Management requires data, leadership calls for something more

tennis player

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

And when so much of our world is changing so fast this means it is hardly surprising if our brains get a little overwhelmed sometimes.

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

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

One way to do this might be with computers — but computers bring new problems:

  • First, as this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the raw data used by computers can often be flawed, leading us into a false sense of security.
  • Second, even if the input data is perfect, the information computers provide is not reality, it is based on assumptions and interpretations programmed into the computer by other, flawed human beings — in a time of change those assumptions may no longer hold true.
  • And third, using computers to process more information more quickly will simply bring us to the same bottleneck: our own inability to process information, but this time with more data to consider about more things.

If we want to lead ourselves and others better through this time of change, we need to increase our capacity for processing information.

The fact is our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the best supercomputers. We’ve probably all experienced the answer to a difficult problem suddenly popping into our minds out of nowhere or unexpectedly remembering something vital that we thought we had forgotten. When this happens it is not our conscious, thinking minds that bring us these answers but our unconscious minds, our 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 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. Leadership of ourselves and other people through this time of change is about making clearer sense of the situation before we choose how to respond. That calls upon us for something more. And it is the second step towards antifragility.

Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by too much information? Have you ever had an intuition that turned out to be correct? Might you benefit by learning 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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