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 the whole world is changing, this means our change-sensitive brains can easily become overwhelmed.

One way to respond might be to ignore some of the information coming at us. But when so much is changing this is risky: things that didn’t matter yesterday might easily become important tomorrow. 

So the better alternative is that we learn to make sense of more information more quickly.

One way to do this might seem to be to use computers. But computers bring their own problems. First, as this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the data used by computers can often be flawed. Relying on it can lead us into a false sense of securitySecond, even when the data is perfect, the information provided by computers depends on the assumptions programmed into them by flawed human beings. As the Boeing 737-Max crashes showed, those assumptions can be wrong. And third, using a computer to process more information about more things ultimately brings us back to the same bottleneck we faced before: our own inability to process information. Except that now we will need to process the computer’s interpretation of more information about more things than we did before.

What all this means is that if we want to use this time of change to become stronger, we have to address the bottleneck. We have to increase our own ability to process 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. This means that we can increase our capacity to process information if we learn to harness the power of the remaining 95 percent: the power of our unconscious or subconscious minds.

That is what top sportspeople do when they leap in an instant and stretch to put the ball exactly where they want it to go it’s not their conscious, thinking mind that is telling them what to do, it’s their unconscious intuition.

Just like top sportspeople, we can achieve great things when we stop thinking. And like them, we can train ourselves to get better with practice.

When so much is changing, all at once, we have to become better at processing more information more quickly. One of the best ways to do this is by getting better at accessing and trusting our unconscious intuition, our gut feel.

This is a skill of leadership, not management. Management is about taking decisions when information is clear and plentiful. Leadership is about taking good decisions even when information is too much, too little, or inconsistent, or missing. Leadership is about taking good decisions simply because we know intuitively what is the right thing to do.

This is a skill we need to develop. 

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

This is the second step of becoming antifragile.

Have you ever struggled to make a decision because you had too much or too little information? Have you ever had an intuition that turned out to be correct? Would it be useful to practice using your intuition to help you solve problems more quickly, more easily, and more reliably?


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

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(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)


Photo By anuarsalleh via StockPholio.net

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