Rhythm of Being – Part Three – The Neuron and Synapse
A concept exploring the parallels between the organs in our body, people in organisations, and coaching.
This article is the continuation of “The Rhythm of Being” series. This time we think about the neuron (the nerve cell) and synapse.
It is a cloudy day with intermittent sun shining through and you are having a wonderful walk in the hills, there is a moderate breeze, you feel the warmth of the sun, the climb up a steep section is stretching your muscles, your heart is beating reasonably fast, and the route is clear. There is a pinch feeling on the back of your hand, within a second it starts to feel like a sharp prick; you look down and see a wasp on your hand; you swiftly move your arm out to get rid of the wasp; too late the damage is done.
Within a second your internal organs have kicked into action; a message from under your skin is transported via thousands of neurons (nerve cells) to your central nervous system; your reflexes might pick up this sensing signal before it reaches your brain; instruction is given for the motor neurons to move the muscle in your arm and hand. The antibodies then kick into action to get rid of the foreign fluids in the blood.
What an incredible piece of internal communication has taken place over one situation. Multiply this by thousands of other pieces of internal organ signals that take place every second of the day and night. Our body is such a complex but interconnected piece of kit.
Also consider the numerous phrases that we use that relate to the body, and in particular the nerves – ‘I’m feeling nervous’ ‘They get on my nerves’, etc.
There is so much we can learn from how our body works that we can use in our day to day lives, be it how we live, or how we manage people or lead teams and organisations.
In Bill Bryson’s book The Body he writes – ‘Our nerve signals move at around 120 metres a second. That is nearly 270 miles an hour, quite fast enough over the space of a human frame to be effectively instantaneous in most circumstances. Even so, as an aid to responding quickly we have reflexes, which means that the central nervous system, can intercept a signal and act on it before passing it on to the brain. That is why if you touch something very undesirable, your hand recoils before your brain knows what’s going on.’ (1)
THE NEURONS (NERVES)
The neuron is a medical term for a nerve cell. A nerve is a bundle of nerve fibres travelling to a common location. The most obvious nerves in the body are the peripheral nerves, which extend from the central nervous system (consisting of the brain and the spinal cord) to other parts of the body.
As the most complex system, the nervous system serves as the body control centre and communications electrical-chemical wiring network.
The nerve fibres may have a sensory function, carrying information from a receptor or sense organ towards the central nervous system (CNS), or they may have a motor function, carrying instructions from the CNS to a muscle or a gland. The messages are carried by electrical impulses propagated along the fibres. Some nerves carry only sensory or motor fibres, but most carry both.
The nervous system contains billions of neurons, of which there are three main types: sensory neurons, which carry signals from sense receptors into the CNS; motor neurons, which carry signals from the CNS to muscles or glands; and interneurons, which form all the complex electrical circuitry within the CNS itself.
One other essential part to the nerve system is the Synapse. It is a junction between two neurons (nerve cells) across which a signal can pass.
At a synapse, the two neurons do not come directly into contact but are separated by a gap called the synaptic cleft. When an electrical signal passing along a neuron reaches a synapse, it causes the release of a chemical called a neurotransmitter. The neurotransmitter crosses the synaptic cleft to the next neuron, where it stimulates an electrical signal in that neuron. Signals can cross a synapse in one direction only. (2)
Let’s consider how neurons and synapses can be used as metaphors in a business setting.
THE TEAM AND ORGANISATION
If neurons and synapses in our body are a key part of our communication, what is the neuron/synapse equivalent in our team/organisation? What can our team/organisation learn from how our body communicates?
As already said, a piece of information is received from under the skin or an organ in the body, the neurons transmit appropriate information to the brain and unless the reflexes get their first, the motor neurons then come back with appropriate information to initiate a response.
Likewise, within a team one person receives a piece of information from an external or internal source and communicates that information through one of several channels – by email, verbally, by phone or in a meeting. Has the information been received by the appropriate people (brain equivalent), have those people processed that information and has the appropriate response been fed back (motor neurons) to the source to enable action? Or has someone else, on hearing that piece of information, realised the importance of it and acted on it immediately (reflex)?
The communication process using the electronic signal of the neurons can be said to represent a person electronically passing on information, while the chemical transmission of the synapse could be said to represent the influence of a person’s character in this process.
Thus the mood/state of mind of a person could adversely affect the communication causing it to be distorted and so impact the speed and accuracy of the outcome.
When we review the internal communication within our team or organisation it could be useful to use this analogy to ensure a smooth flow.
During recent correspondence with Simon Hague, a fellow international Coach Supervisor, we exchanged thoughts about the Neuron/Synapse illustration and he wrote the following insightful thoughts.
“At an organisational level, I see the neural infrastructure as the communications network that responds and reacts to the environment that it enjoys. I observe that as it is triggered, a neuron either whispers or shouts at its adjoining neuron, thereby causing a form of reaction. Within the organisations we have numerous departments. The neural network is what the overall body has crafted to contain the conversations that need to happen should an issue arise. Sometimes, an issue stops the pathway operating as it should, and other pathways need to take over the running. For example, perhaps sales has promised a delivery that operations normally cannot deliver but in this case, a hormone (such as adrenaline), will enable operations to make this happen.
I guess our role as leader, is a master of quantum biology. Quantum Biology is the study of applications of quantum mechanics and theoretical chemistry to biological objects and problems (Wikipedia) – but also enables processes such as photosynthesis, energy release and cellular respiration. These systems, just as in a business, are essential to the smooth running of that system.”
I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Marie Quigley, ICF Master Certified Coach and EMCC Accredited Coach Supervisor, about the relationship between our body organs and illustrations we can use in coaching. Marie uses numerous illustrations to enrich the coachee’s and team’s ability to enhance their thinking and progression.
Marie shared a few of many questions she uses and demonstrated them during a live Trusted Coach Directory coaching session. Some of the questions included –
There are no doubt numerous other examples you can come up with as you read this.
More Rhythm of Being episodes will follow.
My thanks go to Marie Quigley Co-founder of Empower World for sharing her knowledge, and to Rosemary Webb for editing.
Rhythm of Being – Part Three – The Neuron and Synapse – written by Jon Webb
Jon Webb PCC FIOH MWIFM (UK based Leadership/Team Coach and Coaching Supervisor)
Jon is an award-winning Facilitator, Leadership and Team Coach, and Coach Supervisor with considerable experience in team development, coaching, customer service, and personal development, working with organisations in the UK and internationally. He has run Webb Development, a leadership development and coaching business, for over 30 years.
His aspiration is to enable people to achieve their true potential that they may not be aware of, by challenging, encouraging and supporting them, and in turn enabling them to share their energy, enthusiasm and motivation with others to provide a positive environment for people they work and share their lives with.
The motivation for looking at this concept was to stimulate ideas using body organs as illustrations and metaphors –
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