May 29, 2015
Company culture and innovation talent are key drivers for surviving the increased speed of our markets. The most fluid and pioneering companies of today understand that there are basically three types of networks active in their organization, and they cherish and support each one. I believe that neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s model of the triune brain can illuminate how these natural networks function, and how we can leverage them.
The triune brain
According to MacLean, the triune brain consists of the reptilian complex, the limbic system (paleomammalian complex), and the neocortex (neomammalian complex). The reptilian brain is the essence of our brain. It’s the core engine of survival, keeping us alive. The limbic system keeps us coherent as a species. The way we interact in groups and feel empathy are part of the limbic system. It’s the social side of the brain. The third component, the neocortex, is the part that we’re so proud of as human beings. We owe our capacity for logical thought and structured analysis to the marvels of the neocortex. It is the pinnacle of human evolution. And it’s also incredibly slow.
The triune networks
Just as our gray matter is made up of three parts, I think our organizations have three distinct internal networks that together form the triune networks of companies:
The core innovation network is the group of people that makes innovation happen at your organization. When a company is small, it is clearly visible, but as the organization grows, it becomes a lot less so. But it stays vital. It’s the group that might find the next idea to take your business to a new level. It’s the nucleus that could go across the street and start a competitor to your business. Most companies have lost sight of who participates in their core innovation network. It’s like a secret society buried in the dungeons of the corporate hierarchy.
A company is also a social network. It is filled with people who develop relationships and ties. These social networks are crucial in developing or changing a company’s culture. They are essential in understanding why people want to belong to a group or an organization. These cultural networks inside companies are vital conduits for the emotional sentiment that runs through an organization. It’s no wonder that companies like Google that attract the most talented people invest a lot in having their staff function like a “tribe” and inducing a tight community feeling.
The final part of the triune network tends to be the most visible: the hierarchical network, often depicted in the infamous org chart. This network determines who does what and who reports to whom. The hierarchical network has a huge role to play in a company, especially in areas where a command-and-control structure is needed to maximize operational efficiency. Unfortunately, this third network is often the only one that really captures the attention of top management.
Companies need to cherish each part of this triune network to thrive in the ever-growing complexity and uncertainty of their environment. In fact, if they want to stay relevant in this age of disruption, they should especially pay attention to their core innovation and social network, which are unfortunately those that most traditional companies are neglecting.
If you want to learn more about company networks and innovation, read The Network Always Wins.