You can’t manage your way through change, you have to lead

tennis player

The brains of our ancestors evolved to notice change because change might mean one of three things: food, sex, or death.

But when so much of our world is changing all at once, it is hardly surprising if our brains get a little overwhelmed.

One response could be to ignore some of the information coming at us. But this is risky: when everything is changing, something that didn’t matter yesterday might easily become important today.

If we want to use change to become stronger we can’t just ignore things, we need to make sense of more information, faster.

One way to do this might be to use computers. But computers bring their own problems:

  • First, as this article in Harvard Business Review points out, the raw data used by computers can often be flawed, lulling us into a false sense of security
  • Second, even with perfect data, the information computers provide is not reality, it is a reflection of the assumptions programmed into the computer by flawed human beings — as the Boeing 737-Max showed, those assumptions may no longer hold true in a time of change.
  • Third, using computers to process more information more quickly simply brings us back to the same bottleneck (our own inability to process information) this time with more data to consider about more variables

If we want to use this time of change to become stronger, we need to increase our capacity for processing information.

The fact is our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the fastest supercomputers. We’ve probably all experienced the answer to a difficult problem suddenly popping into our heads out of nowhere. When this happens it is not our conscious, thinking minds bringing us the answers but our unconscious intuition.

Neuroscientists estimate that we are only conscious of about five percent of our cognitive activity — 95 percent is unconscious — so if we learn to harness the power of our unconscious minds we can hugely expand our capacity to process information.

Often this happens best in the moments of most extreme stress and improvisation: when top sportspeople leap and stretch in an instant to put the ball exactly where they want it to go it is not their conscious, thinking minds that are telling them what to do but their unconscious intuition. When we stop thinking we can achieve great things. And like sportspeople, we can train ourselves to get better with practice.

The bottom line is this: management is about implementing the agreed way forward and that requires data. But you can’t manage your way through change you have to lead.

Leading ourselves and other people through this time of change requires us to make clearer sense of the situation before we choose how to respond. That calls on us to process more information more quickly. And that is the second step to becoming antifragile.

Have you ever found yourself trying to process too much information? Have you ever had an intuition that turned out to be correct? Would it be useful to learn to call upon your intuition more easily, more reliably, and more often?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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