Archive

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Creativity and the Human Brain

August 31, 2018 Leave a comment

Light bulb inside brain, idea concept. 3D renderingCreativity. It’s harder to define and measure than intelligence but is equally (or perhaps more) important. Why? Creativity occurs in many places and has many forms: imaginative solutions to everyday problems; life-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, and mathematics; masterpieces in literature and art.

What else? The act of creation is involved at every step of human-induced disruptive change. It is through such acts that most new and great things start. Bottom line, creativity is the foundation for much of the progress of humanity and society.

But what is creativity? To keep things simple, consider the dictionary.com definition: “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”

Next, how do you measure it? Not so easy and more subjective than measuring intelligence. Although there are others, the most commonly used series of tests are the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). (1) Not perfect, but not influenced by race or socioeconomic status and good enough to allow meaningful research into creativity and the brain.

So, creativity and the brain. What is happening in the brain during that “aha” moment? What allows one to have a flash of insight, to originate truly innovative new ideas? Whatever it is that generates that spark, can we create it and/or control it? These are some of the questions that brain research is investigating.

First, some “history.” Until recently, the common tools for studying the brain during that moment of creativity were positron emission tomography (PET) scans and electroencephalograms (EEG). A key study using these techniques in 2001 showed brain activity and changing interconnections taking place in both frontal lobes during the “creative” moment: “Reorganization in both frontal lobes (BA 8–11,44–47) is of major significance as is the functional integration of brain structures of both brain structures of both hemispheres.” (2) In other words, things are not as simple as “right-brain” being the creative side. Both sides of the brain are involved. This was a first step in connecting creativity and brain function.

Now fast forward to the era of advanced neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A 2013 study at Dartmouth using fMRI identified multiple regions of the brain interconnected by widespread and changing networks of neurons among these regions as important for creativity. (3) In their own words: “We do not know how the human brain mediates complex and creative behaviors such as artistic, scientific, and mathematical thought. Scholars theorize that these abilities require conscious experience as realized in a widespread neural network, or ‘mental workspace,’ that represents and manipulates images, symbols, and other mental constructs across a variety of domains…The present work takes advantage of emerging techniques in network and information analysis to provide empirical support for such a widespread and interconnected information processing network in the brain that supports the manipulation of visual imagery.”

A good summary of this study and a number of other neuroimaging findings at this point in time can be found in a chapter of the book The Neuroscience of Creativity. (4) In the words of the authors relating to creativity: “Contrary to popular belief, specific brain regions are not committed to specific functions” (i.e., it’s not as simple as left-brain right-brain). And they go on to highlight studies that show creativity and intelligence are not the same, each having a different brain network.

The present. At the beginning of this year, a new fMRI study by Roger Beaty et al made headlines, partly because the study showed the ability to predict creativity. (5) As they state, “We identified a brain network associated with creative ability comprised of regions within default, salience, and executive systems—neural circuits that often work in opposition. Across four independent datasets, we show that a person’s capacity to generate original ideas can be reliably predicted from the strength of functional connectivity within this network, indicating that creative thinking ability is characterized by a distinct brain connectivity profile.” They go on to summarize their findings: “People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.” In their words: “What this shows is that the creative brain is wired differently.”

We end with that thought and the finding that intelligence and creativity are not the same. But what about genius? A topic for another day.


Intelligence and the Human Brain

August 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Human brain and IQ word on black background. 3D illustrationWhat is human intelligence? How do you quantify it? These questions need to be addressed before discussing the connection between intelligence and the human brain.

So, first the definition. We all have our own ideas about what intelligence is. To keep things simple, we use the Encyclopaedia Britannica definition: “human intelligence is the mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.”

