By Nick Jankel

Global Keynote Speaker, Transformational Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, Exec & TV Coach, Author, Wisdom Teacher, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

Working from the emerging science of our two brain networks, but without being limited by what science has ‘proven’ from current research studies, in BTT I propose that every human being, every leader, has two fundamental “modes of consciousness” within their one unified bodymind. Each mode delivers different evolutionary advantages, problem-solving benefits, and outcomes. Each mode is a good fit for specific moments. Each mode has a different neural architecture and biological pathways in the material body that underpins it. And each mode has a different set of qualitative and subjective experiences that manifest it in our minds. To be clear: we need strength in both modes in order to survive and thrive in a fast and furiously-changing world.

In BTT, I call the task-oriented and focused mindset “Control & Protect Mode” (or C&P Mode). Its role is to control the craziness and chaos of life, parsing information into frameworks where we can understand it and predict what best to do next to survive; and to protect us from threats to our existence from predators, social challenges, and rotten food. C&P Mode is likely associated, or correlated, with the ECN in our brain. In C&P Mode we are highly focused and get stuff done, seek firm answers and drive toward certainty rapidly; play by the rules and technical expertise we have learned, measure success by metrics and goals achieved, act strategically and rigorously, and are risk-averse.

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In C&P Mode, we think in straight lines, build algorithms, and deliver linear solutions. Conventional intelligence, ‘smarts,’ is a feature of C&P Mode: getting exam questions right, knowing the answer when our boss asks us, looking like we’re in control so we feel safe, optimizing algorithms in business models and software, developing perfect plans and detailed spreadsheets, and delivering efficiency upgrades as managers. In C&P Mode we love to make continuous improvements to Business as Usual to deliver predictable outcomes that lead to fame, fortune, respect, and recognition. Most leaders have already optimized smart and logical C&P Mode to become managers and traditional leaders in existing hierarchies.

What I call “Create & Connect Mode” (or C&C Mode), on the other hand, is associated with the brain’s DMN. Its role is to connect with other people, ourselves, and sentient beings to furnish collaboration and co-operative actions; and to create novel solutions to novel problems that we haven’t encountered before. In C&C Mode, we are curious, creative, and empathic. We are more interested in better questions than firm answers, happy to challenge the rules, more interested in being interconnected rather than isolated, seek meaning and purpose over metrics, and prioritize possibility over stability and security. We think in non-linear systems, complex webs of relationships, and about dynamic processes more than fixed entities.

C&C Mode allows us to connect with others and empathize with their situation, ideas, and context; to appreciate and learn from cognitive and ethnic diversity; to listen to each other and gain future-forward insights from this empathic attention; to pause, slow down, and reflect on complex problems rather than rush to solve them; to cultivate safe spaces for innovation and change; to come into coherence and cohesion with others; and to co-create ideas with peers that we couldn’t come up with alone.

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In environments that are stable, familiar, predictable, and clear, C&P Mode is a very effective problem-solving mindset: it prevents us from having to exert the enormous emotional and cognitive effort needed to come up with fresh insights and create new ideas consciously. For crossing the road, ironing, doing our taxes, reciting our ABCs, doing everyday calculations, and tweaking an existing production line or algorithm, it is usually a good and efficient fit.

Yet in environments that are rapidly changing, like the VUCA reality we all must deal with, C&P Mode is not a great fit. Linear and task-oriented, it applies existing best practice — derived from technical expertise, historic experience, and (professional) training — to new, emergent, and transformational challenges that nobody has ever solved before. C&P Mode expects neat, incremental, linear, algorithmic tweaks to solve for complex, adaptive problems caused by the powerful evolutionary stressors and adaptive pressures of the digital, disrupted and damaged reality. This is a mismatch.

C&P Mode dooms many smart leaders to end up in failure, as we can see from high-level executives at Kodak and Nokia failing to adapt not just their execution but their entire business model. Smart leaders fail to spot and adapt to change because they lock into a mode that is a mismatch for the moment. C&P Mode did not evolve for empathy (with customers and employees), for listening, for reflecting, for collective sense-making, or for co-creativity.

C&P Mode flattens out potentially salient insights, intuitions and ideas; and drowns out the weak signals of future sources of value that always exist in the present. C&P mode is an epic mismatch for the situations in which we all find ourselves: dealing with epically complex and intense challenges as leaders, and existential risks to our species. When we need to lead the transformation of business models and operating models — as well as our outdated politico-economic system to resolve the four crises of modernity — C&P Mode cannot succeed alone.

