Bone as an endochrine organ. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of cancellous bone tissue. Photo by Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library

A blog by Luke Thomas Director of Spring.  (4 minute read + Optional Link Article reference of 4100 words)

Spring operates in areas such as creating change, developing leadership capability and increasing performance. Performance in what?  Well that depends on the client but it is generally cultural, operational, financial and behavioural.

I’ve always taken an holistic approach – but as each new year goes by, the scope of what that truly means, grows.  This systematic approach includes mental, physical, nutritional, emotional and chemical balances in our lives – which blends into our families and organisations.  So I am continually researching and wanting to learn more about the interconnectedness of anything.

Liam Drew, author of I, Mammal – The Story of What Makes Us Mammals is a writer I’m keeping an eye on – because his work is fascinating, fun and makes me laugh.  We went right through school together having grown up in the same small town – so when I came across Liam’s work over 20 years since going our separate ways in life, it really caught my attention.

A recent article of his, Hormones United, sheds light (and a whole lot of questions/conundrums) on the sheer complexity of our bodies.

I found the article exciting and sobering in equal measure.  In the realm of Learning & Development I think it challenges us all to consider new factors that we can personally influence, in order to help us feel, think and behave differently.

My daily work involves a lot of time helping clients untangle their thinking and behaviours in order to bring about the change they want for themselves and others.  Therefore every time I learn some more about the interaction of our brains amidst the system of our bodies, it gives me as a practitioner, more levers to pull and play with.

For example, I’ve been investing personally in my own habits around oxytocin, serotonin, adrenaline, endorphins and cortisol.  These being factors affecting (amongst many things) anxiety both in myself and clients.  My aim being to find a better working balance of them in order to create more resourceful state and health, more of the time.  So far this have involved changing my sleep, time outdoors, nutrition, types of exercise, relationships and more experimentation with sauna/cold showers!

As a quick aside David Rock is someone whose work I’ve also read and valued, following on from one of his UK lectures.  By adopting his findings in my daily life it has made a big difference to my effectiveness and ongoing resilience e.g far fewer colds and more consistent energy levels.  You can access his writing about The Healthy Mind Platter.  A really useful build on this is a book called Don’t Strain LittleBrain by a colleague of mine Mark Dando – it’s another simple but high impact way of looking after yourself better to be more effective.

Back to Liam Drew though.  He mentions in Hormones United, that Norbert Perrimon at Harvard Medical School coined a term with his graduate student Ilia Droulinine in 2013, called the Interorgan Communication Network (ICN).  He says “I think, as soon as you touch one organ, it’s going to elicit a response in other organs.”

Drew pulls things together by saying: “In aggregate, these threads [of research] tell us that most organs have an endocrine function. What were once known only as target tissues are, we now know, doing the shooting. If an organ is not known to secrete a significant hormone, it seems reasonable to ask if people have looked hard enough…it appears that biology is finally close to realising the full extent of Starling’s ‘great system of correlations’. (Ernest Starling & William Bayliss being the discoverers of the first hormone in 1902).”

Drew continues: “The breadth of tissues now known to release hormones demands that we rethink the very idea of the endocrine system itself. If it isn’t a restricted set of glandular tissues that direct the behaviour of the body’s various organs – a control system complementary to the nervous system – how should we conceptualise it instead? It appears to be something far more pervasive and democratic – a system through which all the body’s organs broadcast their status by discharging molecules into the blood and so, together, shape what the body is doing at any given time.”

STOP PRESS.  For me, reading this, was a pivotal moment:
  • Bone communicating with muscle.
  • Muscle with organs.
  • Organs with fat.
  • Hormones are more than one-way or two-way communicators – they’re forming a web of interconnectedness.

It highlights more than ever, that we need to take a systematic approach to bringing about change within individuals, teams or wider organisations.  We are bubbling networks of complexity internally (ourselves) and externally (between each other).  Therefore we had better be looking through multiple lenses to find solutions to problems and be ready for the answers to come from some surprisingly unexpected places.