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.

So 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, an issue that didn’t matter yesterday might easily become important today.

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

One way to do this might seem to be to use 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, 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 — and as the Boeing 737-Max crashes showed, the assumptions made by human programmers sitting at their desks might not hold true in a time of crisis or change.
  • Third, using computers to process more information more quickly simply brings us back to the same bottleneck: our own inability to process information. And this time we have more data to think about, from more sources.

So if we want to use this time of change to become stronger, what we need to do is to increase our own capacity for processing information.

The fact is, our brains are still 30 times more powerful than the fastest supercomputers. We’ve probably all had the experience of the answer to a difficult problem suddenly popping into our heads out of nowhere. When this happens it is not our conscious, thinking minds that are bringing us the answers, it is 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 can learn to harness the power of our unconscious minds we can hugely increase 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. But to do that you first have to choose the way forward. And that requires leadership.

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

And that means you have to increase your capacity for processing more information more quickly. This 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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