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 Regeneration starts now.

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.

Anxiety rules

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

Social factors loom large

There are 6 social heuristics that influence our behaviour, according to psychologist and bestselling author Robert Cialdini. They happen automatically and can strongly influence

  1. Reciprocity - if someone gives us something, we are wired to give them something back.
  2. Scarcity - if something becomes less available, we want it more.
  3. Authority - we listen to people who we believe have credible experience and knowledge.
  4. Consistent - we like to be consistent with things we have previously said or done.
  5. Liking - we say yes to people we like, who are like us, and who have similar aspirations to us.
  6. Consensus - we are more likely to do what other people have previously done, and use other peoples' action as our guide.

(See an introductory video on Cialdini's influencing principles here)

How something's framed changes how we respond to it

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 smartphone in your pocket or purse (delivered by tech entrepreneurs)
  • The social platforms you're reading this on (delivered by tech entrepreneurs)
  • The cars outside your house (first delivered to the masses by industrial entrepreneur Henry Ford).

The chances are you're never going to think through issues like:

  • It's mostly industry that build and deliver the products and services we use every day
  • Our industrial design is based on degenerative 1-way mindsets.
  • Disruptive industrial innovation at scale is generally delivered by radical business entrepreneurs.

Framing is powerful - and can be compellingly mis-directing. (If you don't know about it, you're probably being trapped by it.)

Humans are powerfully, unconsciously influenced by our heuristics and HOW something is communicated

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.

So how do we work better with what we've got?

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?

Where could YOUR heuristics be leading you astray?

Firstly, how will you apply this awareness to check whether your own heuristics are working for you?

  • Has "what's focal is causal" caused you to believe that government action is the fundamental, necessary solution for reversing global warming?
  • Has fear of looking gullible contributed to limiting your action?
  • Are assumptions about "rational human behaviour" limiting your persuasive capacity?

How could YOU be a smarter influencer by leveraging the heuristics of those around 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.)

Sources and resources

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.

The real inconvenient truth is...

We're an inconvenient SPECIES!

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.

What's really going on?

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.

It's time to work WITH that reality...

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:

  • Psychology, from "The Diffusion of Innovations" to "The Psychology of Persuasion".
  • Marketing, from "Crossing the Chasm" to "Don't Make Me Think"
  • Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics
  • Social Psychology.

It's easier when you acknowledge ANY reality

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.

And that doesn't just make a better world

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.

Follow the journey

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.