Next, how do you quantify intelligence? Commonly, a combination of standardized tests is used to measure the abilities listed above and more. The results yield a number—the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). This number is what many people are familiar with as a measure of intelligence. However, IQ test results are somewhat influenced by social and cultural factors. Therefore, many researchers also use a measurement called the g-factor (general factor of intelligence). Measurements of additional abilities go into calculating the g-factor such as reasoning, memory, vocabulary, spatial ability, processing speed, and more. Studies have shown that the g-factor is strongly influenced by heredity (biological and genetic factors), but less affected by the environmental factors that influence IQ. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the IQ is a fair approximation of the g-factor, so brain research often involves either or both.

Now, how are intelligence and the human brain related? Using modern brain imaging techniques such as fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to study brain activity, coupled with IQ and g-factor measurements, researchers are discovering brain characteristics that correlate with intelligence. These characteristics include the amount and distribution of grey matter and differences in neural networking. (1) As one study shows, in individuals with higher intelligence “the areas of the brain which are associated with learning and development show high levels of variability, meaning that they change their neural connections with other parts of the brain more frequently, over a matter of minutes or seconds.” The study goes on to say, “the more variable a brain is, and the more its different parts frequently connect with each other, the higher a person’s IQ and creativity are.” (2)

There are other interesting findings. For example, if one compares groups with different g-factors that solve the same problem, there is much higher brain activity in the people with the lower g-factors than those with higher g-factors. The interpretation is that the less intelligent people require much more brain activity to arrive at the solution. It also was found that when comparing a group of men with a group of women having the same IQ and g-factors, men showed completely different areas of brain activity than women when solving the same problem. This finding provides a clue on how to restore brain functions to people with brain injuries (i.e., by somehow redirecting brain activity through uninjured parts of the brain). (3)

Although the above examples of studies using brain scans are promising, many more years of brain research are expected to be required, first to obtain a much fuller understanding of how the different parts of the brain work together, and then to be able to use that information. If you are interested, Reference 3 provides a good, easy-to-read overview of advances in this field. And for more technical articles on brain networking and intelligence see References 4-7.

Why is all this important? Ultimately, a complete revolution in our way of life could be unleashed by the ability to manipulate brain functions—to repair brain injuries, cure/prevent mental illnesses, and even to make humans more intelligent. One more door, waiting to be opened, with an unknown future on the other side.

 


  1. Roberto Colom, Rex Jung, and Richard Haier, “Distributed brain sites for the g-factor of intelligence,” NeuroImage, 31 (2006) 1359-1365, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/538634aee4b0b15c0516a524/t/538774afe4b07a163543ab01/1401386159041/distributed-brain-sites-for-the-g-factor-of-intelligence.pdf
  2. University of Warwick, “Human intelligence measured in the brain,” com, July 18, 2016, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160718110938.htm
  3. Richard Haier and Rex Jung, “Brain Imaging Studies of Intelligence and Creativity: What is the Picture for Education?” Roeper Review, 30 (2008) 171-180, https://podcasts.shelbyed.k12.al.us/sspears/files/2015/01/Brain-Imaging-Studies-of-Intelligence-and-Creativity-What-is-the-picture-of-Education.pdf
  4. Michael Ferguson, Jeffrey Anderson, and R. Nathan Spreng, “Fluid and flexible minds: Intelligence reflects synchrony in the brain’s intrinsic network architecture,” Network Neuroscience, 1 (June 2017), no. 2,192-207, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/full/10.1162/netn_a_00010
  5. Kirsten Hilger, Matthias Ekman, Christian Fiebach, and Ulrike Basten, “Intelligence is associated with the modular structure of intrinsic brain networks,” Scientific Reports, 7 (November 2017), Article no. 16088, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15795-7
  6. Youngwoo Yoon et al, “Brain Structural Networks Associated with Intelligence and Visuomotor Ability,” Scientific Reports, 7 (2017), Article no. 2177, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-02304-z
  7. Aron Barbey, “Network Neuroscience Theory of Human Intelligence,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22 (January 2018), no. 1, 8-20, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661317302218

 

Human Brain Research: Global Initiatives – An Update

Fotolia_38342751_S-blog4In previous posts we have introduced the topic of brain research, attempted to explain its importance, summarized global initiatives focused on brain research, and described some of the new tools and technologies being used in brain research. In this post, we provide an update on the progress (or lack thereof) being made as a result of the global initiatives.

