“Space, the final frontier” introduced Star Trek’s original series, but assessments of our human knowledge indicate that the space between our ears is more of a frontier than the space above our heads is. That is a major reason the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has proposed that the Next Big Thing be “to solve biology’s most mysterious problem: how the brain works.” (“Only Connect” [The Economist, February 23, 2013 edition]).
The project’s scale will be on par with the public and private investment made in the Human Genome Project, thus focusing funding and federal attention. Regardless of the project’s outcome, the main point is that knowledge of our brain is sparse. In fact, analogizing it to a road map:
It is like trying to navigate America with an atlas that shows the states, the big cities and the main highways, and has a few street maps of local neighbourhoods, but displays nothing in between. (“Hard Cell” [The Economist, March 9, 2013 edition]).
The secondary point is that scientists are becoming increasingly confident that technological advancements make this doable. Combine our low knowledge base with these advancements, and a strong case exists for the greatest advancement in this decade being in understanding ourselves. This will advance management theory well beyond its classical 1950’s roots of management by objectives much as it has spawned Behavioral Economics from Traditional Economics.
Thus, rather than view individuals as rational actors with free will (more), we will move toward viewing ourselves as heavily influenced by emotions, conditions and many other biological, genetic and chemical functions. Employers making this jump early will have a distinct advantage. So, if you’re looking for a new frontier to tackle, try examining the one between your ears. No one else really knows what’s there.