Brain Re-Engineering

Brain re-engineering -- The switch to top-down processing

THE neural circuitry is not completely installed in most people until they are in their early 20s. As the circuitry advances into the pre-frontal cortex, the area associated with higher-order processing of input data, the controls necessary to quell the over-activated limbic system are in place. ``The prefrontal cortex,'' says Karl Pribram, Director of the Centre for Brain Research and Informational Sciences at Radford University in Virginia, ``is in charge of `executive functions.' These include the brain's ability to handle ambiguous information and make decisions, to coordinate signals in different regions of the brain, and to stifle or prolong emotions generated in the limbic system.''

In an adult, for instance, an overheard insult might arouse murderous rage until the prefrontal cortex figures out that the comment was meant for somebody else and tells the limbic system to cool down. As Prof Pribram puts it: ``The prefrontal cortex is the seat of civilisation.''

The circuitry is complete only when the areas associated with 'precognition' and 'primary cognition' are also in place. The 'precognitive areas' deal with objectifying abstract concepts, forecasting, problems of causation and correlation, etc. The 'primary cognitive areas' act as the 'spike arresters' in the human brain, which helps maintain equanimity and synchronicity. It is also responsible for holistic functioning.

For example, in the waking state of consciousness, the brain functions in beta range 12-40 Hz. The dilemma arises everytime the human ear hears a sound. The range of the human ear is between 50-20,000 Hz. Every sound over-activates the area associated with audition in the brain. Unless this over-activation is arrested at the earliest, it results in 'cognitive dissonance.'

Cognitive dissonance can be defined as the internal and subliminal resistance to learn, grow, change and adapt. As long as the neuronal circuitry is incomplete, it leads to over-activation of areas down the line, leading to dissipative behaviour, commonly termed `mental weakness.' Over-activation of areas of the brain is inversely proportional to clarity of thought.

Bottom-up processing can be termed the `default' mode of the brain. The brain continuous to function in this mode until the neuronal circuitry is completed. Once the neuronal circuitry is completed, the next challenge surfaces _ the problem of overcoming 'Habituation.' 'Habituation' happens by the repetitive use of a particular neuronal pathway. When any fresh input is received, the brain processes it through well-known pathways, leading to standardised, predictable responses. In a competitive set-up driven by real-time innovation, `habituation' can be disastrous.

Bottom-up processing is input- or data-driven. If the input changes, new connections are formed or existing connections modified. For example, a management school's inputs to an MBA student build strong neural circuits in the pre-frontal and parietal cortex. Once the student leaves the school, the neural circuits built during the MBA programme may be lost due to lack of use. One way of building new connections is to look for something new in every interaction.

In the bottom-up processing mode, serial processing takes place. That is, inputs are processed one after the other. The output of one becomes the input of the next, and so on. A brain that is addicted to bottom-up processing has now to switch over to a different type of processing _ termed `Top-Down Processing.' In top-down processing, both serial and parallel processing take place simultaneously. A brain that is habituated to serial processing finds it difficult to function with the necessary momentum that today's competitive world demands of it. The consequence is physical, mental and intellectual burn-out and the organisation pays a huge price for the bottom-up processing behaviour of its managers.

In 'top-down processing' the areas associated with self-preservation (in the brain stem), technical knowledge (in the perceptual areas), creative skills to deliver differentiated products and services (in the limbic system), analytical judgement (in the prefrontal cortex), forecasting skills (in the parietal lobe), capability to be holistic in every action (primary cognitive areas), and proactivity (through the motor cortex), remain constantly and consistently activated. In other words, the brain is `Globally Activated.' Mental Toughness can, thus, be ostensibly and objectively defined as the capability of the individual to globally activate his brain processes and maintain the same level of activation.

This method of processing in the brain uses past experiences and also allows constant learning. The input is fed into the different areas of the brain simultaneously initiating both parallel and serial processing. The processing speed is dramatically increased as the different processing areas of the brain do not have to wait for the input to be fed in serially. Non-linear thinking takes place. Logical capability is replaced by rational, analytical and intuitive skills that can lead to far greater `insight' into the data provided.

Top-down processing

The most important aspects of top-down processing are:

* The stabilising nature of the 'primary cognitive areas' comes to the forefront. It does not allow different areas of the brain to lose synchronicity. Over-activation of any part of the brain is avoided. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the brain responds holistically for every action.

* By activating the primary cognitive areas which function at the delta range (0.5-4 Hz), the brain activity associated with

creativity (8-12 Hz) and innovation (4-8 Hz) also remain constantly activated. No extra effort is necessary on the part of the individual, to sustain change, creativity and innovation.

Brain re-engineering

It is this process of switching from bottom-up processing to top-down processing that can be termed brain re-engineering. This helps the individuals and, through them, the organisations, to reassess on an ongoing basis, the efficacy of products and services, along with the delivery processes. There is a possibility of incremental and break-through innovation which can help in staying ahead of competitors.

Corporate renewal

One has to ensure that people associated with organisations have a total completed neuronal circuitry. They have to be objectively assessed. In case the neuronal circuitry has not been completed, inputs have to be custom-designed to suit individual needs, while taking care to avoid over-activation of different cognitive areas in the brain.

Once the circuitry is deemed complete, there has to be a custom-designed schedule worked out to suit individual functional profiles to help him or her switch over to top-down processing so that new neuronal connections are generated that will help in both parallel and serial processing;

For the individual to stay innovative, data of current market position and customer needs are a must. This input helps constantly modify the neuronal circuitry and facilitates the process of staying ahead of market needs.

The human resources development process can be accelerated through corporate mentors who can help individuals on the job to function in the top-down processing mode. Corporate mentors represent various functional disciplines, such as marketing, and finance, are trained in top-down processing and can help the other employees in adding value to various functions.

Brain processes influence the quality of our decisions and actions. Every input is processed by the brain through its functional parts, which are at different levels of activation. By default, the brain processes are input-driven and serial. They are, thus, in the bottom-up processing mode.

In this method, an input can cause over-activation of certain parts of the, brain which can be counter-productive. By regulating the activation levels through top-down processing, creative action is possible. In the top-down processing mode, the inputs are negotiated through a stabilising mechanism called the primary cognitive area, which ensures harmonious functioning of all the parts. The process of internalising the top-down mode of brain functioning is termed brain re-engineering.