“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”Genesis 1:1
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Research in neuroscience reveals that the brain constructs multiple representations of space.
The peripersonal space (PPS) is the region of space immediately surrounding our bodies. This is everything we can see when we look down, those things within arm’s reach. This space includes the stuff that we already own. As an organisation, this is the organisation as it is today, existing business models, existing infrastructure, processes and procedures.
Conversely, when we look up, we see a different space. Neuroscientists call the space beyond arm’s reach the extra-personal space. The extra-personal space is the space is outside our current grasp. As an organisation, this is the organisation as it could be tomorrow, new business models, new infrastructures, processes and procedures.
The point of this Thursday Thought is that to navigate a turbulent business environment, organisations must “look up” while “looking down”. Leaders must look beyond their peripersonal space to ensure the survival of their organisations. So why don’t we just do that?
Exploring the extra-personal space requires immense effort, resources, desire and planning. Meanwhile, exploiting the peripersonal space is much easier because it involves exploiting what we already know. (inspired by an episode of the Innovation Show #192 with Daniel Z. Lieberman.)
Why Up and Down?
Why does the brain divide the world into up and down? Into the peripersonal and the extra-personal? The answer runs all the way back to our evolutionary ancestors. When we lived from day to day on the great savannas, we either had enough resources to survive or we did not. We understood the fundamental difference between resources, which we had and resources, which we did not have. The brain evolved to deal with that reality of our existence and split the world into what we have now and what we might have. These evolutionary echos resound today, where we protect what we have with more vigilance than we explore for what we have not.
At one stage humans almost became extinct, so we humans are lucky to be alive. Scientists know this because when you look at the genetic variation from human to human, there’s a lot less than you see in other animals. This means, at one stage in our history, we belonged to a small tribe of people. one key to our survival was to spread out, to look up and to explore. That way, if there was a natural disaster in one region, that wiped out some people. We still had others in different parts of the world that could ensure the survival of the human race.
Organisations can learn from such lessons. Faced with unrelenting disruption, we need to explore, to survive. We need to spread our bets, experimenting with a variety of business models. If the business model becomes extinct, we do not sink with the ship.
Up or Down = Explore or Exploit
Organisations are designed to exploit steady and predictable environments, but our world has become anything but steady and predictable. This creates a mismatch of requirements.
While, organisations are suited for peripersonal exploitation, we are attempting to make them operate in extra-personal exploration. This is the polar opposite mode of what established organisations do. Excellent executors are not excellent explorers. This presents a mammoth leadership challenge. Organisations need to operate both modes at once. We need to look up while looking down. We need to exploit the peripersonal, while exploring the extra-personal. To do so requires a radical shift in mindset and a diverse set of cognitive skills.
So What’s Love Got To Do With It!
Just as the brain divides the world into two spaces: up and down, the peripersonal and extra-personal, we can divide love into two phases. The phases happen over distinct periods of time, during which our neurochemical responses evolve. To understand this evolution, we first need to understand the function of the neurochemicals involved.
Initially, scientists believed the neurochemical dopamine to be a reward or pleasure chemical. Since then, they discovered that dopamine is not really about the pleasure of enjoying things in the here and now. Today, we understand dopamine is about the pleasure of anticipating things, even when they are just in our imagination. Dopamine drives us to look up and drives us to explore the extra-personal space. Dopamine plays a major role in love.
Dopamine drives us in the first phase of love called passionate love. This phase is about anticipation, excitement and creativity. The problem with dopaminergic pleasure is that it is time limited. Eventually up becomes down. Eventually, the extra-personal becomes the peripersonal. This means the passionate phase of love last 12 to 18 months.
However, once dopamine turns off, our other neurochemicals take over. These neurochemicals are about what we have, not what we want. They are about the peripersonal space. They include oxytocin, endocannabinoids, and endorphins. They are present in the second phase of love, called companionate love. Companionate love does not have the exciting characteristics of passionate love, but it can be fulfilling.
When this happens, many couples develop the feeling that they are no longer in love. And many dopaminergic people think the relationship is over and they bring it to a halt. It is important to understand that it is just entering a new phase, a more enduring phase, perhaps a more mature phase and a phase that has the potential to give us happiness and fulfillment.
To reinvigorate the companionate phase of love, neuroscientists recommend we add continue to add new dopaminergic experiences. This might include new restaurants, holidays, or whatever your imagination can conjure.
So what has that got to do with Innovation and Organisations?
Love evolves from a passionate phase to companionate phase. Our organisations evolve from an explore phase to an exploit phase. Essentially, what looks up must eventually look down. The key to keeping an organisation alive is the same as keeping a relationship alive, we need to inject some exploration into the organisation.
Doing so has ensured the survival of our species, our relationships and perhaps your organisations.
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