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Understanding S-Curve Disruption and the Neurological Impact

Updated: Jul 5

The S-curve model is often used to describe the dynamics of growth and change in technology and business. It explains how innovations or changes start with slow growth, then experience rapid acceleration, and finally plateau. Applying this model to the human brain helps us understand how we adapt to disruption and change, particularly in processing new challenges and learning experiences.

Mastering the S-Curve Phases and Understanding Brain Responses

The S-curve has three main phases: Slow Start (Introduction), Rapid Growth (Acceleration), and Plateau (Maturity). Here’s a breakdown of how the brain responds in each phase:

Brain connections to disruption and innovation

Understanding what happens to our brain when we embark on change will help us to push through giving us the confidence we are on the right route for change

1. Slow Start (Introduction Phase)

  • Neural Activation: When first exposed to a new task or disturbance, there is an increase in activity in the brain regions responsible for attention, learning, and problem-solving. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) becomes highly active as it tries to make sense of and integrate new information.

  • Neuroplasticity: During this phase, the brain’s ability to reorganize by forming new neural connections is heightened, allowing for adaptation to new challenges and learning environments.

  • Uncertainty and Stress: Initial uncertainty can activate the amygdala, leading to stress and anxiety. Interestingly, moderate levels of stress can enhance learning and memory, in line with the Yerkes-Dodson law.

2. Rapid Growth (Acceleration Phase)

  • Efficient Neural Pathways: As learning progresses, the brain begins to streamline neural pathways, making the process more efficient. This is akin to transitioning from a rough dirt road to a smooth highway, allowing the brain to process information more quickly and fluidly.

  • Dopamine Release: The brain’s reward system, particularly through dopamine release, is activated during successful learning and adaptation, which promotes motivation and engagement with the new task or disruption.

  • Cognitive Flexibility: The prefrontal cortex, in conjunction with other brain regions like the basal ganglia, enables better task-switching and adaptation to changing conditions.

3. Plateau (Maturity Phase)

  • Habit Formation: With repetitive engagement, the brain transitions tasks from conscious effort to habitual actions. The basal ganglia play a significant role in this shift, allowing for more automatic and less energy-consuming responses.

  • Reduced Neural Activity: As tasks become routine, the brain requires less effort to perform them, leading to reduced need for active engagement from the prefrontal cortex.

  • Potential for Stagnation: While efficiency is beneficial, it can also lead to cognitive stagnation if not challenged by new disruptions or learning opportunities. The brain’s adaptability may decline if it remains in a prolonged plateau without new stimuli.

Effect of Disruption on the Brain

1. Activation of the Default Mode Network (DMN): During periods of disruption and change, the DMN, which is associated with self-referential thought and mind-wandering, becomes more active. This allows for reflection on past experiences and potential future scenarios, aiding in adaptation to change.

2. Emotional Regulation and the Limbic System: Disruption can trigger emotional responses such as anxiety or excitement. The limbic system, particularly the amygdala, processes these emotions. Effective regulation by the prefrontal cortex helps in maintaining focus and motivation.

3. Cognitive Load and Working Memory: Introducing new challenges increases cognitive load, engaging working memory. The prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobes manage this load by prioritising information and filtering out distractions.

4. Neurotransmitter Activity Changes: Changes and disruptions affect the levels of various neurotransmitters:

  • Dopamine: Essential for motivation and reward, driving engagement with new tasks.

  • Norepinephrine: Increases alertness and arousal, preparing the brain for challenges.

  • Serotonin: Stabilises mood and helps manage stress and anxiety associated with change.

S-Curve Disruption as a Driver of Neuroplasticity

The brain’s ability to adapt to change, primarily driven by neuroplasticity, is crucial for navigating the S-curve. The need for continuous learning and adaptation strengthens neural connections and promotes cognitive resilience.

  • Synaptic Plasticity: Frequent engagement with new tasks strengthens synaptic connections, making the brain more adept at handling future disruptions.

  • Cognitive Reserve: By continuously adapting to new challenges, the brain builds a cognitive reserve that protects against cognitive decline and enhances overall mental agility.


The S-curve model of disruption and change provides a valuable framework for understanding how the brain responds to new challenges. By navigating through phases of introduction, growth, and maturity, the brain enhances its capacity for learning, adaptation, and resilience. Disruptions act as catalysts for neuroplasticity, ensuring that the brain remains dynamic and capable of handling future changes. Understanding these processes can help devise strategies for personal and professional growth in the face of continuous change.



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