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Organizations as Brains. Matt Braun Mary Mulcahy Colleen Mooney Lorraine E. Zlupko. Organizations as Brains.

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organizations as brains
Organizations as Brains

The brain as a system engages in an incredibly diverse set of parallel activities that make complimentary and competing contributions to what eventually emerges as a coherent pattern (p. 75).

organizations as brains metaphor strengths
Organizations as BrainsMetaphor Strengths
  • Information Processing Brains
    • Networked intelligence
      • Limitless supply of data
    • Data-driven organizations
    • Human-based computation
      • Humans and computers work together to solve problems
    • Changing the divided brain paradigm
      • Left and brain capacities are intertwined, not opposing
  • Create Learning Organizations
    • Scan and anticipate change in the wider environment to detect significant variations (adapt or fail)
    • Develop an ability to question, challenge, and change operating norms and assumptions (double looping)
    • Allow an appropriate strategic direction and pattern of organizations to emerge (learn from mistakes)
organizations as brains metaphor limitations
Organizations as BrainsMetaphor Limitations
  • Having to “evoke metaphors to elaborate the implications of a metaphor” (p. 111) – when discussing the Organizations as Brain metaphor we are forced to look at other metaphors to describe the first (ex: holographics and cybernetics)
  • The possibility of “overlooking the important conflicts that can arise between learning and self-organization, on one hand, and the realities of power and control on the other” (p.114)

Real-World Connection

  • Is it possible to design learning organizations that have the capacity to be as flexible, resilient and inventive as the functioning of the brain?
  • Is it possible to distribute capacities for intelligence and control throughout an enterprise so that the system as a whole can self-organize and evolve along with emerging challenges? (Morgan, p. 72)
organizational need for change
Organizational Need for Change…………
  • The school organization has “grown” a great deal, moving from a struggling school to a STAR 4 center.
  • We have created these positive changes with a modified “machine” organizational model, but, it is time in our organizational growth to change our focus and mindset in order to continue our Continuous Quality Improvement goals.
  • It is imperative that knowledge and power become distributed in the organization.

Moving from a “Machine” to a “Brain” Organizational Structure


* Building a Learning Organization

* Requisite Variety - internal diversity

* Corporate DNA

Working toward change

Watch for:

*Resistance of status quo

* Managers must be willing to truly let go


Change Process to Organization as a Brain Model

Machine Metaphor


Where the school is now…


Where we want to be ----

  • Brain Metaphor
  • Great degree of interconnectedness
  • Distributed leadership
  • Learning Community
  • NOT imposing from above – communication and integration

An Example of Interconnectedness……..

Blue Brain Project

Reconstructing the brain piece by piece and building a virtual brain in a supercomputer—these are some of the goals of the Blue Brain Project.  The virtual brain will be an exceptional tool giving neuroscientists a new understanding of the brain and a better understanding of neurological diseases.The Blue Brain project began in 2005 with an agreement between the EPFL and IBM, which supplied the BlueGene/L supercomputer acquired by EPFL to build the virtual brain. (


Organization as Brain (modified for our school)

  • Both holographic and specialized (Morgan 73)
  • Leadership, PELICAN, Work Sampling, OUNCE, STAR Requirements shared
  • Distributed Leadership
  • Organizational Diversity

Brain Metaphor


Where we want to move as an organization…

  • Morgan, G. (2006). Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • The Blue Brain Project. Retrieved from