First, we focus on the “US BRAIN Initiative” that was launched in the spring of 2013. Since then, Congress has appropriated significant and increased levels of funding each year for this initiative. For 2018 this amounts to $400 million. The National Institutes of Health (NIH); working in partnership with government agencies, universities, foundations, and industry; uses this funding to award research grants in seven specific aspects of brain research. Information about funding, the alliances, and summaries of past and current grants can be found on the NIH Web site https://www.braininitiative.nih.gov/. It appears that the US BRAIN initiative is well funded, active, and starting to produce results.

Next, we turn to the European Union’s effort, also launched in 2013 – the “Human Brain Project” (HBP). Here, the news isn’t as positive, as the title of a 2015 article in Scientific American indicates: “Why the Human Brain Project Went Wrong—and How to Fix It. Two years in, a $1-billion-plus effort to simulate the human brain is in disarray…” (1) In a nutshell, the EU awarded $1.3 billion to one neuroscientist as the project leader for one big project – his. And things quickly fell apart. This led to a radical overhaul in management and project structure. As an IEEE article states “The massive €1 billion project has shifted focus from simulation to informatics.” (2) The article goes on to explain: “After a rocky, controversial start, the HBP is now building infrastructure that includes high-performance computing, data analytics, and simulation and modeling software.” But are things better? It’s hard to tell. However, a couple of things are clear. There is significant money available and there are a number of active research projects. Visit the Web site yourself and decide: https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/en/.

Now, an update on the smaller Japanese effort – the “Brain/MINDS Project,” initiated in 2014. A detailed description and interim update was published in 2016 which outlines structure, objectives, projects, and actual funding ($365 million spread over 10 years). (3) More information can be found on the Project’s Web site: http://brainminds.jp/en/. From all indications, the project has been active since 2014 and producing results.

Finally, we turn to China and their “China Brain Project” (announced in mid 2016). Detailed information on this “project” is difficult to find, but there are at least two specific actions:

  1. In the summer of 2017, China announced the opening of the HUST-Suzhou Institute for Brainsmatics in Suzhou China. With a 5-year budget of $67 million and plans to hire around 120 scientists and technicians, the objective of the Institute is to “make industrial-scale high-resolution brain mapping a standard tool for neuroscience.” (4) The Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and Stanford University in California have formed partnerships with this new center.
  2. In March of this year, the Chinese Institute for Brain Research in Beijing was officially established. Around 50 researchers will have laboratories at the new center, and external grants will support around 100 investigators throughout China. The Center will be a partnership between Beijing’s premier biomedical institutions, among them the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Peking University and Tsinghua University. (5)

In addition, other programs and centers around China are being created. Funding appears to be available for these multiple efforts and centers, but finding enough researchers is likely to be a challenge. However, if China is successful in meeting this challenge, they may establish a clear leadership position in this technology area.

So, is understanding the human brain a race or a global partnership? Only time will tell. Your thoughts?


  1. Stefan Theil, “Why the Human Brain Project Went Wrong—and How to Fix It,” Scientific American, October 1, 2015, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-the-human-brain-project-went-wrong-and-how-to-fix-it/
  2. Megan Scudellari, “The Human Brain Project Reboots: A Search Engine for the Brain Is in Sight,” IEEE SPECTRUM, June 21, 2017, https://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/the-human-brain-project-reboots-a-search-engine-for-the-brain-is-in-sight
  3. Hideyuki Okano et al, “Brain/MINDS: A Japanese National Brain Project for Marmoset Neuroscience,” Neuron 92, November 2, 2016, https://www.cell.com/neuron/pdf/S0896-6273(16)30719-X.pdf
  4. David Cyranoski, Nature, August 17, 2017, https://www.nature.com/news/china-launches-brain-imaging-factory-1.22456
  5. David Cyranoski, Nature, April 5, 2018, “Beijing launches pioneering brain-science centre: China’s much-anticipated brain initiative finally starts to take shape,” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04122-3 

