How Embracing Neuroplasticity Can Ensure we Remain Competitive in a Digital Economy

  • Blog
  • April 21, 2023
  • Sarah Howell, Head of Partnerships

Key Points:

  • An ecosystem strategy is necessary to compete in the digital economy
  • Neuroplasticity can help organizations move toward an ecosystem strategy
  • Orchestrators have greater control of the economic value across the ecosystem


My husband and I were foster parents for a few years. As part of our training we took classes on trauma-informed parenting. Here we learned how childhood trauma impacts the brain and the unique parenting style required to parent children with childhood trauma.

Parents are leaders, and good leaders flex their leadership styles based on the unique needs of those they are leading. Amazing business leaders recognize that there are external forces, like massive digital disruption, that impact the goals and objectives they have for those they are leading. And as a result, they flex their leadership styles accordingly.

My husband and I could not parent our foster children like we did our biological children. Because the past experiences and abuse our foster children had encountered included far more trauma than the experiences our biological children encountered. Trauma in early childhood has significant impacts on the developing brain.

Because our foster children’s brains were hard wired to focus on danger, we had to rely on something called neuroplasticity to help them develop new thought patterns, so they could feel safe in our home. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt due to experience and to grow new neural patterns to replace the ones that trigger fight or flight mode.

In parenting kids from hard places, I learned that it’s not enough to change the child’s environment, you must be an intentional participant in helping that child change how they think. As leaders in financial services, an industry inundated with macro changes happening faster than we can process, we must be similarly intentional about helping our teams change the way they think, in order for the organization as a whole to adapt quickly.

Traditional Market Strategy vs. Ecosystem Strategy

There has been research conducted on the impacts of digital technology on the human brain, but how has digital disruption impacted our organizational strategies and thought processes?

Digital disruption ushered in the digital economy. According to Deloitte,

The digital economy is the economic activity that results from billions of everyday online connections among people, businesses, devices, data, and processes. The backbone of the digital economy is hyperconnectivity which means growing interconnectedness of people, organizations, and machines that results from the Internet, mobile technology and the internet of things (IoT).”

The hyperconnectivity that powers the digital economy means that the thought patterns of traditional market strategies are no longer as relevant as they once were. And organizations must develop strategies to innovate in a more interconnected way.

In a traditional market strategy, companies operate out of individual self-interest. As an example, in financial services the bank creates a financial product for a specific market and distributes the product to that customer base. However, the digital economy requires an ecosystem strategy, whereby companies partner in an interconnected way with other organizations. Each entity operates out of orchestrated, mutual-shared interest to bring a value proposition to the market that would not exist without an underlying ecosystem.

Organizations established on a traditional market strategy may find the pivot to an ecosystem strategy is extremely difficult. Not only because the organization has built goals and KPIs centered on a traditional market strategy, but also because the people in the organization have subsequently been incented to develop neural patterns that reinforce this strategic mindset.

Neuroplasticity can advance an organization’s move toward an ecosystem strategy

Neurons that fire together wire together and create neural patterns that the brain reuses to increase our processing power. Yet, when we’re learning new concepts, such as in digital transformation, we’re creating new neural patterns. The more those neural patterns are revisited through repetition, the more the brain is able to change and adapt, thus the miracle of neuroplasticity.

A change in strategy requires a change in thinking, both at the corporate and individual levels. So how can we, as leaders, achieve this? The simplest way that I have done this is by using the four-box matrix below to identify the organization’s position in the ecosystem, alongside other participants in the ecosystem. Using the Apple Pay example from my last blog post, I assess each participants’ level of influence and contribution across the ecosystem.

Using an ecosystem strategy for greater control
Disclosure: All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with infinant.

In an ecosystem strategy, organizations want to increase their influence and contribution so they become and remain relevant. The participant in the far-right quadrant is known as the orchestrator of the ecosystem because they have the highest level of influence and contribution. Orchestrators are the most relevant participant in the ecosystem and have the greatest opportunity to control the economic value the ecosystem generates.

A simple way for leaders to develop ecosystem-centric neural patterns within the organization, and reinforce those patterns is by creating KPIs that measure influence and contribution. These KPIs will vary based on the ecosystem, but some common ones are listed below.

↑ Increase Contribution:

  • # of new products offered w/in the ecosystem
  • % of product usage w/in the ecosystem

↑ Increase Influence:

  • % of new referrals made to other ecosystem participants
  • # of co-marketing initiatives w/other ecosystem participants

Neurons that fire together wire together. This is true in life and in business. To ensure our organizations and their people are adapting to the changes of the digital economy, we must be intentional about changing the way we think on both a team and individual level.Only then can we lead our people through the organizational changes needed for our businesses to compete in a hyperconnected, digital economy.