There is a way of looking at the human being that suggests it comprises three, interwoven subsystems, two of which are polar to one another and other mediating between them. These subsystems are spread throughout the body but have their centres in the head (nerve-sense), limbs (motor-metabolic) and chest (rhythmic-circulatory).

What is the purpose of these systems?

The nerve-sense system, centred in the head, comprises the brain and nervous system and is associated with thought, thinking and perception. It is cool and still, when we walk our head remains motionless, we are the only animal whose head does not bob when we walk. We speak of the need for a cool head in a crisis, having cool rationality.

The motor-metabolic system, centred on the lower torso and limbs, consists of the digestive organs and metabolic system and is concerned with nutrition as well as action and will. It is hot, our digestive system is a little furnace consuming all that enters it, and it supports the will and impulse to action.

The rhythmic-circulatory system, centred in the chest, comprises the heart, circulatory system and lungs and represents feeling. It serves as the mediator between the other two systems. It takes in cold air, warms it in the lungs and exchanges oxygen for carbon dioxide. It transforms veinous blood into arterial blood. We breathe rhythmically, our heart beats and, if it stops, we die.

The central role of this mediation was beautifully captured in Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic “Metropolis” in which he identified the need for “heart” people to mediate between the “head” people who owned the corporation and the “hand” people who worked within it.

Thought, Feeling and Will: we think with our head, our heart and breathing are affected when our emotions go awry and we put our thoughts and feelings into action through our hands and feet.

The organisational corollary

We could easily look at an organisation and draw an analogy similar to that of Fritz Lang, that the head is the Board and Senior Management, the motor is operations and the mediator is middle management and, while that is true, today I want to explore how this threefold model can help us understand Corporate Services.

Taking the three primary functions usually amalgamated into corporate services: IT, HR and Finance, we can draw the following analogies

  • IT: nerve-sense system
  • HR: motor-metabolic system
  • Finance: rhythmic-circulatory system


Unexpected? an explanation and application

IT and HR are often considered to be polar to each other, one has to do with soft and warm, the other to do with cold and hard but it goes further than that.

IT is modelled on the brain (processing power) and nervous system (the cables that thread their way through an organisation). It is cool, ultra-rational and completely lacks empathy (that’s IT, not the people working there…).

HR, on the other hand is where the action is. Everything in an organisation, especially a service organisation, happens through people, all the ideas in the world are of no use if there are not employees to interact with clients, to put them into action.

Finance, perhaps surprisingly, acts as the mediator between the two. It regulates the impulses of each through budget controls and ensures, through business case assessment, that the two polar opposites work together as much as they can. I know, you never thought Finance could have a heart but there you go…

Therapeutically, a common problem in individuals is found when feelings (Finance) and thoughts (IT) are in conflict and thus undermine the ability for will impulses (HR) to be generated for effective action. We see this in a service organisation when Finance and IT cannot agree and HR, representing the people in the organisation, is crippled.

Or a person (organisation) gets stuck in thinking activity (IT) which disassociates from feeling (Finance) and sometimes compulsively drives the will (HR) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders are generated. A technology-driven change programme is a good example of this type of situation.

The diagram below shows the therapeutic process for an individual. Cast your eye over it, substituting IT for Thought, HR for Will Impulses and Finance for Feeling.

The article you’ve just read is a thought experiment. Please comment below on whether it makes sense, I look forward to your thoughts on how this model can be used to reframe Corporate Services and help the three subsystems truly empower the organisation.

(diagram c/- Matt Davies)