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 brains sometimes get a little overwhelmed.

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

If we want to use change to become stronger we can’t just ignore things: 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 risks and problems:

  • First, as this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the data used by computers can often be flawed, lulling us into a false sense of security
  • Second,
  • as the Boeing 737-Max crashes showed, even with perfect data, the information provided by computers depends on the assumptions programmed into them by 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

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 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. 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 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 the top sportspeople, we can train ourselves to get better with practice.

And so the bottom line is this. When so much is changing, all at once, we have to get better at making better decisions with less information. We have to get better at connecting with and trusting our unconscious intuition and making decisions without conscious data. We can’t just manage our way through change, we have to lead ourselves through change. 

This is part of the second step of becoming antifragile.

Have you ever struggled to make a decision? 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, 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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