Human Brain Research – The Developing Tools

Nano TechnologyInnovation. Technology breakthroughs. Interdisciplinary efforts. All of this is providing the opportunity for more scientific and comprehensive brain research. More specifically, the convergence of breakthroughs in biogenetics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience; coupled with advanced microelectronics and data processing; has led to new tools and devices for brain research and understanding. We highlight a few of these to show the possibilities.

First there are advanced imaging technologies that have led to new techniques and instrumentation that is already being used. Short summaries of the most common are provided in a post on psychcentral.com. (1) These include:

  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography). PET uses small amounts of radioactive materials injected into the body, a special camera, and a computer to evaluate organ and tissue functions. By identifying changes at the cellular level, PET appears be able to detect which parts of the brain are affected during specific tasks.
  • Variations of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) such as Functional MRI (fMRI) and Diffusion MRI (also called Diffusion Tensor Imaging – DTI). With fMRI the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity are measured and mapped. Thus, it is possible to determine which parts of the brain are handling critical functions or to evaluate the effects of stroke or other disease. With DTI the diffusion of water molecules in the brain is measured. Since water molecules within brain tissue tend to diffuse most rapidly along parallel bundles of fibers, this makes it possible to estimate the location, orientation, and anisotropy of the brain’s white matter tracts. In other words, it is possible to measure the pathways and structure of fiber nerve bundles connecting various parts of the brain. This understanding of which part of the brain is connected (or not connected) to which other parts can be used to investigate brain “malfunctions” due to injury or disease.
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG). Instead of measuring electrical impulses, MEG measures magnetic fields outside the head, produced by electrical activity occurring naturally in the brain. Thus, it is possible to produce far more precise and higher resolution images of the brain than before and even to determine the function of various parts of the brain. To do this, very sensitive arrays of magnetometers called SQUIDS (superconducting quantum interference devices developed by quantum physicists) are used. Typically, these sensors are housed in a cooled, helmet-shaped container in which the subject places on their head during testing.

To summarize, the above tools allow researchers to identify the parts of the brain that are active during a specific task or event by showing on a screen the parts of the brain that “light up” under different circumstances. Why is this important? Unlike earlier beliefs, it has now been observed that even relatively simple tasks require the activation of numerous and specific interconnected parts of the brain. Therefore, understanding brain connections and interactions is much more important in addressing brain issues such as injury or dementia than was previously thought.

But these imaging techniques are only a start. Following are a few examples of developing, longer-range possibilities.

  • In one example, real time imaging of interactions at the cellular level, coupled with advanced data processing, is being used to reveal patterns of neural activity. Specifically, “Scientists have devised a new system that lets them watch human neurons grown in the lab find and form connections with their signaling partners, an essential process in developing human brains. The processing of “wiring up” is thought to go awry in a number of serious disorders, including autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia – but it’s hard to study.” (2)
  • And there is another experimental approach to creating brain wiring diagrams that combines genetic engineering and nanoscale imaging. This technique monitors biofluorescence in insect brains to create maps of the neural connections of the entire brains. In other words, “Scientists have developed new technology that allows them to see which neurons are talking to which other neurons in live, genetically engineered fruit flies.” This technology which traces the flow of information across synapses is called TRACT (Transneuronal Control of Transcription). “TRACT allows researchers to observe which neurons are “talking” and which neurons are “listening” by prompting the connected neurons to produce glowing proteins.” (3)
  • And then there is the gene editing technology called CRISPR. This technique has been used to create genetic mutations that have been associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, making it possible to study these “defects” in the laboratory. (4)
  • One final example. There is a new, high-sensitivity, laser-based technique that can be used to look inside a person’s skull and measure brain blood flow. This technique, based on Diffuse Correlation Spectroscopy (DCS), is called “interferometric diffusing wave spectroscopy,” or iDWS. “Laser light is shined on the head; as photons from the laser pass through the skull and brain, they are scattered by blood and tissue. A detector placed elsewhere on the head, where the photons make their way out again, picks up the light fluctuations due to blood motion.” (6) The information gathered about blood flow can be used to help patients with traumatic brain injuries and strokes.

