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Adaptation: the Key to Survival in the Business Jungle - part 1

December 18, 2013

Businesses need to make decisions based on more than just processes. Standard procedures are a good start, but there is a philosophy behind every successful business leader that should never be overlooked.

At TARGIT, we’ve devoted our research to not only staying ahead of the curve with new and exciting Business Intelligence & Analytics technologies, but with how to best foster a perfect synergy between those technologies and the humans who use them.

As such, our researches have long been examining how the human brain works. In particular, we’ve looked at how it works under stress, how it deals with that stress, and, of course, how computers factor in. Once we know this, we can best decide how we, as leaders and managers, can accelerate our businesses. And what we’ve found is that the key role of the human brain compared to the computer is adaptation. I’ve touched on some of this in previous blog posts, but today I want to go more in depth.

As a certified skydiver, it seemed natural to move some of this research to the clouds. After all, what could be a more stressful stimulus for the brain than to be hurled out of an airplane at 14,000 feet? After interviewing hundreds of fellow sky divers and cliff jumpers, it was clear the brain adapts in two distinct ways.

The first is entirely subconscious. Almost 75 percent of skydivers have had the “falling dream” before they ever jump out of a plane. One of the most common recurring dreams, the dreamer experiences the sensation of falling from a great height and always wakes before hitting the ground. This dream isn’t based on experience. It’s something that has been pre-programed into our brains from birth. This instinctual fear of falling is so strong that it invades our dreams.

But the more instances a person skydives, the more the general falling dream changes. With some experience tucked under your belt, you eventually become so relaxed with the idea of falling that your brain no longer terminates the dream at the point of impact. Other dreams invade, such as malfunctioning parachutes, but in each the dreamer always lands safely on the ground. Our experiences adapt the way our brain conceptualizes falling.

The second adaptation our brain makes is something I’ve touched on in many of my keynotes. First-time skydivers are almost always guaranteed to black out the first few seconds of their first jump starting the moment the leave the plane. On the second jump and every jump after that, however, we don’t. So why is that?

I think back to my own first skydiving experience. I wouldn’t describe it as frightening, but more a feeling of extreme sensory overload. It was quite a surreal few seconds. Despite the fact that I was concentrating extremely hard while climbing out of the plane, once I let go of the plane on the jumpmaster’s command, it was if I completely blacked out until the parachute opened by static line. This entire time was likely no more than two or three seconds in total, but I can best describe the feeling of extreme emptiness of mind.

On my second jump however, I was much more aware of everything going on from the first second. It’s remarkable how quickly I adjusted to receiving this new sensory input. It seemed that from first to second jump, my senses adjusted and were able to fully capture what was going on around me.

My brain had adapted to extreme psychological duress. Logically, there is a certain amount of fear involved in jumping out of an airplane. But I found that after proper instruction and training, at that critical moment when we were lifting off and jumping, all fear suddenly disappeared. It was as if the acceptance of jumping turned the nervousness that I had felt on the ground into a decisive knowledge in my head that I knew what to do and was capable of doing it, no matter the circumstances.

The more I jumped, the more that fear evaporated until the day I realized the fear was gone entirely. All that was left was the joy of the jump and thrill of the ride. I could finally enjoy it to its absolute maximum. When I describe my jumps now, it’s as if the parachute is a natural extension of my body when I step out of the plane and start exploring an exciting new environment in the air.

To put this theory into practice, I recently took a willing TARGIT employee out for her second skydive jump to show you firsthand how her brain adapted. Check it out.

So what am I getting at and what does it have to do with the way you make business decisions? In just one additional example of skydiving from that first to second jump, the brain already starts constructing a new reality. Compare that to a computer that needs hundreds, if not thousands, of examples to adapt.

The human brain adjusts after just one example. It is an adaptation engine. We can change that which has been fizzled into our minds by nature. The brain is using that information that a computer would not be able to use from just a single instance.

We have the power to reprogram our minds extremely quickly. This is what puts us one step ahead of computers. As humans, we can't out-remember or out-calculate a computer, but we can out-adapt one. The computer has raw power, but power means nothing without reasoning behind it. As users, business owners, and decision makers, we must adapt to current challenges, improvise, and learn. Then take what we’ve learned and apply that to our computing. 

Have a look at Dr. Morton's lab to get more information.

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