams.

The human neocortex works inherently on how the whole can succeed, where as the reptile operates by the dictum of “every man for himself”. Working primarily on improving the customer’s performance and measuring all performance by that parameter, puts all brains to work on the success of the whole, in an integrated way. Each employee can be connected to and responsible for a particular customer and that customer’s business effectiveness — a global brain task. This immediately calls the neocortex into service and requires the emotional brain to use its relational intelligence to think about what will make the customer more successful. This is especially true if the measures of success are the customer’s. Most business people think that such external measures create accountability for things over which people cannot have control. They believe it is better to keep employees more closely focused. However these concerns have been consistently proven invalid by organizations that have developed the intelligence to engage with customer improvements and to make those improvements an important measure of their true value creation.

Intrinsic Rewards

It is foundational to have people reflect on their own behavior and become self-accountable for the effects they create in the world. This requires foregoing feedback instruments and appraisals (operational excellence surveys, 360° review process, organizational climate surveys, etc.) directed by others. Motivation is self-directed and more demanding when personal reflection is the means of discipline. This gives the middle brain room to build healthy working relationships and challenges the upper brain to see the effects of personal actions on the future and on all stakeholders related to an action or set of actions.

Work with Mental Structures and Frameworks

Use those structures and frameworks that are natural to a complete thinking process in order to cause the mind to build relationships among ideas and possibilities. When you walk through an operation or office of a company building intelligence, as well as skills, you see walls covered, not with lists and numbers, but with ideas as symbols and structures that show the relationships and impacts of ideas on one another. Seeing the system at work inspires and the frameworks generate increased completeness in thinking and serve to break down conflicts among egos.

Work in a Dialogue Mode

When people have to exchange and develop thinking together, it causes the brain to build new neural networks and to myelinate the pathways that connect them thereby building more possible connections and associations. This is true as long as internally competitive processes are not introduced. Dialogue also fosters the desire to support others and stimulates the value for support in return. Dialogue was a mode developed in ancient Greece by Socrates and is frequently referred to as Socratic Method. Socrates held that a lecture or persuasive way of attempting to transfer knowledge was really only a transfer of opinions. He believed that knowledge, developed through internal processing, was required for one to become a thinking person and to have the chance of achieving excellence. He pointed out repeatedly that unless one could: develop one’s own well developed reasoning regarding the meaning and working of ideas and virtues, defend one’s idea into a debate and test for understanding in one’s life — it was not possible to really acquire virtues and therefore not possible to become a person who reflected excellence.

Only through deep understanding, which is an inner process, could one gain such knowledge and capability. He believed that only through the nature of examination required to develop critical thinking skills and to face one’s own personal limitations in trying to develop critical thinking, could one develop the inner experience of virtue and true intelligence. As long as one holds an opinion that has merely been adopted from others (whether parent, teacher or leader), it is not possible to actually understand thinking, nor is it possible to actually be intelligent.

Lead from Principles

Work primarily from principles as a leadership tool rather than from “standards and procedures”. Principles have been popularized by Stephen Covey, but few organizations have adopted them as a way of working. P&G Lima managed and operated by principles from the early 60’s and found that they require judgment processes that only the upper brain can make, so the full capacity of the human brain is called upon.

The principles, if well developed by those who will use them most, also have embedded in them the values of “the whole” and an understanding of the effects they seek to realize. If wisely considered and constructed, these principles also beget continuous improvement as a way of living by them. So we move from rules such as “Get it right the first time” to a principle such as, “Seek to continuously improve the product and the process, for ourselves and our customer’s benefit, with each thought we have and action we take”. In the first guideline, we are “right or wrong” each time, the work of the reptilian brain. In the later principle, we must always build our capacity to perform better for the benefit of a grander and greater whole. This inspires the upper brain to “be all it can be”, to borrow a phrase, and to do it better with each succeeding day.


As may be apparent at this point, many researchers and authors have taken pieces of these intelligences and published them in the form of programs organizations are advised to adopt. When presented as elements rather than as a whole, the programs and approaches themselves are fragmented, and organizations become fragmented in trying to implement them. This is the case especially when programs are presented one after another or when more than one is implemented at a time but independent of one another.
As a result of this fragmented introduction of elemental programs and processes, the intent of trying to keep re-energizing the business, tends to manifest in the opposite, dispirited, drained, even confused participants and a net loss in energy within the enterprise.

P&G Lima and several other companies have worked from the “living systems” technology that integrates these in a meaningful and useful way and causes a “systems view” of work and business to be held in mind by all the employees of a business, from top to bottom. The most important thing about working from a “living systems“ technology and not multiple separate programs, is that an organization can then invent its own new programs, as do P&G Lima and other businesses who use this approach. All the popular programs of the last two decades — principles, process thinking, quality, and many others we can list, were developed from within their own work force and these businesses are ahead and still inventing programs you will hear about in coming years.

Waiting for the business “gurus” to do our thinking leaves us as copycats. The success of a business is dependent on the quality of thinking and intelligence of that organization’s members and those members need a system for making this thinking a part of life and a way of doing business. The more we understand the different intelligences we have as human beings and the different ways we can think about a situation intelligently, the more likely we are to develop higher quality thinking about anything we take on and are able to continue to do so as markets and customers change.

Our intelligence can be continuously developed, but this is dependent upon our understanding of the forms it can take and processes for developing it continuously. Once we understand these forms of intelligence and their appropriate application to different situations, we can better develop our intelligence as businesses, families and communities and make ever more rewarding applications and advances toward the benefit of all.

About Carol Sanford

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.



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Carol Sanford

Carol Sanford


Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator