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Social Media Ninjitsu | How Healthy And Robust Is Your Digital Nervous System?
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How Healthy and Robust is Your Digital Nervous System?

Think of a “Digital nervous system” as a metaphor for how the IT infrastructure of a company or business could be similar to the autonomic nervous system of a biological organism.

Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, put this concept brilliantly:

If you think of the human body, what does our nervous system let us do? It lets us hear, see, take input. It lets us think and analyze and plan. It lets us make decisions and communicate and take action. Every company essentially has a nervous system: companies take inputs, they think, they plan, they communicate, they take action. The question is how does the nervous system in your company operate? Is the IT infrastructure really adding value?

Ballmer goes further:

“Every enterprise, whether it’s large or small, will need to have its information in digital form and be able to take advantage of that to streamline decision processes to draw more people to make decisions, whether it’s people inside the company, or partners, or suppliers. ”

Technology Used Right Is A “Human Cooperation Amplifier”

However, this digital utopia can be more an ideal rather than reality if there exist training issues impeding the proper use of any form of digital technology, whether it be smartphones or apps that are used to communicate within this “digital neural network”. Or if there are problematic attitudes towards technology or outmoded ways of using it. On another level, if dysfunctional communication habits also exist, any technology will only be limited by them.

I will use the metaphor of the “organization as a living organism” to point out how the many ramifications caused by “faults” in the digital pipelines can create costs beyond merely lost productivity.

How’s The Circulation?

The open and free flow of blood is crucial to any living being. It is essential for biological survival. No exceptions.

What is the lifeblood of an organization or business? A large cash fund? Positive word of mouth? Many eager volunteers? That all definitely helps. But the “lifeblood“ I’m talking about has nothing to do with finances. It’s the free and open flow of information throughout the workplace and the company you work for as a whole. Just as neurons need to build neural connections to consolidate learning and growth, so do dynamic teams to stay dynamic. That free and open flow is crucial to a properly functioning digital nervous system.

Neurons are meant to form connections with each other. And in many ways, the nervous systems have similarities to the Internet, whose success in large part was due to the free and open exchange of information that it made possible, removing geographic and many other barriers to forming new connections, plus adding a new dimension of interactivity not possible with traditional media such as TV.

The unrestricted free and open nature of the Internet was essential to the many innovations it spurred.  Much the same way that a robust circulatory system is essential to a robust body and brain. This is the stuff of creative, dynamic teams. Now try doing that with clogged communication pathways and see innovation suffer, nerves get frayed, and team dynamism stagnate.

According to Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Haim Mendelson, “The system needs a way to effectively store and share its information so decisions take advantage of its total knowledge base rather than have each decision-maker (processor) limited to its own local data. It also needs to reduce processing bottlenecks — otherwise, it will suffer from information overload, leading to ineffective decisions and late response. Finally, rather than view the organizational network as a stand-alone, self-contained, closed system, it should operate as part of a larger collection of interconnected networks.”

The opposite of free flow is constriction, and the problems set in when there are “digital blood vessels” that are “clogged” or “blocked”.

The Dichotomy Between ‘My Job’ And ‘Your Job’

Here’s another thing to throw at you, but if the IT situation is fine but dysfunctional communication habits pervade the workplace culture, digital communication tools will only serve to highlight those problems without really fixing anything. This is called a “silo culture” when departments or management groups do not share information, goals, tools, priorities, and processes with other departments.

The silo mentality is believed to impact operations, reduce employee morale and may contribute to the overall failure of a company or its products and culture. It is a significant drain on both productivity and psychological well-being of team members as a whole.

Here’s a simple test to find out if silo thinking is pervasive. How often do you hear someone saying at your workplace,

“That’s not my job.”


“Why tell me this? That is your job.”

Has anyone told you this recently?

How often do you hear a person in a leadership position say this in one day?

Psychology Today writer Ronald Riggio, Ph.D. in “The 5 Warning Signs of a Toxic Work Environment” said this in response: “The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done. When your leaders say that to you where you work, what they’re really saying is, “I care only about me.” That attitude quickly destroys overall performance because it quickly turns what might have been a cohesive team into a dysfunctional group of individuals, each looking out only for themselves.”

Do You See “Silo” Thinking Around You?

Organizations tend to underestimate how often and to what degree interpersonal conflict situations can be due to a faulty digital nervous system. Often, the faults have nothing to do with “digital” leakages at all, if the root cause is built into the culture. The “silo mentality” may be at the root of many of them.

The toxic workplace culture is a festering ground for burnout, mental health issues, and other stress-related costs

Dynamic Signal, employee communication and engagement platform that surveyed just over 1,000 employees found that 70% of employees say they feel overwhelmed at work. The culprit? Dysfunctional communication.

Consider these other stats:

  • Per worker productivity losses due to communication barriers can amount to $26,041 annually.
  • 80% of the U.S. workforce surveyed said ineffective communication at work is causing stress.
  • Interpersonal work issues cost American companies 350 billion dollars a year.

Stated simply: “Drama is costly.”

Look out for the recurring patterns or dynamics amongst your team, as they might be a message in disguise telling you that these are systemic issues left unaddressed. If it is at least partially caused by a faulty “digital nervous system”, it is one of the most preventable, and easiest to remedy.

Back To You

The real bottom line is this: The leaders of a company are responsible for the well-being of its employees, and in order to do this, it must be responsible for the culture and how it affects more than the “visible indicators” of the bottom line. If the causes of a significant brain drain on the team are easy to fix, there is absolutely no excuse not to. How can you hold the leaders at your workplace accountable for the ultimate bottom line?

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