As a successful doctor of psychiatry and neuroscience, it looked as if I had it all: I was married to a fellow psychiatrist and had a job working for the NHS. We were a carefree young couple, with a great social life and lots of opportunity to travel the world. Everyone assumed I was in complete control of my life.
But I was running on autopilot, and when I reached my mid-30s everything fell apart. I had become increasingly unhappy in my work, worn down by the long hours and workload and the sense of not being able to make a real difference to my patients.
You might think that the impact of aging on the brain is something you can’t do much about. After all, isn’t it an inevitability?
To an extent, as we may not be able to rewind the clock and change our levels of higher education or intelligence (both factors that delay the onset of symptoms of aging). But adopting specific lifestyle behaviors–whether you’re in your thirties or late forties–can have a tangible effect on how well you age. Even in your fifties and beyond, activities like learning a new language or musical instrument, taking part in aerobic exercise, and developing meaningful social relationships can do wonders for your brain. There’s no question that when we compromise on looking after ourselves, our aging minds pick up the tab.
Have you heard of legacy code? In her article in the Financial Times, Lisa Pollack reveals how this has become a growing issue for businesses engaged in a process of modernizing their software and systems, with many large organizations and government departments’ websites relying on code headed for the “digital dustbin.” Archaic languages, such as Cobol, created 50 years ago, are a threat to progress not only for the direct and obvious inconvenience of them (Pollack describes how the Pentagon was relying on the use of eight-inch floppy disks to coordinate its intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers, for example) but also for all the indirect cascade of side effects that legacy code may trigger unpredictably in other parts of a system when you try to change or overwrite any part of it. To give an example, this could mean that a successful update, or overwriting, of some code for the purchasing part of a business within its ERP system may cause unpredictable and unexpected collateral damage elsewhere, as part of a complex technological butterfly effect that demonstrates the interconnectedness of all system. This is known as code fragility.
No department is an island, including yours
The article got me thinking again about my OPI model, and more generally about the complex ecosystem that’s at work in any business of any size. No department functions in isolation, and no department can be rebuilt or improved upon successfully if it is treated as an island.
In this post, I’d like to return again to my Organizational Plasticity Index (OPI), introduced in my post “Why Business Is Like The Brain.” We’ve already expanded on one aspect of the model, and here, I’d like to explore another, synaptic connection, which equates to the systemic organization of the relationships and communication channels within a business. The OPI model that compares businesses to the brain, using key aspects of brain function as a metaphor to help make sense of the healthy, or dysfunctional, running of a business. The model is useful because it helps me work with clients to identify the unseen “pathways” within their business that go beyond chain of command diagrams, workflow models, and mission statements. The OPI rating helps me to measure the long-term resilience of the businesses I work with.
The “synaptic connections” within a business relate to the way relationships function: both linear and lateral; hierarchical and “official” and informal. If I were to map these out, they would appear more like constellations or complex webs of connections than hierarchical family trees. The more closely I have studied these connection-maps, the more I became convinced that they mimic the similar lattices and asymmetrical cross-hatching of connections that appear between neurons in the brain. The similarity is uncanny.
At the moment, this complexity is compounded by the incoming and fast-evolving impact of AI on teams, and the fact that managers must now evolve to manage teams that marry AI and human roles and expertise. This requires a sophisticated combination of computational thinking and a manager’s most human qualities: emotional intelligence, intuition and creativity.
It’s probably no surprise to you that exercise, nutrition, and caffeine can have a significant impact on your brain health. You’ve probably read many articles giving you advice on how they can help your mind. You might even have adopted a habit or two.
But while certain practices seem productive in theory, they’re more likely to hamper your brain function rather than boost it. Here are 5 of those common habits, and what you can do instead:
URBAN JOGGING OR CITY CYCLING
Whenever I see joggers on city pavements, I want to stop them and tell them to stay away from the roadside and head to the gym. This is because although cardiovascular exercise is a great way to boost alertness, mood, and learning, inhaling polluted air means you may cancel out much of the benefit. Particulate matter from car exhaust is terrible for the brain–it can lead to neuroinflammation and cognitive decline.
When you inhale polluted air, it reduces levels of BDNF in the brain. BDNF is a protein that enhances brain plasticity–which improves cognition and memory performance. One study looked at BDNF levels among cyclists who rode in heavy traffic and found that the exercise led to no increase in BDNF at all.
The best alternative for urban dwellers is to head to an indoor gym–but if you don’t want to give up your outdoor run, download an air-quality app and check your route before a ride or a run. There are lots to choose from, including Air Matters, Air Visual App, and Breezometer. You can also just avoid major roads altogether, and jog on woodland trails or in park interiors instead, away from traffic and fumes.