Welcome to the 'Era of Behavior'

As the world has gone from connected to interconnected to interdependent, I believe we’ve entered a new era.

As the world has gone from connected to interconnected to interdependent, I believe we’ve entered a new era.  What I call the era of behavior.  I acknowledge that behavior has always mattered.  What I’m saying is that behavior now matters more than ever and in ways it never has before.  And what I mean by behavior – it’s not just doing the right principle, the responsible thing.  


Of course that’s fundamentally what I mean by behavior.  But every Tweet is a behavior.  Every email is a behavior.  We call these things communications and Tweeting and friending and unfriending.  But every email we write, collaboration is a behavior.  Innovation is a behavior.  How we lead is a behavior.  How we engender trust in our relationships.  How we say we’re sorry when we should.  It’s all behavior.  And the more connected the world gets, the more that every form of these behaviors and the more that leaders can create cultures where these behaviors can flourish and be scaled and be embedded into the DNA – the more these are the organizations that will succeed and, more importantly, achieve significance in their endeavors and therefore lasting enduring success.  So I believe that we have entered deeply the era of behavior.

Now I want to make a distinction when it comes to behavior.  Carrots and sticks.  The proverbial carrots and sticks, you know, bonuses and compensation and threats of punishment or discipline – they can shift behavior.  You know, we went through an election where tiny slivers of swing state voters received ads, were bombarded with ads trying to get them to shift from one camp to the other.  If you put a product on sale we’re shifting behavior.  Buy now, not later.  

So we’ve scaled up marketplaces and mechanics of shifting behavior – left, right, forward, back, now not later.  But if you sit with corporate managers and you say, “What behaviors do you want from your colleagues, from your people?”  They say, “I want creativity.  I want collaboration, loyalty, passion.”  And they go on and on and on – responsible, principle of conduct.  These are not behaviors you can shift for.  You can’t say, “You two, go in the room and don’t emerge until you have a brilliant idea.”  “And you two from different cultures, go in a room and don’t come out but I’ll pay you double if you figure out how to truly collaborate and move us forward.  The behaviors we want today are behaviors that we elevate.  These are elevated behaviors.

And what’s elevated people since the beginning of time is a mission worthy of their loyalty.  A purpose worthy of their dedication.  Core values that they share with others that really animate them.  Beliefs that they believe are near and dear and a kind of leadership rooted in moral authority that inspires them.  So not only are we in the era of behavior where competitive advantage has shifted to behavior, we are in the era of elevated behavior and what elevates behavior are fundamental values that we share with others and missions and purposes worthy of our commitment and dedication that we also share with others.  

And twenty-first century leadership is about connecting with people from within.  And that’s what I mean by this notion that there’s only three ways to get another human being, a friend, a colleague, a worker, to do anything.  You can coerce them, do this or else.  You can motivate them with the carrot, with the bonus, with the stock option.  And fireable offenses, for example, coercion and paying people well – they continue to have their place.  But the freest, cheapest, most enduring, most affordable and cleanest form of human energy is inspiration.  

And when you inspire somebody, you get in touch with the first two letters of the word inspire – IN.  And what’s in us are beliefs and values and missions and purposes worthy of our commitment. And leadership today is really fast going from command and control with carrots and sticks as the mechanics of command and control to inspirational leadership.  Leadership that’s animated by moral authority that connects with people in an inspired way from within.  And I think twenty-first century leadership is about becoming an inspirational leader.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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