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

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

When so much of our world is changing, all at once, this means it is hardly surprising if our change-noticing brains sometimes get a little overwhelmed.

One response might 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 tomorrow.

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

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

  • First, as this article in Harvard Business Review points out, the data used by computers can often be flawed, which lulls us into a false sense of security
  • Second, even with perfect data, the information provided by computers is not reality — as the Boeing 737-Max crashes showed, the information provided by computers depends on the assumptions programmed into those computers by other (flawed) human beings
  • Third, using a computer to process more information more quickly ultimately brings us back to the same bottleneck — our own inability to process information — except that this time we have more information to consider, about more things

So if we want to use this time of change to become stronger, we have to address this bottleneck. We have to increase our own capacity for processing information.

The good news is that our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the fastest supercomputers. Neuroscientists estimate that we are only conscious of about five percent of our cognitive activity — 95 percent is unconscious. So we can increase our ability to process information if we learn to harness the power of our unconscious minds.

This is what top sportspeople do when they 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. It is their unconscious intuition.

When we stop thinking we can achieve great things. And, like sportspeople, we can train ourselves to get better through practice.

And the bottom line is this.

When so much is changing, all at once, we can’t just rely on what worked yesterday. We have to get better at making decisions under uncertainty. Which means

we can’t just manage our way through change, we have to lead ourselves through change. 

This time of churning is bringing us more changes to make sense of, in a shorter time, forcing us to process more information about more things with more uncertainty, and larger consequences if we get it ‘wrong’.

But the good news is that we can learn to process more information more quickly by learning to call on the power of our unconscious intuition.

This is part of the second step of becoming antifragile.

Have you ever struggled to process large amounts of information? Have you ever had an intuition that turned out to be correct? Would it be useful to learn to call upon your intuition to help you solve problems 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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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By anuarsalleh via

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