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Exploring the neuroscience of collaboration

This is one of those articles that occurred totally spontaneously. It was conceived during a particularly technical mountain bike ride when I became acutely aware of the amount of rapid decisions that I had to make every few minutes – Do I go right or left of the water, or in fact right through it! True to validated neurophysiology, I was aware that the path that I’d ultimately follow was decided a split second before I consciously made the decision. Once made, I was committed to seeing it through come hell or high water (literally!). Which brings me to the subject of my musings, the ‘thing‘!

The ‘thing’ doesn’t just appear. It’s not brought by a stork – it has to be conceived and birthed. The ‘thing’ is a system, program (including a music composition), theory/model or a physical entity. Join me on a short journey as I illustrate the variables which go into the conception and birthing of the ‘thing’.

Firstly, I need to summarize two previous articles and fuse them together to create the foundation. The ‘thing’ appears in our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) as a result of a prompt originating in one of the sensory portals or from our cortical memory data, or both. This primordial thing is dripping in our subjectivity. Now in all right handed individuals and 85% of ‘lefties’, the dominant hemisphere is left sided. This hemisphere is the rational, quantifying and linear space which dominates the right hemisphere. It is the place of drive and ambition (as well as fear of failure!). The right hemisphere is the warm-fuzzy space of emotion, big picture sensitivity and ‘out the box’, intuitive perception – underpinning creativity.

So once the ‘thing’ is conceived in the right hemisphere, it invites the left PFC to question it (working memory) and through rational reasoning and drive, the left sided PFC creates the workable entity, the hardcopy. And indeed, one single individual, if endowed with the required heritage-determined hardware and software, can complete the entire process. Let’s flesh out what is required: The lively, unfettered imagination of the right hemisphere; well developed pathways crossing from left to right and right to left – manifest by a healthy respect for the intuitive, fuzzy hunches of the right, but also a healthy respect for the reasoning, quantifying left PFC; purposeful, focused engagement and drive of the left hemisphere to bring the thing into reality; the courage of commitment.

Intrinsic to our neuropsychological heritage is the need to be part of the group, the collective (the connective, to be precise!). And so invariably we bring our hemispheral dynamics into the group – we network our respective functions so that the group incorporates a connectivity of right and left hemispheres, cross-over connections and reasoning PFC’s. In fact the group connective is more than the sum of its parts as regards right hemisphere intuitive hunches and warm fuzzies as well as the left hemisphere quantification and integration. This dynamic in fact creates the phenomenon which we recognize as collaboration. The entire process is driven by chemistry – dopamine from the engagement and from the gratification of contributing a meaningful byte; oxytocin from being a member of the group and becoming imbibed in the warm fuzzy sensitivities of the right hemisphere. An extra dose of dopamine and oxytocin gratification of course, for those orchestrating the collaboration banter. In fact there are those whose needs are fully met by merely owning the banter! But … this dynamic does not birth the ‘thing’! One element alone births the ‘thing’ – purposeful, focused engagement and drive which is fueled by taking ownership and bringing the ‘thing’ into its definitive form beyond the bantering space.

The warm fuzziness, sensitivities and group connectivity are great for expanding the substrate after conception. But when it occurs in the warmth of a comfort zone, devoid of angst and necessity, it generally remains just that – warm collaboration with a burgeoning integration, but no definitive birthing. In evolutionary terms it results only in small incremental changes, fettered by the need to stay comfortable without perturbation. Staying with the evolutionary concept, it’s when there’s great drive, necessity or great environmental change, that real innovative birthing happens. And it’s those individuals who have the courage to take ownership of the birthing and maintain focused and single-minded engagement, that become the instruments that bring the ‘thing’ into existence. And for them, an extra dose of dopamine from the sense of achievement!

The driven will invariably tread upon sensitivities, but their overall value contribution and the resulting upliftment of the group and beyond, will more than compensate for the pained and bruised sentiments. And so I say, join the group, collaborate with respect and sensitivity and contribute to the expanding substrate. But then grab your bit of appropriate integration, as an individual or as a group of committed individuals, own it and with single minded commitment, take it the critical extra mile and make it real!

Copyright reserved – Ian Weinberg 2018

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