As the above examples show, progress is being made rapidly in developing new tools for brain research and understanding. But all of this is just a start. In future blogs we will give additional examples of new techniques, how they are being utilized, and even some results. You are welcome to comment or add to our list.


  1. Michael Demitri, “Types of Brain Imaging Techniques,” July 17, 2016, https://psychcentral.com/lib/types-of-brain-imaging-techniques/
  2. Sergiu P. Pasca, “New Technique Lets Researchers Watch Human Brain Circuits Begin to Wire-Up,” July 18, 2017, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/new-technique-lets-researchers-watch-human-brain-circuits-begin-wire
  3. “New technology will create brain wiring diagrams,” California Institute of Technology, January 12, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180112095938.htm
  4. Michael Talkowski, “Genetic Anomalies Frequently Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders Can Now Be Efficiently Recreated in the Lab,” April 11, 2016, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/genetic-anomalies-frequently-associated-neurodevelopmental-disorders-can-now-be-efficiently
  5. “New technology for measuring brain blood flow with light,” University of California – Davis, April 11, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180427144549.htm

Human Brain Research: Major Investments Around the Globe

Economic PowersIn the last few years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of advanced brain research, and this has been accompanied by major investments by governments around the globe. So, who are the key players, and what are their goals? We start with our own country.

In support of broader brain research, on April 2, 2013 President Obama launched the so-called “BRAIN Initiative.” It stands for “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neuro-technologies.” Three government agencies are involved: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and The National Science Foundation (NSF). The White House offered this description of the possible long-term outcomes of the more than one billion dollar BRAIN Initiative: “The BRAIN Initiative has the potential to do for neuroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genomics by supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function. It aims to help researchers uncover the mysteries of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI).” More information can be found on the Web site braininitiative.org.

In addition, a report issued by NIH in June 2014 entitled “Brain 2025, A Scientific Vision” states: “Over recent years, neuroscience has advanced to the level that we can envision a comprehensive understanding of the brain in action, spanning molecules, cells, circuits, systems, and behaviors… The focus [of the BRAIN Initiative] is not on technology per se, but on the development and use of tools for acquiring fundamental insight about how the nervous system works in health and disease.”

But the United States is not alone in large, high priority, billion dollar efforts to understand the human brain. Also in 2013, the European Union launched a major effort, parallel to the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, called “The Human Brain Project.” The main aim of this project, as described on its Web site (humanbrainproject.eu), is to “empower brain research toward understanding the human brain and its diseases to advance brain medicine and computing technology.” Specifically, the European project is focused on helping researchers access and share collections of brain data from different species, thus allowing them to accelerate the understanding of the brain through advanced computer simulations. It is believed this will ultimately lead to the development of targeted new treatments and diagnosis for brain related diseases and trigger new approaches to brain inspired systems for AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics.

Then in 2014, Japan initiated its ten-year Brain/MINDS (Brain Mapping by Integrated Neurotechnologies for Disease Studies) Project. Its goal is to map the primate brain to accelerate understanding of human disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Although this program is much smaller than its U.S. and European counterparts, it is seen as key because it is based on a unique, genetic primate population which is a closer match to the human brain than the small animals being used in other projects. For more information see the Web site brainminds.jp/en and the October 2014 article in Nature (1)

