Unraveling the functional role of neuromodulatory systems has been a major challenge for cognitive neuroscience, giving rise to theories ranging from a simple role in vigilance to complex models concerning decision making, prediction errors or unexpected uncertainty. A new, simplified and overarching theory of noradrenaline function is inspired by an invertebrate model: neuromodulators in crustacea abruptly interrupt activity in neural networks and reorganize the elements into new functional networks determining the behavioral output. Analogously in mammals, phasic activation of noradrenergic neurons of the locus coeruleus in time with cognitive shifts could provoke or facilitate dynamic reorganization of target neural networks, permitting rapid behavioral adaptation to changing environmental imperatives. Detailed analysis and discussion of extensive electrophysiological data from the locus coeruleus of rats and monkeys in controlled behavioral situations is provided here to support this view. This simplified 'new look' at locus coeruleus noradrenaline function redirects the challenge of understanding neuromodulatory systems towards their target networks, particularly to the dynamics of their interactions and how they organize adaptive behavior.