Most of us, most of the time operate on "rules of thumb" - mental shortcuts that simplify complex decision-making processes.
These shortcuts are necessary in daily living because our brains have a limited energy supply and rational thinking is a high-energy, time-consuming process.
The brain runs on about 40 watts of power (a lightbulb!)Greg Berns, Iconoclast
The idea that human beings take all relevant information into account all the time - making their decisions thoughtfully and rationally - is a piece of 20th century marketing fiction.
Over millennia, the human brain has evolved to rely on quick decision-making tools in a fast-moving and uncertain world and in many contexts those heuristics lead us to make better decisions than exact calculations would do.Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics
But our heuristics aren't ALWAYS helpful - and they can often get a) dated OR b) over-ridden by our unconscious biases.
Combine this limited energy supply with millenia of evolution as tribal hunter-gatherers - being hunted ourselves by bigger, more dangerous predators - and it's not surprising that we act first, automatically avoid "risk"- and think later.
Part of our biological inheritance is a pre-disposition towards anxiety and risk aversion - because those of us who worried that the rustle in the long grass was a sabertooth tiger lived longer.
So, by default, we worry far more about what we could lose today than what we might enjoy or suffer tomorrow. Our decision-making is NOT always logical - just count the smokers gathered outside any hospital.
Future existential threat does NOT change human behaviour!Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown
There are 6 social heuristics that influence our behaviour, according to psychologist and bestselling author Robert Cialdini. They happen automatically and can strongly influence
(See an introductory video on Cialdini's influencing principles here)
Any time we face a complex problem, our response is heavily influenced by what's happened in the lead up to our response.
This is another piece of wisdom from Robert Cialdini, explained in his recent book Pre-suasion.
Extensive research has demonstrated that the "frame" that you create before you put your case, request or offer is probably MORE important than what you actually pitch. (Video summary here.)
Pre-suasion provides a wealth of insight. One that's particularly useful is:
What's focal is perceived as causal.Robert Cialdini, Pre-suasion
If every message you're presented with on global warming bemoans the lack of government action then guess what? Despite the evidence of:
The chances are you're never going to think through issues like:
Framing is powerful - and can be compellingly mis-directing. (If you don't know about it, you're probably being trapped by it.)
That's the current human operating system.
It's probably less than ideal for our complex, post-industrial operating environment.
We probably don't have time to do some miracle upgrade.
AND we want a better future - a cleaner, smarter, fairer safer future.
How could you capitalise on what we now know about human neuroeconomics, heuristics, framing and cognition?
How could you work smarter in reversing the urgent environmental and social issues that degenerative 20th century systems have created?
Firstly, how will you apply this awareness to check whether your own heuristics are working for you?
If you want climate action, a regenerative "Doughnut" economy and fairer society then what are you prepared to learn to do differently?
What could you apply from what we know about perception and influencing to get more action with less effort, frustration and despair?
(Is it ethical? Ethics is about HOW you do what you do and HOW you align your actions with your values. Any powerful tool can be used or abused. What you can be absolutely sure of is that you're surrounded by human beings - who operate heuristically. So someone's heuristics - intentional or not - are always at play.)
This ABC Hot Mess Podcast on Human Frailties is an interesting discussion with an Australian perspective.
Andrew O’Keeffe’s book Hardwired Humans could be an useful introduction to help you think about human wiring in the corporate world.
George Marshall's climate-specific book Don't Even Think About It is issue-specific analysis of why engaging on global warming is such a challenge.
I keep a list of some of the other tools, insights and understandings I find powerful here.
We're not in an environmental mess because we don't have better, smarter, safer options.
We've been building technology solutions for over a century. Solar panels have been around since the 1880s and EVs were already on the market in the early 1900s.
Powerful systems solutions and smarter implementation practices have been developing for decades - at least since the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972.
The underlying reason we're in an environmental mess is that the self-protecting human systems we call “business” and “the economy” have been stuck in 19th century design thinking for way too long.
The same evolutionary biological forces that make mature forests stable ecosystems also impact human behaviour.
We don’t have time to upgrade the global human psyche.
And we don't have to.
Instead, if we leverage the leading edge of the expanding “soft tech” revolution, we can make the improvements we need to make with the human race we currently have.
Following quietly behind the Information Revolution is a whole new world of human understanding. Some examples include:
When we acknowledge what the human race is (and especially what it ISN'T) - then we can get on with the job, applying the wealth of solutions we already have.
It's time to take a good dose of Radical Acceptance, then get to work applying the best solutions from fields as disparate as Systems Thinking and Generative Innovation.
Within multiple disciplines - old and new - the tools exist that can help us make the human systems changes that will regenerate the ecosystems we need to survive.
You win anyway, regardless of how the future develops.
The skills that will shift us more rapidly to a smarter, safer, fairer Regenerative Economy will also enhance your relationships, your career and your working life.
Because the overall ability to get things done in human groups will help you thrive in any environment - from corporate jungle to rural outpost.
I've been building a library of resources on both Regenerative Business solutions and Innovation Delivery skills for years, and now I'm building this blog - An Inconvenient Species - to explore the human in the global warming equation further.
If you'd like to be part of making a world where our Inconvenient Species thrives along with the rest of nature, then sign up for updates to get ideas in your inbox.