Humanity is at a crossroads and enlightened leadership is needed. Never in human history has this type of leadership been more important. As the rate of change approaches the speed of light, our leaders face three major challenges:
1. The human brain is not designed for life in the twenty-first century.
2. The intersubjective stories of the past that will no longer work.
3. The story of our future is filled with rapid change (i.e. accelerating expansion).
These challenges must be faced immediately and boldly to move our world forward in a healthy way. We must demand from our leaders a deeper understanding of the true nature of reality: Our new reality is accelerating expansion and it is driving the future story of humanity. They must seize the immense opportunities amid these soluble challenges.
There is, however, reason for optimism. Humanity has overcome every obstacle set before it. We have the ability to feed, clothe, educate, house and provide healthcare for everyone. With our safety and survival needs met, it is possible for us to enter a new era of peace, creativity, prosperity and sustainability. This will take resonant leadership. The following will help light the path.
Leadership Challenge One: Your Stone-Age Brain Needs an Upgrade
Humanity has undergone a radical environmental change. Seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens were an insignificant species of hominids whose numbers had dwindled to an estimated two to three thousand. We slowly crawled out of central Africa and seventy millennia later, we dominate the planet. This transformation occurred in a relative nanosecond on the cosmic timescale.
We are not the biggest, fastest, nor the strongest animal, but we are, by far, the smartest. Our brain evolved over 600 million years in three basic stages, or layers: reptile, mammal and primate. The first layer is the reptilian brain. These structures are at the base of your brain and automatically regulate basic body functions. Your reptile brain keeps you safe by constantly scanning for threats. Your inner-lizard keeps you breathing, runs from bigger animals, eats smaller ones and mates with ones of similar size. It’s a simple life.
The second/middle layer in your nervous system is your mammalian or emotional brain. While the reptile brain moves away from threat, the mammal brain moves toward reward. It is better suited for survival because it seeks greater opportunities in the form of better food and more desirable mates. It is focused on satisfaction. We also see the beginning of complex social structures, playfulness and the nurturing of offspring. Emotions have served mammals extremely well for the last 300 million years, and they still dominate our behavior today.
The human/primate brain is the top layer and is responsible for our advanced intellect and interconnected world. The human brain has tripled in size over the last seven million years, with most of that evolution happening over the last two million. Humans have developed complex social structures that allow us to cooperate flexibly and efficiently in very large groups.
The hallmarks of the human mind are not just flexibility or intelligence, but it is the connections we make with our offspring and each other that set us apart. Few, if any of us, could survive in isolation. We are completely helpless when born and for many years to follow. Our survival requires an astounding amount of time, energy and resources to nurture and develop our young.
This enormous expenditure encourages one to consider the possibility that safety and survival may be secondary to our need for connection. Our most basic need could be resonant relationship. Clearly, the future of humanity will be focused on strengthening our interconnectedness. The ability to foster and enhance these connections will be the hallmark of effective future leaders.
Safety, Satisfaction and Connection: Ingredients for Happiness
Our environment is radically different than that of our not-too-distant ancestors. We are no longer in a state of constant threat due to predators or rugged environments.
There is much more to evolutionary psychology than the safety, satisfaction and connection algorithm, but it is extremely useful. These are the essential components of happiness. Said another way: Peace, contentment and love is what we all seek.
Unfortunately, there is a glitch in the hardware. Our reptile and mammal brain are much more focused on our survival than our interconnected happiness. Rick Hanson in his book Hardwiring Happiness, puts it this way:
“…one of the brain’s major design features for passing on genes [survival] is now a major design flaw, a ‘bug,’ in the twenty-first century.”
The bug is called your negativity bias. Your brain is constantly scanning for threats. It is always asking, “What does this mean to me?” Or, “What’s wrong?” Evolution made the negative much more powerful than the positive, and for good reason. Years ago, one mistake meant you were extricated from the gene pool. It was always better to be safe than sorry. For 600 million years, our brains have kept our genes alive using this programming.
This is where evolved leadership becomes important.
Our inherent negativity bias makes us susceptible to manipulation by individuals who prey on this design flaw for their benefit, or to push their agenda. Our world has significant challenges, but the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that we live in the safest, most abundant and interconnected time in history. The major causes of death, famine, plague and war, have been virtually eliminated. Unfortunately, we are still susceptible to leadership that exploits this “bug” by incessantly focusing on the negative.
The great leaders of the future will tip the scales toward the positive; they will help the world develop a positivity bias, a Humanity Upgrade. This is the opposite of sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring problems. It is about unemotionally identifying the problem, marshaling resources and then focusing on solutions. Dewitt Jones said it best:
“When we focus on what’s right with the world, we have the energy to fix what’s wrong.”
It is time for our leaders to focus on what’s right with the world because there is a lot to focus on. We have the ability to feed, shelter, clothe, educate and medically care for everyone. When we actualize this ability, the world will explode into a new era of sustainability, peace, creativity and happiness.
Leadership Challenge Two: The Intersubjective Stories of Our Past
Our intersubjective stories are what hold the fabric of society together. These stories allow human beings to cooperate flexibly and effectively in very large numbers. History is the study of these stories. As civilization grew, we encountered a multitude of intersubjective stories including religion, slavery, nationalism, militarism, imperialism, industrialization, nuclearization, fascism, communism, liberal democracy, capitalism and consumerism. Many of these stories worked well, some not so well; others were devastating.
