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How the brain learns and builds knowledge

"A neural pathway is a repeating pattern of behaviour, automated, it’s a habit."

Every human operates on a two-tiered ‘learn and do’ system. Here’s how it works.

When we learn something, it creates a structure of the How To:

  • The brain takes in the new How To formed from neurons (the thought) and glial cells (the connector of thoughts).

  • It’s different to memory; it’s what we know as habit. This is important to note as our habits run to the millions as you can lose your memory and still have your habits (great story for another time on how they discovered this).

  • Those elements combine and forge neural pathways.

Now we have the habit ready to roll - it’s about pattern:

  • A neural pathway is a repeating pattern of behaviour, automated, it’s a habit.

  • Consider how often you have to think about tying your shoelaces? Never. Well, not unless flustered by time or another - it’s automated.

Structure & Pattern is a lovely way to think about what we do & why we do it.

It’s why the notion of change is so difficult for we humans to adapt to (& dogs too, my lab is an algorithm, you take his seat on the couch and he kinda spins in circles until you get out of his seat). We humans like consistency so changing a habit is not simple.

If you want to swap your daily tea break muffin for an apple, it is not just a single neural pathway you are proposing to change, it’s 1000’s. The reason you have that muffin is a sensory, habitual, lifelong, deep meaning situation including chemical releases and many interconnected emotional rewards. Our brain is a complex operating system: it’s all interwoven you see, neural pathways interconnect and feed one another and on and on. MILLIONS of habits need BILLIONS of pathways.

That’s why we resist change, the unconscious says ‘F*&% that s&*%!’*. Change is not 'a' pathway, its many, the simplest change is a tonne of work for the brand.

Real change only occurs when you are faced with major change or trauma:

  • Changing jobs

  • Getting married

  • Having children

  • The death of a loved one

Structure & Pattern is as true for the individual as it is for the couple, the group, the team, the division, the country, the business. We are followers by nature.

It’s why a business has rules, KPIs, processes, values (don’t get me started). Consider, when you switch from same job to same job but in a different company ‘we do things this way’; there is always a slight Structure & Pattern shift for you to adapt to.

What happens when the Structure is flawed?

It’s an interesting thought. Here is what happens to Pattern when Structure is flawed:

  • The world is flat - We can’t sail too far as we will fall off the world.*

  • Being gay is bad - We will list it on our global disease list to protect people.**

  • Women are witches - We burnt them at the stake based on how the man accused/made it up***

*Apparently this is still true

**This was the case until 1993!!!!!

***The world is finally going to be taken over by women, they are due a lot of recompense.

There is a major Structural gap in the world, it involves the She.

The world is constructed in a myopic Structure; it is one of He psychology, not strictly a male-only domain but more likely to be found in the male than the female. He psychology is more linear by nature, more practical, more prescriptive and fears emotion and relationships.


Industrialisation: A construct based on inputs and outputs. Humans are but a cog in the machine.

Capitalism: A construct driven around the numbers, profit over purpose.

If we could survive within this structure, we wouldn’t be facing so many rising systemic issues around ecology, climate, purpose, identity, gender, equality and diversity.

Much like the notion of gay being a disease, sometimes it takes rising systemic issues to shake these tenets and help us see that a structure is flawed. Today, He psychology structure fears emotion, it moves us away from identity, away from understanding the individual and into a flat structure based on numbers and a lack in the ability to interpret beyond the numbers, it’s flat, it lacks meaning.

She psychology is about connections, relationships, feelings and emotional intelligence. It’s what the world is crying out for but it’s hard enough to change how we tie our shoelaces, let alone challenge our entire collective operating system.

I love this subject matter, it is one I will return to time and time again because She psychology is our future.

Here are three questions to help you judge this for yourself:

When was the last time you were served with the products, service and communication that was what you wanted, why you wanted it and actually left you feel sated and understood?

How long ago was that?

How did it make you feel?

It’s not often, is it? But it sure makes you feel good when it happens. This structural gap is easily evidenced in advertising. Only 1.61% of adverts ever get interacted with on Facebook, that’s over $50 billion spent and justified with impressions, yet no one is asking what that is like from customer’s perspective! You don’t feel good when under-served with irrelevant adverts or being misunderstood when served badly. This is not a pop at Facebook either, well... partially, but they aren’t to blame for the Structure issue, no one is. It’s just how it is right now.

The reality is that to change the Structure to one of emotion, meaning, relationships and the Pattern would mean we are all being served when we want, why and with what we want. It’s not as hard as we think, it’s just about changing how we think and act.

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