Editor’s note: Eric Jackson, a technology consultant and developer, is a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire. His column appears on Tuesdays.It is a well-established fact that men’s brains are, on average, larger than women’s. It’s reasonable to expect that brain capacity is related to brain size, so that should make men smarter than women. Right?
More than a few would object to that assertion, and not just because none of us comes anywhere near actually using all of our mental capacity, so that the difference is probably meaningless. Perhaps, though, there’s still some hope for the claim of male superiority?
Well, one more nail apparently just went into the coffin, according to an article in the July 17 issue of Science News. Studies at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine have found that women’s brains squeeze significantly more folds into certain parts of the cortex (the outer layer of the brain) than men’s. The result is that women’s brains have a much-larger surface area than was previously realized, particularly in certain areas.
Of course, no proven correlation between the denser folding and particular cognitive skills has been shown yet, but any discovery that there is one should hardly come as a shock.
What is perhaps more interesting is that the distinctively different approaches to increased capacity may well turn out to underlie differences in the ways men and women think. It is more than a question of who has more. It is just as much a question of how they have it and what it is they have.
There are lessons here for business — as usual, nature shows the way.
Using our brains
Size is a frequent topic in business: the volume of sales, the magnitude of profits, the size of staff, and so on. In fact, business tends to be obsessed with size, ruthlessly cutting it on the cost side and incessantly seeking to increase it on the revenue side, with myriad other up- and downsizing activities associated with these basic two. I wrote in a May article (http://www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=8069) about the tendency to fixate on minimizing short-term costs (salaries, in that case), while ignoring longer-term secondary effects like increased turnover and loss of employee (and eventually market) good will.
The story of our brains points to a deeper lesson, one that we seem too easily to lose sight of: that there is always a different way to achieve a goal, a way that is better, or at least distinctive, one that may open new possibilities. How often have we heard industry incumbents explain that things cannot be done any other way, that they must be accommodated, only to see some upstart prove them wrong. From autos to airlines, movies to music, the story repeats over and over. And still industry spokespeople stand up and explain to us with straight faces that we and the world must change, not they.
Creative thinking and cost-cutting
But the lesson is relevant even before we stand on the brink of extinction. It points to the creative side of cost-cutting. If we spent half as much energy at all times figuring out how better to leverage what we have, to achieve something different and something more with the resources at hand, as we spend in bad times figuring out how to cut the extra costs that we took on in good, we might find ourselves a little less desperate, a little less reactive, and on a little bit smoother and more profitable ride.
The obvious and common way is not necessarily the best. We can increase capacity by growing, but the problem with just getting bigger is that we consume more, and continue to do so even when the famine comes. Might we not try to fold the surface instead of growing our skulls, invent a woman instead of a bigger man?
Ideas? Suggestions? Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.