And one cannot ignore China. The 2016 Chinese R&D five-year plan lists Brain Research as one of the nation’s top priorities, with resources to be channeled through the “China Brain Project.” Although China has lagged the US and Europe in brain research, this focus and the accompanying investment may change that. As noted in an article in Nature in 2016: “China’s neuroscience community is growing — the Chinese Neuroscience Society now has 6,000 members, compared to just 1,500 ten years ago; the country has tens of millions of patients with psychiatric or degenerative brain disease that will facilitate clinical studies; and it has hundreds of thousands of research monkeys. This last factor has already allowed Chinese researchers to take the lead in using gene-editing technologies to produce models of autism and other conditions.” (2)

So, the foundations have been laid, but many things have changed on the world stage since 2013. As far as the US is concerned, the level of government support for science research is a growing issue. If budgets are tight, what should the priority of brain research be? What are the recent results from these initiatives/projects? Does it matter whether the US has a leadership position? These are some of the questions we will address in future posts.


 

  1. David Cyranoski, “Marmosets are stars of Japan’s ambitious brain project: Ten-year brain-mapping effort will use monkeys to study human neural and mental disorders,” Nature, October 8, 2014, https://www.nature.com/news/marmosets-are-stars-of-japan-s-ambitious-brain-project-1.16091
  2. David Cyranoski, “What China’s latest five-year plan means for science: Oceanography, brain science and stem cells among research fields that look set to grow,” Nature, March 18, 2016, https://www.nature.com/news/what-china-s-latest-five-year-plan-means-for-science-1.19590#/brain

 

Human Brain Research – An Introduction

Brain IntelligenceHumans have explored much of the earth and some of the depths of the oceans, but there is something even more mysterious and powerful which is much closer to us. It is the human brain, the most complex living structure that we know of in the universe! But to date, the human brain has only been explored in a relatively limited fashion.

We know that the human brain inspires or controls not just our actions, but our emotions and personalities, our likes and our dislikes, our beliefs and our cravings. In other words, we know that many observable effects originate from the human brain—physical movements, mental diseases, old-age dementia, cowardice, piety, cruelty, habits, fanaticism, and more. But we have only limited knowledge about which specific structures and/or interconnections within the brain cause such effects, and more important, how. Thus, we are primitive in our trial-and-error approaches to modifying those physical and mental traits considered harmful with things such as drugs or electrical stimulation or surgical interventions.

One thing we do know: The brain is not just a rational computer. It directs the actions and affects the beliefs of an individual, but it varies from one individual to the next. Think about the contradictions created by brains of very different people. The brain of Hitler made him kill seven million of his citizens, mostly because they were Jewish; while the brain of Mother Theresa made her help hundreds of people who were too poor to help themselves, no matter what their race or religion. Genghis Kahn, known as the “scourge of God,” is famous for his extreme acts of cruelty during his conquests in western Europe; while Francis of Assisi practiced charity to all living beings, including (unusual for the times) animals. These are just a few examples of individuals who were led by their brains to live very different lives.

We also know that, controlled by their brains, different people react differently to unusual circumstances, such as “silence and solitude.” This type of environment can spur creativity in some but can lead to insanity in others. And both insanity and creativity can coexist in the same brain as in the case of famous artists like Van Gogh.

The human brain also has caused specific populations to migrate across the globe over time, ultimately populating the whole earth. But not all populations were led to move from their original location. Some preferred to stay where they were, even if the environments were extremely harsh. Why?

And the human brain allows us to transmit ideas and knowledge from one generation to the next. As J. F. Kennedy once said, referring to democracy, “A man may die. Nations rise and fall. But an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

What would advances and breakthroughs in understanding and controlling the human brain mean for humanity and the business community? The possibilities are vast, and progress is being made. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard Moser for discovering the networks of cells that form the brain’s navigational system. This fundamental work in neuroscience on a nanoscale could have applications in Alzheimer’s and other diseases, but it is just the beginning. Through brain research, we may find infinite new ways to harness its power and use it—for good or for bad. We do not know yet what they all are, but they will have a major impact on humanity, including human interactions and even business interactions.

