In the early 1990’s, I was a psychology grad student in Cambridge, Mass. I didn’t get it at the time, but I was surrounded by a quiet revolution going on in the understanding of how humans work.  People like Hebert Benson at Harvard and Jon Kabat-Zinn at UMass – influenced by their experiences in meditation – started looking more deeply at the technology of the human nervous system.

The result of this work is that the word “STRESS” is now a part of our everyday vocabulary.  We have begun to understand the effect of stress on our physical and emotional well-being and it’s a topic of conversations everywhere.

Success and Your Wiring

In January 2010, the well known business blogger Seth Godin wrote a post called Quieting the Lizard Brain.  This was one of the first popular acknowledgments of the role our nervous system has in success.


As a reader of this blog, you know that what’s happening in your mind and spirit effects your success profoundly. So before you rush off to that latest training in how to grow your business (even the one that I’m offering), let’s take a look at the three parts of the human brain and what they mean for your success.

It’s All About Survival: The Lizard Brain

Right where your skull meets your spine, sits the oldest part of your brain.  It’s concerned with the basics like eating, mating, and avoiding getting killed.  It is wired for strong emotions like fear and rage. When it’s activated, it takes over everything.

When a person or a team is being run in this manner, they tend to be guarded, reactive and resistant to new ideas.  Change and challenges are cause for great alarm and often lead to attacking whoever brought them into awareness.  Do I have to say more about what this means for success seekers?

Placating Heirarchy: The Dog Brain

The next part of the brain is the cerebellum or mammalian brain.  We’ll call it the Dog Brain.  It’s organized around repeating pleasure and avoiding pain.

When the dog brain is leading, choices are focused on social acceptance and placating hierarchy.  Decisions tend to focus on things like what to wear (the blue or black suit?) to fit in and how to keep up a level of performance that is acceptable to others.   While there’s lots of talk about excellence and innovation in business, the reality is that dog brain thinking is the norm in most organizations and the people who work in them.

Engage and Innovate: The Human Brain

The most optimistic part of all this brain stuff is that researchers like Stephen Porges say that we are hard-wired to connect, engage and innovate.  This is the cortex, our very human brain.  It’s our natural state, how we are born into the world.  However, it gets trampled under stress by the earlier part of the brain parts.

When a person or a team is operating from the neocortex, engagement is natural (scientists call it “social engagement mode”) and innovating together so obvious it’s like talking to a fish about water.  With corporate values like “Embrace and Drive Change” and “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness”, Zappos is my favorite example of a highly successful business operating from this consciousness.  When this part of your brain is in charge, you will naturally find yourself co-creating innovative and valuable solutions.   This is the key to effortless success.

Neuro-tech: The Technology of the Future

Later this month, I’ll be joining key players from companies like Google, Twitter, Zappos and Facebook at a conference called Wisdom 2.0.  The conference is focused on the need for mindful use of today’s technology.  Today’s leading edge companies know that in a noisy market place, getting anyone to listen to your message requires RELATIONSHIP and ENGAGEMENT.

Many of you know I’m a big fan of energy psychology tools like EFT to create this foundation for success.  My friend Soren Gordhamer, organizer of Wisdom 2.0, teaches mindfulness practices for this purpose.  There are many ways of activating this neurology.  The one thing that tends not to work is ignoring it.  That’s a strategy best left to the lizards.