Dan Beverly

Paid to think

The nature of working has changed: many more of us are today being challenged to think for a living. And one of the best ways to meet that challenge is to understand a little about that which does the thinking: the brain.

In this 3-part series, I’ll share some key insights about the brain for a different take on our brains at work. Starting with Insight #1: The brain is a non-stop analogue processor.

. . .

The brain is a non-stop analogue processor

The human brain is not like a personal computer. The human brain is an analogue processor, working primarily by analogy and metaphor.

Its underlying function is to find links, associations, connections and relationships between whole concepts often stored in many different regions of the brain. And it does this non-stop, at the rate of a million new connections every second. The brain is a connection machine.

No two brains are wired the same

This process of making connections (and connections on connections) forms maps (and maps of maps, of meta-maps) that make-up our brain. Every thought, memory, skill and attribute we have is not a single static entity stored in a single region of the brain; but a vast, complex and ever-changing map of connections between higher-level cognitive centres, deeper-level hardwired skill centres and many other regions of the brain.

And so, not only are my maps ever-developing; my maps are also nothing like your map(s) for the “same” ideas. Two reasons why I need to be allowed to think things through for myself.

[And note: the need to think things through applies equally, whether giving or getting the advice.]

Thinking as an observable event

With what we have so far, let’s consider what happens when we process a new thought.

Whether analysing data, weighing a strategic decision or unravelling a business issue, our brains instantly create a map of that idea and, in the blink of an eye, compare it to all our existing maps. And where we find solid-enough connections, a new map is formed that then becomes part of our wiring.

The act of thinking (which is to say: creating a new map) is a specific and observable event: both in others and in ourselves.

  • In others: they pause and go quiet, they look up or off into the distance, their face and voice change.
  • In ourselves: well, we’ve all experienced that moment of insight; the “aha” moment when we link ideas not previously connected to form a new idea. And with it, we’ve enjoyed the pleasing feelings of clarity, motivation and commitment. We’ve wanted to get into action, there and then.

This compulsion for subsequent action is driven by the release of energy that accompanies deep thinking. Whilst the initial matching / comparing / associating process is an expensive operation, the resulting creation of a new map is accompanied by useful changes in brain chemistry, including the release of neurotransmitters like adrenaline and dopamine.

  • How useful would it be if we could spot that thinking and capitalise on it?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if our approach to work and business induced these new connections and allowed our colleagues, clients, customers and teams to form their own maps?

Questions like these are the essence of professional coaching. And with some practised thought, can have application and benefit for all of us at work and in business.

. . .

The brain at work

So what could this mean at work and in business? Let’s apply some of what we’ve learnt.

  • Help people make their own connections. People need to think things through for themselves before they’ll take any kind of committed action. If we want to manage, lead, influence, inspire: don’t tell people how or what to think. Rather, create an environment conducive to them making their own connections.
  • Initiate and simplify the thinking in others – but let them complete it. Thinking requires energy. Get people over the initial feelings of inertia by presenting the foundations of an idea, plan, project or pitch; and ease the process with diagrams – to tap into their visual centres. Then let them complete the thinking.
  • Watch people’s thinking – then build on the connections they make. The making of a new connection is an observable event. Watch for it. Then build on that energy to get people motivated about and committed to a course of action.

What connections are you making?

Thinking about the brain as an analogue processor: What connections are you making? What will you do differently? Where will this be most useful in your work or business? Let me know.

Next in this series. Insight #2: No two brains are wired the same. And Insight #3: The brain sees the world according to its own wiring.


  • Joe O’Mahoney, Management Consultancy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • John J. Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain (New York: Pantheon, 2001).
  • David Rock, Quiet Leadership (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).
Dan Beverly

Dan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach helping high-calibre, high-performing professional women embrace the pivotal career moments.

To work with Dan, go online to book your complimentary “Session Zero” – and start capitalising on your pivotal career moment, today.