During the Enlightenment, science and rational thought became the dominating influence. Our old stories slowly, and often painfully, adapted to new, undeniable and evolving truths. This was not an easy nor steady path. The twentieth century was dominated by two horrific world wars, terrorism and abject poverty. Recently, we have witnessed astounding peace and prosperity. There is overwhelming evidence that humanity is setting a new course of safety, abundance and peaceful interconnectedness. (It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the details of this progress. Please see Humanity Upgrade, Enlightenment Now.)
Many threats and challenges persist; the most notable of these are the rise of nationalism, nuclear war, sustainability, technological disruption and obscene income inequality. Our leaders must face these challenges head-on and help to rewrite these stories in a peaceful, healthy way. Perhaps a completely new story is needed.
Leadership Challenge Three: A New Story is Emerging on Our Planet
As we move through the twenty-first century, there is a new intersubjective story emerging on our planet and that story is one of accelerating expansion. The pace of change is approaching the speed of light and disrupting every aspect of our society. At the turn of the century, we witnessed unparalleled, rapid progress, and this progress is accelerating. Dr. Geoffrey West in his book Scale writes:
“We live in an exponentially expanding socioeconomic urbanized world.”
In 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine. Since then, humanity has experienced astounding progress. From the Industrial Revolution to the now “Age of Transformation,” humanity has seen tremendous advancement.
This progress has been aided by the intersubjective stories of enlightenment, capitalism and consumerism. We have come to expect more from everyone and everything. The consumer is king, and he is not giving up his throne any time soon. We demand exchange in abundance with more and more value added to every interaction. The mega-successful companies of the twenty-first century are leading the way in this regard. They are household names because they have internalized accelerating expansion and exchange in abundance.
The intersubjective story of capitalism/consumerism is perhaps the most compelling in history. It has dominated the world for the last seventy-five years. This has been, for the most part, a productive story. It has lifted most of the world’s population out of abject poverty, stimulated amazing progress, fostered medical breakthroughs and been the greatest disincentive to military conflict in human history.
Leaders today must be progressive. They must internalize accelerating expansion and adopt the philosophy of exchange in abundance. We will not accept any other strategy. These fundamentally different times need innovative solutions.
The Solution: These are Fundamentally Different Times for Humanity
Just like the layers of our brain, this new story for humanity, accelerating expansion, is layered on top of old stories. The following are just a few of the many examples that demonstrate why accelerating expansion is an accurate depiction of reality:
1. The study of human history, in the context of the time scale of the universe, makes accelerating expansion abundantly clear. We are in the midst of a rapid environmental change. Modern society has developed in the literal blink of an eye when we look at the full depth and breadth of history.
2. Technological progress is accelerating at an astounding rate. Knowledge is doubling every twelve to thirteen months. Automation, digitization, block chain, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are disrupting the status quo monthly. Automation is eliminating the drudgery of backbreaking, mindless tasks, while AI is replacing humans in many advanced intellectual skills. You can access all the world’s information in the palm of your hand and disseminate a new idea globally, all with the touch of a screen. This was science fiction a generation ago.
3. One of the greatest discoveries in science history gives anecdotal support for accelerating expansion. Just twenty years ago, astrophysicists discovered that we live in a universe that is expanding at an accelerating rate. Accelerating expansion is the true nature of our physical reality.
You have probably witnessed multiple examples of accelerating expansion in your daily life. How do we lead ourselves through the twenty-first century and this millennium in a healthy way?
The Future of Leadership: Resonant Relationship
Resonant relationship, through enlightened leadership, is the only predictable way to move our world forward in a healthy way. Resonant leaders will encourage a higher level of interconnectedness by being innovative, transparent, honest and competent. They understand our new reality and will navigate it in healthy and productive ways.
The old methods of leadership were effective in the relatively slow-moving past, but they will no longer work in this new Age of Transformation. There is a new algorithm that accurately describes our new reality: accelerating expansion – accumulating knowledge – rising complexity. This is the new story we must adopt if we want to create a more evolved, safer, abundant and interconnected world.
This is a broad-strokes overview, but it is essential in understanding the new paradigm our leaders must navigate. The challenge they face is that rising complexity and rapid change create extraordinary levels of stress and uncertainty. In times of overwhelming stress, we tend to revert to the past. We look to our old, familiar stories. Because of this, many people will feel left behind. They will be susceptible to manipulation due to their innate negativity bias. Resonant leaders must not allow this to happen.
We must do our part by taking personal responsibility. We must reject leaders who would take us backwards by manipulating our evolutionary glitch, or who waste time and resources with petty distractions. These are fundamentally different times that require better leadership and solutions. Resonant leaders must embrace accelerating expansion to move us forward in a healthy way.
The resonant leaders of the future will encourage an optimism bias, based on the facts of our amazing progress. They will instill confidence by accurately identifying resources prior to aggressively engaging with challenges. They will help us navigate these fundamentally different times. Resonant leaders will encourage us to engage in the solution, rather than be stuck in the problem. They will demand exchange in abundance from us, our government and all its institutions. There is no predictable progress outside the context of a resonant relationship. Resonant leaders are the only way for us to move forward in a healthy, predictable and sustainable way.
As our leaders adopt accelerating expansion as the organizing principle of life, they will be equipped to help us move forward in a healthy way. Through resonant relationship, they will create an environment of trust, safety and abundance. With this type of consensus, they will lead us to a safer, happier, healthier and more interconnected world. Optimism bias will replace negativity bias. We will proactively marshal resources to face challenges. Rising complexity, accumulating knowledge and accelerating expansion will continue to be our new story. Humanity will move forever forward in a peaceful, contented and interconnected way.