I spent many years of my life studying the neuroscience of optimal performance (FLOW), talking to people, observing high performers, dealing as physician with professional sportmen, reading books, listening to great leaders and managers…. All of them have some prevailing traits: They are all keenly aware that you are not aware of what you are not aware. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know—but they do. They are masters of the unconscious mind. They understand their own MATRIX, they (re)design continuosly their own the MATRIX.
Think about that for a minute. Think about a single day in your life, all the places where you make critical and seemingly conscious choices. Are you sure they were really „conscious“? As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow: “we can be blind to the obvious, and we are blind to our blindness.“
Let me ask you a different question—what are the four main factors that influence our willingness to accept an idea? Is it the validity of the idea? Our trust in where it comes from? Nope.
These are the big four:
- Make it legible
- Keep it simple
- Make it memorable
- Hope you have an easy last name to pronounce (my name is GIANNECCHINI. It’s pronounced JAN NEK KINI).
Surprised that none of the items reference quality of work, analytic acumen, or any other cognitive skill we associate with our „conscious mind“?
We fancy ourselves deliberate and rational creatures. But the truth is that 95 percent of your brain activity originates from what psychologists now call “the adaptive unconscious” and what neuroanatomists call the „limbic system“.
In other words, our unconscious is a spin-off of adaptation.
Pur brains are designed from the evolutive perspective to operate this way. This system, despite its vast invisibility, gets the job done. Usually order prevails. Yet the era of overestimating the power of consciousness is a thing of the past. As we just saw —with the big four— the unconscious rules the roost.
The unconscious is an integrated network of neurobiological processes that influences virtually every thought, feeling and experience. We couldn’t survive without it. Without the filter of the unconscious, we’d all end up rocking in the corner. Decisions would collide, memory would be maxed, processing speed would screech to a halt. It would be a horror show of overload.
You can’t have a conscious thought that hasn’t been influenced by our unconscious; its octopus tentacles are everywhere. It’s filtering and filling in the gaps as it funnels data towards consciousness. In the unconscious there is no doubt or uncertainty. That’s a function of the analytic conscious mind. The unconscious feels like intuition, behaves like certainty and presents as conviction. It also has a hair pin trigger. Before you could ever reason your way to a decision, the unconscious has shaped your trajectory. Not to mention, this is also the birthplace of creativity and innovation. Nothing revolutionary has ever been accomplished without the influence of the unconscious—but there’s a rub.
Much of how we make decisions is based on the premise that we have sufficient and accurate information to deliberate. The people I work with pride themselves on being damn good decision makers. And they are, at the conscious level. But consider this: What factors shape how we determine if information is true or factual? Do you think it’s from careful consideration of all the data on the topic? Or by seeking the wise counsel of a cadre of experts? Nope.
In the unconscious, familiarity is not distinguished from fact. Neurobiologically, frequency is what drives information from the unconscious towards awareness, not fact or truth.
Add to this complexity the fact that we each have our own unique psychologies, which interact and influence our unconscious patterns. Sapiens are fragile creatures. We are easily bruised, emotionally and psychologically. And we bruise others. These wounds shape us. They add tendencies, patterns and flavors to our unconscious dynamics.
Personally, I have yet to meet someone without an unconscious pattern of sabotage at the epicenter of their psychology, present company included. Until you understand this aspect of your psyche, you will endlessly orbit around your self-defeating patterns, blind to your own blindness. As Leonard Mlodinow states in his groundbreaking book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, “we are highly invested in feeling different from one another—and superior—no matter how flimsy the grounds…and no matter how self-sabotaging that may end up being.”
Why does this matter so much? For starters, we can no longer afford to entertain the myth of an consciousness agency, who control our life. Our conscious mind does not run the show. The evidence to the contrary is simply too compelling to ignore. Given this knowledge, the question to ask ourselves in times of deliberation shifts from “what do I know for certain?” to “what don’t I know? What am I not seeing? Where am I blind?” Furthermore, none of this information is a secret. There are industries, campaigns and people who leverage the power of the unconscious in their favor every day. Most of us are sheep—or sheepish—and entirely oblivious to our blindness. We do not know what we do not know.
This is yet another compelling argument for why every organization should have a Chief Consciousness Officer (CCO) in the Executive Board. The good news is, with knowledge, introspection and practice, you can not only learn to spot your own unconscious patterns, you can also learn to spot when others are trying to use them against you.
Why do corporates need urgently a CCO?
Alliances are built, others are broken, there are splitter groups and rogue factions present in every group I have ever observed. Worse yet, often to terrible detriment, there are “yes” people and the silent objectors. Confirmation bias, loss aversion, fear of change, and many other elements are the invisible shrapnel that make group dynamics so lethal. These are the malignancies that eat away at your ability to circumvent the power of group think.
All these factors exist whether you know it or not, and they influence the health of your corporate decision-making patterns. Without a CCO, I just don’t see a way through the current corporate “waters” without succumbing to these easily and mostly overlooked saboteurs. If innovation, creativity, and execution are your jam, a CCO will be the game changer in terms of avoiding destructive and stifling group dynamics.
Let’s also consider the upside of the power of the group.
When a group is healthy, supple, and cohesive, something truly intoxicating can unfold. Group flow flourishes in this type of environment. When this occurs the rhythm, pace, and outcome of group processes can be fruitful beyond your wildest imagination. It is estimated that productivity increases fivefold with group cohesion as the guiding dynamic. Productivity is one of the most important ingredients in yielding returns that are consistently above par. It turns out, group dynamics can also be highly lucrative.
This type of skill is both an art and a science; it can’t be taught in a seminar or learned from a book. It must be mastered through the age-old method of practice. The CCO must be proficient in both – the art and the science of flow – in order to coax its unfolding. As Keith Sawyer explains, “the key question facing groups that have to innovate is finding just the right amount of structure to support improvisation, but not so much structure that it smothers creativity; when that happens, groups find flow – and with it, studies show, comes more effective team performance, greater innovation, and higher workplace satisfaction. It’s good for the organization, and it’s good for its workers, too.”
Additionally, a CCO can use their vast knowledge of human dynamics to the predictive sciences. Working alongside the other team members, the CCO will be able to help design and select particular people, for particular groups, to yield a particular outcome. This kind of value is hard to measure because it requires quantifying the absence of squandered time, poor decision-making, and lost creativity and innovation due to group stagnation. The CPO lets you alter outcome by continuously tweaking the intricacies of the human process. Without this, you’re a sitting duck in the treacherous game of mob mentality. Enter at your own risk.
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