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.

And when the whole world around us is changing, this means our change-focused brains can easily become overwhelmed.

One way to cope with this might seem to be to ignore some of the information coming at us. This is risky: when everything is changing, things that didn’t matter yesterday might easily become important tomorrow. 

The alternative is that we need 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 the Harvard Business Review points out, the data used by computers can often be flawed. Relying on this will lead us into a false sense of securitySecond, even with perfect data, the information provided by computers depends on the assumptions programmed into them by flawed human beings: and as the Boeing 737-Max crashes showed, those assumptions can be wrong. And third, using a computer to process more information about more things will ultimately bring us back to the same bottleneck: our own inability to process information. Except that now we will have even more third-hand ‘information’ to make sense of, about the computer’s interpretation of more things we don’t understand.

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 more information faster.

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. Which 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.

This 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 is not their conscious, rational minds that are thinking through and telling them what to do, it is their unconscious intuition.

Just like top sportspeople, we can achieve great things when we stop thinking. And just 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. We need to get better at connecting with and trusting our unconscious intuition.

This is a skill of leadership. Management is about taking decisions when information is clear and plentiful. Leadership is about taking good decisions even when information is overwhelming, inconsistent, or missing. 

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

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