Making your business more like your brain

Did you know that scientists estimate 90% of the things you do in a normal day are unconscious?

Activities like walking, recognizing faces, chatting to colleagues.

The brain likes to automate these activities because it’s much more efficient. By learning and becoming proficient in a skill (for example learning how to change gears in a car while driving), your brain actually moves the processing done while performing that activity to a different part of the brain, the ‘expert’ region.

It wasn’t long ago, maybe just a few hundred years before today that getting enough energy to keep our bodies and our brain going was a daily struggle for most people. If you’ve ever watched Survivorman (yes it’s at least partly fiction but the point stands) you’ll see he is thinking almost obsessively about finding sources of energy (meat, moss, insects, roots). It’s the key to survival.

So as a survival mechanism your brain has learned to take note of the tasks you do regularly and stores them in a way that activates less neurons while doing them. This in turn makes our thinking more efficient (requiring less of that precious energy) and a great deal faster.

Think for a moment of the mental strain required if I asked you to calculate 7 to the power 5 (that’s 7x7x7x7x7). What about 7 to the power 20? It’s hard because you have to use the ‘big’ part of your brain, the more flexible part that is used to do more general calculation. Even though the task actually isn’t as complicated as for example recognizing the face of someone you know, it takes many more neurons, more energy and much more time.

Tuning your business
So how is this like your business? Well like a brain, your business requires energy in the form of people, which boils down to money. The less efficient something is, for example if David takes 3 days to do something instead of 1, the less you’ll gone done for the energy (money) being spent, just like a brain. Sure if the team is small you will get some of the ‘expertise’ factor as the individual brains of the people involved automatically optimise, but trust me when I say that unless your brains are physically connected by wires into some sort of bizarre science fiction-like hive mind, you will not be able to efficiently grow that organisation beyond just a few people. The greater beast that forms when you bring people together is the organisation, your organisation, and it is not born with the ability to automatically tune itself.

What this means is that an untuned business, one that hasn’t taken it’s regular routines and made them more efficient, is the equivalent of a brain that hasn’t done the same. Remember when changing gears was complicated? Imagine if just answering the doorbell was as complicated as calculating 7 to the power 20! Your organisation is still there, it’s pottering along stuck someone between 1st and 2nd gear because it can’t watch the road and change gears at the same time.

Your accounting process, logistics process, creative process, they’re all very flexible beyond the 1-2 person stage, they are all extremely inefficient, they’re burning unnecessary energy because the business can’t make them subconscious like your brain can. And what happens if one of the people regularly involved leaves or is swapped out? If the business is actually one large brain, but you’re relying on the people involved to do the ‘expertise’ part, when you lose one of those people your big, inefficient brain is now brain damaged to boot.

The solution is what’s known as process management. By documenting these processes you take the burden and the reliance away from the people involved. You free your business to become something greater than just the sum of its parts. You remove the cognitive friction between people and suddenly you’re able to do effortlessly what seemed like a complicated grind yesterday. Now you’re walking when before you were crawling, the team is performing.

They say the difference between a small and medium business is its processes. Without those, you’re burning cash like there’s no tomorrow. Like Survivorman you’re looking for those energy (money) sources, but when you get them your brain fires up and burns it away far more quickly than for example a Walmart, McDonalds or other large, efficient business would have. Without those efficiencies or a huge source of energy/money, you just aren’t going to be able to keep up with the big boys.

The first step in process management is always the hardest, it’s documenting what you do today. Sit down and write down the activities you regularly do, and then write down the process involved, inefficiencies and all. Simply by writing them gain a platform for discussion, useful for making sure everyone is on the same page and to train newcomers, and in the process you will almost certainly see areas that are incredibly inefficient. It will take time, but communicate your findings effectively to the people involved and ensure all know and follow the process.

It’s also important to remember however that the process are rigid. Maybe too rigid, so leave some leeway, and always leave a way to question the process. If someone asks why the rubber stamp if Jeff is needed and a colleague points to ‘the process book’ and says ‘just because’, then you’ve also failed. There will always be a better way and what you currently have will not always be 100% correct. Leave that wiggle room and let people know why things are the way they are. Make sure that the official process takes human behaviour into account, and you’ll find that people really do follow your processes. If you can do all of that then you’ll find your team turns from a group of individuals into a real team, capable of running, swimming and hunting in the corporate landscape, Survivorman style.

Did you like this article? Check out the free task management tool I’m developing at You’ll love the simplicity, and your colleagues will love how much more orgnised you are.

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