Dan Beverly

In the previous article, we looked at the brain as a non-stop connection machine and discussed how important it is to help people make their own connections.

Here, we’ll talk about how different our brains are from each other and what that means for performance at work and in business.

Insight #2: No two brains are wired the same

The brain is hugely complex. Let me share some numbers with you:

  • 100 billion neurons (the building-block of the nervous system) in the brain.
  • 100,000 dendrites (the roots that receive information) per neuron.
  • 300 trillion possible connections between neurons.

300 trillion constantly changing connections. The numbers are staggering.

Now pair this with what we learnt in the previous article: that the circuitry of our brain is continually re-shaped by every thought, feeling and experience throughout our entire lives. The result: near-unlimited ways the brain can encode experience, learning and information. So whilst at a distance our brains may look similar, up close: no two brains are wired the same.

Insight #3: The brain sees the world according to its own wiring

The substantial differences between our brains are reflected everywhere: in the organisation of our home and work environments; in the setup of our electronic devices; in our approaches to problems and projects. So given these observable differences:

  • Why is it that when helping another person think something through, we make the unconscious assumption that the other person’s brain works as ours does?
  • Why do we continually attempt to make connections for people and then assume our brains are similar enough for this to work?

Not only is it a waste of our energy to do the thinking for others; it’s also a significant obstacle to that person’s own thinking. But we do it because of Insight #3: The brain sees the world according to its own wiring.

Automatic perception, driven by hardwiring

Any idea or experience gets broadly the same treatment from our brains: lightning-quick comparison with our existing mental maps to see where the connections are. And known, familiar and expected inputs are neatly processed.

But what’s interesting is when the data doesn’t quite fit; and the sometimes extraordinary lengths we’ll go to, to make a connection. And that kind of thinking can have significant drawbacks.

  • People’s internal realities lag behind changes in external realities.
  • People’s maps can be based on outdated or unrelated experience.
  • People’s internal representations can omit crucial information.

I’m sure we can all think of such error-prone thinking from our own experiences. The time we were in favour of an idea and turned the most tenuous of connections into fact. Or when we were thoroughly opposed to an idea and staunchly rejected strong supporting evidence as irrelevant.

Improve performance by shifting the thinking

But that’s not to say this process is a bad thing. Perceiving the world through our hardwiring is there out of necessity: it enables us to cope with the sheer volume of information we face throughout the day.

And it also offers a significant benefit. Viewing the world through our filters means we can significantly improve performance simply by shifting ours and others’ thinking. It’s one of the chief benefits of professional coaching and of a coaching approach to business and leadership: helping people break free of the autopilot.

. . .

The brain at work

What useful learning can we take from these insights?

  • People’s thinking is the biggest challenge at work and in business.
  • People need time and space to absorb a change: to update their internal maps.
  • The most impactful business decisions prioritise shifting others’ thinking.
  • Embrace different thinking: build teams that challenge our filters.
  • Make no assumptions. Think about the filters at play: both yours and theirs.
  • Influence people’s perceptions as the fastest route to improved performance.

What connections are you making?

Perhaps you can make yet other useful connections – connections that my hardwiring couldn’t possibly predict.

In the final part in this series, we’ll share some insights into how we can update and override our hardwiring.


  • 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.