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Provoking The Lizard Brain Is Not Leadership. So What Is?

Of course I read with concern about the sad events in Tucson. I see this as the inevitable outcome of the decline of leadership in today’s society, and the symptoms of the revolution that is about to happen.

Our leaders want to be seen to be “serious” and doing “something”. One way to do “something” is to provoke the “lizard brain”, i.e. stimulating the amygdala, that primitive part of our brain stem which generates the base emotions of fear or excitement. When the lizard brain is stimulated, we jump into action – or, rather, reaction. I’m noticing that it has become the habit of politicians, media celebrities and business CEOs major and minor to appeal to fear, worry, envy and revenge. This provokes reaction all right. But provoking reaction is not leadership, it’s demagoguery.

Why are the leadership classes sowing fear, hatred and terror? Because they are losing power, and they know it is slipping from their grasp.

And this power is slipping from “them” to “you”, should you choose to accept the challenge.

Lizard-brain leadership posits that we are living in a time of crisis: disappearing oil, water, land, food, money, freedom. Lizard-brain leadership views life as a zero-sum game, where if I give you a piece of my pie, there is less for me, and that’s not fair.

By all means, we should have hit the boundary conditions of finite resources decades ago. But we haven’t. Why?

This is my view of how this came about.

In the old days, the key to wealth was how much gold you held. Kings obsessed about the possession of resources. Wars were fought over land and spice, wood and gold. Wealth was in the hands of the monarchy and the aristocracy, the “political” class of the time. The equation for wealth was very simple:

Wealth = Resources

The Industrial Revolution changed the equation. Humanity started to organize itself, and invented ways to transform the resources, adding value, making their use more efficient and more valuable.  The new formula became:

Wealth = Resources * Technology

But the technology was still controlled by a few, those who had access to the knowledge and experience. The wealth spread from the aristocracy who held the resources to the business moguls who held the technology and means of production.

The Industrial Revolution created the concept of a “job” and a “career”, where each person plays a well-defined role, a cog in the monolithic societal machine. The machine worked because information was hard to spread, so although the political and financial classes held most of the cards, those who had access to some knowledge and experience (i.e. white-collar professionals) were also able to share in a bit of the wealth. This created the “middle class”.

After World War II, technology started to spread faster and faster. Consider the adoption rates of the telephone at the beginning of the 20th century, compared to radio, television and computers.  Access to technology became more and more democratized.

Then, barely 16 years ago, the Web was born. In an instant, knowledge and experience was no longer limited to certain classes. Information starts to circulate faster and faster. People can now seek out like-minded colleagues to form their own networks, communities, tribes. And this kind of self-organization unleashes a resources that multiplies our abilities in an exponential way: the power of Passion.

Passion is a very powerful element, because it powers our confidence, our courage, our persistance and our ingenuity. In the past, our societal and economic systems contained our passion. Passion at work was not encouraged, because the machinery of living depended on each person playing a well-orchestrated part in a precisely-defined box.

But when Passion comes into the equation, it adds an element that supercharges the wealth equation.

Wealth = (Resources * Technology) ** Passion

People powered by Passion are willing to go the extra mile, to go beyond the status-quo, to take risks and to innovate.

Passion is also a chaotic element. The Passion sparked by the democratization of technology and the ease of communication and association, means that the old top-down ways of societal and economic organization are fracturing. I believe that the root cause of a lot of today’s economic problems is not only greed or government regulation, but that all our assumptions about how to generate wealth have fallen apart. The old economic models of GDP and productivity and employment no longer have any relevance in this new, Passion-powered economy.

The political and financial classes of today’s society instinctively know the power of Passion, because they seek to provoke it by poking at our lizard-brains. But that is like pouring gasoline on a fire, it makes a big flame, lots of sparks, but becomes uncontrollable.

The real leadership we need to overcome the challenges of our time will not come from politicians nor from big company CEOs. Those social classes have too much invested in the status-quo to risk losing it through revolutionary change. They actually gain by pitting people one against the other: left vs right, public vs private, middle class vs poor. They gain because we get distracted from what we need to do.

The key to the new leadership is by moblizing people around visionary projects. Projects that fire the imagination and stimulate creativity. Projects that inspire everyone to reach for their full potential.

We have seen what visionary projects can do. The textbook example is President Kennedy’s challenge in 1963 that Americans would set foot on the Moon before the end of that decade. And they did, with six months to spare.

We’ve lost sight of what visionary projects are. Infrastructure is not a visionary, mobilizing project, because the outcome does not engage the imagination. War, however well-intentioned, is even less of a visionary, mobilizing project, because there is no win-win outcome.

It is the new generation of entrepreneurial leaders, you and me, who now hold the key to progress. We have our feet on the ground. We see what people need, want and yearn for. We also can aim for the moon, defining visionary goals that engage the communities we build around us. And as entrepreneurs, we master the skill of simultaneously seeing far to keep the goal in sight, while seeing close to make sure the next step is well placed.

I believe each of us has the right to fully live our own individual potential, and the responsibility to help others fully live theirs. I also believe that although the world has finite resources, the true multiplier of these resources is human passion, which is limitless.

We need to stop the lizard-brain thinking which is short-circuiting our society’s potential, and embrace the Power of Passion through Visionary Projects.

Stop playing for survival. We need you to play to WIN.

<end rant>

For more information

Although my motivation for writing the above post was inspired by a tragic event, and borders on a pessimistic view of the world, I remain resolutely optimistic about the long-term prospects for our society, our species and our planet. See my “manifesto” on my About.me page:

To give historical context to this post, see this article from Huffington Post describing the assassination attempt in Tucson that left six people dead and many injured (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is in critical condition as of this writing):

I have read many articles by Naomi Klein, on the subject of her book “The Shock Doctrine”, which is related to the idea of the “old-guard” societal and economic leadership via fear and manipulation:

A thought provoking article that posits that the current economic system requires crisis events such as oil spills and disasters, just to keep in a steady-state

Image credit: AmberBrooke via Flickr
Direct link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amberbr00k3/4289936624/
Used under Creative Commons 2.0 licence

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