Rather than bow down to the wisdom and generative power of C&C Mode though, C&P Mode tends to cling to old ideas as if they were eternal truths. It gets positional and conflictual. It becomes attached to our existing solutions and legacy beliefs, usually based on our successes to date in the workplace. It projects its existing meaning-making framework and organizing narrative onto the world to silence the variations, nuances, and anomalies that presage disruption and transformation. It simply was not evolved to spot the signs and symptoms of what is breaking down (because it is fading from fit); and what is breaking through (because it fits the future better). Using C&P Mode alone guarantees that we will become obsolete in our role — and be disrupted from our market position — eventually.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for the aspiring transformational leader is that all through our education, management training, and the incentive systems, we have been taught to, and rewarded for, getting things right and getting stuff done in C&P Mode. This shift from creativity to control is an understandable and necessary process of maturity. In fact, recent work by Prof. Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that all toddlers start out without much task-based, knowledge-led thinking.

Everything is a glorious and costly (in terms of cognitive energy) experiment to the young child. When we are young, we have a very ‘plastic’ brain that can change and adapt fast as it learns how to walk, talk, and get its needs met. Parents know that this playful creativity and endless experimentation causes many amusing and also frustrating mismatches for grown-ups. The child’s brain is in a disordered state, akin to intense moments of C&C Mode. It has lots of connectivity in local areas, but it is not very efficient. Kids spend a lot of energy on experimentation with new ideas that often don’t work. They are also very emotionally changeable and ‘labile.’ This creates, in the language of information theory, a lot of ‘noise.’

As we grow up, nature has us reduce the amount of noise, experimentation, and creativity so we can focus and get stuff done. Our brains lose some of that local connectivity and neuroplasticity in favor of strong long-distance connections. We shift out of C&C Mode and become more able to spend long periods in C&P Mode: learning, doing tests, delivering answers. The brain becomes more stable and controlled, which helps us do important repetitive tasks — like eating, reading, and using the bathroom — quickly, efficiently, and safely.

The downside of this natural process of maturity is that we lose some of that creativity and agility. This is then exacerbated by an entire equation system that sees only the value of C&P Mode and appears to be ignorant of the importance of C&C Mode to our existence and evolution as a species. Society, schooling, and most training methods — as we will soon see, combined with the long-term impact of Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) and trauma — cause us to move too far into C&P Mode. We then get stuck thinking old thoughts, while Rome — and California and Australia — burn. The world around us is changing too rapidly and too intensely not to become masters at C&C Mode, too: yet our schools and MBA programs poorly develop us for this necessity. We have a lot of muscle in C&P Mode but little muscle in C&C Mode.

Nature is very successful in developing antagonistic pairings. Take our muscles, for example: on each arm we have a bicep and a tricep. But if we only had one or the other, we would move our arm once and never move again. Imagine if your quadriceps muscles were as strong as the young Arnold Schwarzenegger were back in his body-building heyday; but your hamstring muscles were as soft and buttery as a baby’s. How adaptive, agile, and elegant would you be in moving around? Likewise, our two different brain networks work together to provide us with the capacity for transformational leadership.

A transformational leader knows which Mode to use in which moments. When crossing a busy road, you do not want to be in C&C Mode and have a radically-creative brainstorm in a middle of a freeway. You want to be in C&P Mode, using the rules and best practice you learned as a child to survive: look left, look right, look left again, walk! But if we are trying to solve the climate crises — or coming up with a transformational innovation that leverages Artificial Intelligence to scale positive impact to millions of people — then we want to be in C&C Mode, inventing new possibilities.

However, most strategists and senior leaders apply smart thinking C&P Mode to all transformational challenges. This is a mismatch, a lack of fit, and fails the future. We have already seen how hard it is for highly-paid smart managers to buck their decades of training to use C&P Mode for all problem-solving and the devastating impact this can have on business and our planet. If we do not consciously keep and rebuild muscle in C&C Mode, we end up as adults who typically spend very little energy on experimentation.

Instead, most of our time is spent on planning and winning at the ‘game’ of life (C&P Mode tends to see the world as a zero-sum game with winners and losers). We become optimized to win, compete, get stuff done, and perhaps even ‘crush the competition’; yet, over time, lose access to our creative, imaginative selves. We are more emotionally stable and calm but no longer fecund and generative. We need to dare to daydream to be able to adapt to forge the future! I believe that the ideal place for a transformational leader to be is poised between the two Modes, able to use the right one for the challenges we face in any given moment.

Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about being a transformational leader, said, “logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere.” At another point, Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” In other words, knowledge-based C&P Mode will solve a linear, goal-orientated problem very well: one that has a right and a wrong answer. But it is imagination-driven C&C Mode that we need as leaders to imagine new thoughts, have innovative breakthroughs, and lead and land transformations. Einstein went on to say that, “I never came upon any of my discoveries by the process of rational thinking.” Einstein used the divergent thinking and imagination of C&C Mode — like the thought experiment about what it would be like to ride at the speed of light, which allowed him to form the concept of relativity — to come up with transformational ideas that won him the Nobel Prize. He then went back to prove them in C&C Mode with math and scientific rigor. Importantly, C&C Mode has to innovate before C&P Mode evaluates; otherwise, the latter Mode will crush the breakthroughs before they take hold.

 

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