Chimp Management

Back from the year-end break I bought a book for our Global Industrials team members in London entitled “The Chimp Paradox“ by Steve Peters. Mr. Peters offers a simplified model of the inner functioning of the brain, “the most complex structure in the universe“, which is relevant to increase individual performance and productivity. It relies upon three components, each of which has its own agenda and modus operandi:

  • The “Human“’, who is located in the brain’s frontal lobe, is associated with logical thinking and works with facts and truth. It has a sense of purpose and can act intentionally

  • The “Chimp“, who sits in the primitive limbic system, represents the part of our brain linked to survival instincts. It represents an independent emotional thinking machine and works with feelings and impressions. The Chimp is insecure. He tends to make assumptions based on defensive thoughts and to jump to conclusions. Depending upon the situation, the Chimp can be paradoxically our best friend (life saver) or our best enemy (negative reaction/feeling), hence the title of the book (by the way, the limbic system gains a lot of power relative the frontal lobe during the teen years as explained here)

  • The “Computer“, which thinks and acts automatically according to programmed values, beliefs and behaviors, is situated in the parietal system. Both the Chimp and the Human can program the Computer, and then access it as a reference source to make decisions. A “mindset“ representing behaviors and beliefs guiding the approach to life is embedded in the Computer

This is how the interplay between these three systems work based on Mr. Peters’ model:

  • Under normal circumstances, the brain operates on autopilot through the Computer, with a relaxed Chimp and Human. From a performance perspective, this has the benefit of saving energy since the Computer works four times faster than the Chimp and twenty times faster than the Human

  • Because nature made the Chimp fast and strong to preserve life, any new external input goes to the Chimp first

  • Faced with an extreme danger, the hypersensitive Chimp will hold the blood supply to the brain. Three primal responses will instantaneously be prompted by a rush of adrenalin: Fight, flight or freeze

  • If the danger or threat is less severe (e.g. threat to status, ego or territory as opposed to threat to life), the Chimp will look into the Computer. If no reassurance is provided by the Computer’s programs (“yes it is unfair, but such is life—no point in getting too excited”) or database (“don’t worry, we have experienced this before”), the Chimp will hijack the brain, which typically leads to a disproportionate reaction, unwelcomed feelings and overall a waste of energy; If instead reassured by the Computer, the Chimp will hand over to the Human or back to the Computer which can return to autopilot

  • If the Chimp hijacks the brain, the Human can intervene and seek to reason with the Chimp using facts and truth. This may be effective but generally relies on a slow process and is highly energy-consuming because this is essentially a fight between the Chimp and the Human which the Computer was not armed to prevent

  • Gains in productivity represent a significant source of competitive advantage in any industry, especially in today’s world. Based on Mr. Peters’ model, how to increase human performance? Two ways are available to the Human

Gains in productivity represent a significant source of competitive advantage in any industry, especially in today’s world. Based on Mr. Peters’ model, how to increase human performance? Two ways are available to the Human:

  1. The Human can program the Computer to include normalizing rules such as “life can be unfair—there is no point in getting too excited about it”, “change happens all the time—better get used to it” or “of course the goal posts always move—don’t be surprised”. Such programming of the Computer will help stop the Chimp in its tracks a split second (less than 0.2s on a brain scanner) after the Computer is solicited by the Chimp as the Chimp is confronted with a threat (unfairness or unwelcomed change). As a result, the energy-preserving Computer will retain control of the blood flow and, as this virtuous process gets successfully repeated, becomes the dominant operating system

  2. If the Computer fails to stop the Chimp from hijacking the brain, the Human should focus immediately on hard core facts, figures and familiar aspects of the situation to calm the Chimp down in the most efficient and effective way

It’s all about Computer programming and Chimp Management… One just needs to be aware of it.

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