So, what are the major brain research programs? What new tools are available for investigating how the brain functions? What are the latest results? We will explore these questions and more in future blogs. If you are interested, check back occasionally and feel free to add your comments or make suggestions for future topics.

The Business Challenges of Globalization

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment


 

Taken from Creating New Superstars by Carol and Ennio Fatuzzo (1)

 

IMG_0065In spite of the chaotic world around us, the risks involved in playing some types of games haven’t changed. For example, playing roulette, whether it is Russian roulette or the more civilized version in Monaco, is the same as it always has been. However, in today’s fast paced environment, the “game” of business has become a much more dangerous venture. Developing a new business or expanding an existing one involves a whole new dimension of risk due to many developing “agents of change.” Globalization, including the rapidly expanding global economy and the consequences of global competition, is one of the most powerful influences.

On a positive note, globalization significantly increases potential market sizes, creating extremely attractive and visible business growth opportunities. Just think about the worldwide explosion of smartphones, or the rapid expansion of wine import and export businesses, or the huge potential for new cancer drugs. Even water is now a global opportunity, as the recent history of San Pellegrino shows. Twenty years ago it was a relatively unknown Italian mineral water. Today, it is distributed worldwide to more than 120 countries on five continents. (2) But with size comes different challenges.

Highly visible, big growth opportunities create new global competitors that were never before threats―Korean car manufacturers, Indian software developers, Chinese computer and internet-based companies, and more. The bottom line: More companies around the world are likely to be pursuing the same specific growth opportunity at the same time. Therefore, the risk of failure for any single company is high—significantly higher than in the past.

Looking at the situation another way, in the past a company had a reasonable possibility of being the only one pursuing a good new opportunity—one that was unrecognized by others. And that resulted in many single-company big successes: Kodak and silver halide film, IBM and computers, Motorola and cell phones, RCA and consumer electronics, and more. But in today’s dynamic global economy, due to the growing technical sophistication of global competitors and the faster pace of everything, there will not be many “lone pioneers.”

And there is another kind of challenge. Pursuing larger global opportunities requires greater resources than what are needed to be successful with smaller, “local” opportunities. This results in the financial risk being much higher, sometimes high enough to place an entire company in jeopardy. If a global project fails, for whatever reason, that failure is extremely costly. Kodak having to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of its late and unsuccessful attempt to become a major global player in digital photography is a good example of today’s high cost of failure. (3)

But the risk of large financial investments isn’t the only challenge involving resources. In the past, under-resourcing a project or using resources ineffectively did not matter as much as it does today. Why? Any such “mistakes” will slow down progress; and in a faster paced and more competitive business world, this decreased speed will almost certainly create a significant competitive disadvantage. This, in turn, greatly increases the probability of a costly failure in the marketplace.

And finally, because of today’s need for speed, failure is not only is connected to making wrong or bad decisions. It frequently is the result of making good decisions too slowly. Kodak’s eventual management decision to pursue digital photography was a good one, but the delay in making that decision was a major contributor to the effort’s failure. This delay gave global competitors an insurmountable lead.

Bottom line, in a highly competitive, global business environment that is rapidly changing, a slow decision will almost always be a wrong decision; and being late to the market almost always assures failure. Just as in nature, a slow company will become prey for the faster, more aggressive one.

 


1. Ennio Fatuzzo and Carol L. Fatuzzo, Creating New Superstars: a Guide to Businesses that Soar above the Sea of Normality (USA: September 2016). Available from amazon.com.

2. S. Pellegrino Company Website, accessed October 18, 2017, https://www.sanpellegrino.com/us/en/company-intl-41.

3. Rick Newman, “Four Lessons from Kodak’s Comedown,” U.S. News online, January 19, 2012, http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2012/01/19/4-lessons-from-kodaks-comedown; “The last Kodak moment?,” The Economist, January 13, 2012, accessed online October 18, 2017, http://www.economist.com/node/21542796.