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Plasticity’s Pathways to Innovation

Posted Aug 13 2010 12:00am

Have you seen good ideas crushed by bullies or cynics where you work?  Before Michael Merzenich became the world’s leading researcher on brain plasticity, cynics with hard science credentials, insisted brainpower and intelligence was fixed. Simply put, people insisted that elderly brains don’t change much, for instance, and broken brains stay broke.

What you do in a day literally changes your brain

Thanks to persistence, and the power of innovation however,  it’s common knowledge now that learning not only increases what we know,  but it changes the very structure and operation of the brain itself. To learn at all ages is to increase your brain’s capacity to learn.

Plasticity opens a winning pathway to innovation, which is especially good news if you work in a broken system . How does it work? 

Neurons come with 3 cool parts

Connected to chemical and electrical circuitry that sparks innovative change or deepens ruts, are dendrites, cell bodies, and axons.

1). Dendrites –or  treelike branches attached to the cell body, receive their input from other neurons.

2). Cell body – fuels the life of each cell and contain your unique DNA pool.

3). Axon – like electrical wires that can be short or can be 6 ft long, & carry electrical impulses at speeds from 2 to 200 mph toward the dendrites of other neurons.

Neurons receive signals that either excite or inhibit. If a neuron gets enough excitatory signals from other neurons, it fires off its own signal. If it receives many inhibitory signals – it is less likely to fire.

Axons don’t quite touch nearby dendrites. They are separated by microscopic space called a synapse. When an electrical signal reaches the end of an axon, it triggers release of the chemical messenger, called a neurotransmitter, into the synapse.

The chemical messenger sails over the dendrite of nearby neuron, exciting or inhibiting it.

Neurons rewire in REM sleep, based on what you did that day

Neurons rewire nightly as you sleep – which means that changes occur at the synapse. Act calm under pressure, for instance, and you build new neuron pathways to calmly solve the next calamity that comes along. Either the change strengthens and increases the number of connections or change weakens and decreases the number of connections between the neurons.

It’s really a matter of neurons and dendrites that spark new synapses for change. Remember, a neuron‘s nothing more than a nerve cell, and your brain holds about 100 billion of these little critters.

Neurons build innovation with a few carefully crafted acts.

How so?

Neurons project extensions called dendrite brain cells – which connect and reconnect daily, based on what you do. Axons, in contrast,  relay information back from the body back to the brain. In a rather complex electrochemical process, neurons communicate with each other in synapses, and that connection creates chemicals called neurotransmitters. Chemicals release at each synapse, and these shape mood, open brains to optimize learning and stoke creative solutions to complex problems. Many mysteries still occur in the quadrillion synapses within a human brain, and yet wonderful benefits await people who act on what recent research suggests.

How will you change your brain today?

Here are 25 ways to add brainpower through innovation , by changing up  routines.  Apply novel approaches and you encounter ruts inside the human brain . Have you seen it happen? Transformation, especially ethical renewal that adds dividends for all,  takes risk! Try one you’d least like do in an ordinary day,  and expect  a mind-bending performance along plasticity’s pathway to innovation.

Further plasticity triumphs through personal stories

You can read more about dendrites, and discover their function for your workplace with Dr. Eric Kandel ., who along with, JH Schwartz,  TM Jessell,  offers tips in the book Principles of Neural Science.

I was also intrigued by Dr. Norman Doidge’s new book, The Brain that Changes Itself . The book shows research and backs ideas with facts in a way that engages a reader to see why new ideas about the brain’s ability to rewire itself – really count.

What will you do differently today to optimize your brain’s plasticity? How will you ratchet up more brainpower to overcome challenging situations?

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