Amygdala Learning

Amygdala Learning is a tasty mash-up of complexity, learning, emotion, and brains. It is inevitable.


Everything you can say about a brain is metaphorical. We haven’t figured out the mechanics yet. Watch out for people who claim they’re figuring out details with brain science; we’re not there yet. The Brain is the most complicated/sophisticated organ humans have encountered.

My metaphor for the mush in our heads is a three-part brain. Thinking, Emotional, and Frog.


The Thinking Brain is the only one with a vocabulary. Also called the rational brain — but remember who’s telling you that. The Emotional Brain is buried beneath your level of awareness but it’s one super organ. It’s a speedy parallel processor developed eons before the newcomer Thinking Brain. We’ll forget about the Frog Brain but if you have to excuse yourself, the Frog Brain is probably responsible.

Last year, I joined the wave of wannabe neuroscientists, gobbling up the writing of Daniel Kahneman, Jonah Lehrer, and Steven Johnson. At the same time I was researching the impact of emotion on business (a field of study known as EB) and the positive psychology movement. And I took part in Stoosian conversations steeped in complexity, alternative futures, lean/agile, and flipped management structures.


It feels like complexity is following the same flipflop we saw in the agrarian revolution or the switch from products to services. More and more work becomes complex as routine work is automated, interconnections grow exponentially, and options mushroom.

In 1980, about 80% of the net value of American corporations was tied up in tangible assets. By 2000, tangibles account for only $1 in $5, 20% instead of 80%.

(Somebody help me with the numbers for complexity. How fast is it growing?)


Explanations of hemispheric specialization that has been the rage since the early 60s (“left brained” and “right brained”) are figments for those of us not yet lobotomized. This is another slice, if you will, of bundles of co-morbid characteristics. None of these are either/or. Some interact closely with one another.



You can get by with simple skills in a stable world. For an unstable, random world, you need to master deep smarts. Deep smarts is the province of the Emotional Brain. It’s the home of nonverbal, emotional, highly complex patterns. To roll with the zigzags of complexity requires meta-skills, such things as critical judgment, a nose for trouble, prioritization, working without a manual, rallying groups — all those things you can’t learn out of books. (Help build me a list of meta-skills.)

The Emotional Brain learns differently than its Rational neighbor. It watches what you pay attention to, it codifies successful patterns and stores them for reuse and it responds to emotions. The Amygdala is the organ that recognizes patterns and stores them for recall when required again.

Training departments are not equipped to engage Amygdala Learning. It’s slow and deep; trainers are neither. I’d like to push the envelope on what it takes to optimize learning in post-Stoos organizations.


The paint is not yet dry on these thoughts. Please give me a hand.

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