Why has Interest in Neuroscience Become Popular? The Brain is the Next Frontier.

This post is the first of many articles linked to Neuroscience. I look at why the discipline has grown popular. But, firstly, I start with the implications of this new area in business and management.

My interest in the subject is to identify how the research taking place can help us become high performers in our personal, work, and business lives. I will explore this in more detail in future articles.

If you are aware of any new findings or interesting articles, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.

green and black rope

The Implications of Neuroscience in Business.

Of all the elements of a business, there is only one that is indispensable – people. Business is about people, and having a good understanding of human behavior and performance will allow a company to become great.

By looking at the business as a system, it becomes much easier to get your head around complex issues and how they interact and influence each other.

Your business network consists of your customer, suppliers, partners, and every individual in the business. Understanding human behavior from a neuroscience perspective makes the 'business' of management different but more productive.

The immediate advantage of applying neuroscience to business is the shifting focus from planning to process. The brain is full of surprises (just like humans); the only way to manage is to observe how people make decisions given the specific environmental conditions. The manager is inside the business - not looking at it from a distance - manipulating strings to control and plan desired outcomes.

We have progressed from seeing business as a machine to seeing business as a complex entity - some suggest that the metaphor of 'brain' might be reasonable to understand better and manage companies.

Let us take a simple example. The term 'plasticity' in neuroscience means the brain's ability and readiness to learn and change - to rewire itself to adapt to new circumstances. Applying this concept to business, we are looking at its capacity to adapt, structural resilience, and efficiency.

Management becomes about flow and energy. I think we are in for some exciting times.

NeuroLogic book

How the discipline started

The word 'neuroscience' pops up everywhere these days. It appears that most people have some knowledge about the brain. It has gone mainstream - there is even a Disney-Pixar movie "Inside Out" - about how an 11-year-old girl struggles with her move to San Francisco. Interest in the brain gained momentum in the U.S. and Europe. Now, we see a massive explosion in publications from China and Hong Kong.

The term was first coined in the early 1960s by Francis Schmitt at MIT (U.S.). In 2020, the U.S. Society for Neuroscience has 37k members, and the UK IBRO (International Brain Research Org) has 75K. The 1990s is labeled the decade of the brain, and the 2000s the decade of 'the mind.' In 2012, we saw the creation of two massive initiatives - Europe's Human Brain Project and the US Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN). In 2014, the Japanese got involved with the Brain MINDS project. The interest has shifted from the initial need to understand the brain, cure disease, and make money.

As explained by Steven Rose (Life Sciences – Open University UK – founding member of the Brain Research Association), the big push for the expansion was due to the shift in Francis Crick's interest from DNA to neuroscience. Click's claim, "You're nothing but a pack of neurons", marks that shift. 

Francis Crick

You're nothing but a pack of neurons

In the 1960s, we saw psychiatry being optimistic. Simultaneously, at the same time, the pharmaceutical industry focused on developing psychotropic drugs to treat the growing number of people suffering from depression and anxiety. People entering the field of neuroscience were driven by an awareness that the DNA double helix had "solved" the genetics riddle. It was a natural move to think that the brain was biology's final frontier. In many respects, it has become just that. We are looking at neuroscience to answer many questions: explain, mend, and manipulate the mind.

Governments, pharmaceuticals, charities, and the military are pouring money into the research of neuroscience. Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel says: "you are your brain."

The explosion in popularity today is connected to massive advances in research techniques. We can now modify genes and insert them into mice. Genes can be turned on and off in the brain to manipulate behavior. We can even see the movement of ions across the synapses. It has become the 'hottest' area of biology. More recently, we have started to see Brain-Computer Interfaces that enable us to interact with computers through brain-activity only.

I will not define or describe the brain. There are articles on the web that do a fantastic job if you are interested.