And yet, as the Cognitive Neuroscienes resoundingly demonstrate, the overwhelming majority of our beliefs, mindsets, opinions and choices form and occur well below the surface of our everyday conscious awareness and understanding.
Almost entirely unconsciously, we all continuously edit, delete, cut and paste and take mental short-cuts in our everyday understanding of ourselves and the world. It is not that we are stupid. It is because the ‘evolutionary purpose’ of our brains – and their underlying architecture – is to ensure our survivial in the physical world, not to build up a detailed, accurate and analytical picture of it. And to acheive this remarkable accomplishment of keeping us and our ancestors alive in a dangerous world, the brain has developed an astonishing array of ‘good enough’ approximations, predictions and strategies. That is, our brains are essentially designed to be ‘quick and pragmatic’ rather than ‘deliberate and accurate’.
But the flip-side is that we often allow our unconscious mental processes, maps and perceptions to go unacknowledged and unchallenged, thereby shutting out vast numbers of alternative possibilities and opportunities.
In doing so, we also blind ourselves to the immense unconscious learning abilities, mental processing power, imagination and creativity that we all posses. It’s like driving along with the handbrake on. It is not a question of using either unconscious (automatic) or conscious, rational thinking; rather it is about being able to leverage both/ and according to the task at hand. In other words, to be flexible and agile, using the right cognitive tool for the right practical job.
But while much of the underlying mental models and beliefs which shape our behaviour (often formed many years ago in very different circumstances) stay pretty much unchanged, the world is constantly evolving. The result is in an ever increasing gap between our desired outcomes and our ability to achieve them.
Once we gain a deeper, richer and fuller understanding of how our brains make sense of our environment and turn this into a new vision of ourselves and the world, we gain the power to start embracing and leveraging the brain’s functioning in new ways. That is, to innovate, both individually and collectively. To turn mental models which have passed their sell by dates into empowering and productive belief systems; to come up with the solutions we need both indivdually and collectively.
These new mental models then provide the framework to unleash dormant resources, creativity and capabilities that had simply never previously been required or consciously and systematically called upon or modified. We simply did not realise they were there or fully appreciated their value. Keep the story the same and the results will be the same. Change the story and we can change the outcome.
But perhaps most importantly of all, as we understand more about our brains and how and why they function in the way they do, it can open up a deep and profound appreciation as to just how astonishing our common biological heritage really is. And it is perhaps in embracing this heritage that we all share, that we can find new ways of relating to and interacting with ourselves and each other. That’s where the deep innovation and discovery of new possibilities really occurs.
Ben Elers, founder
The world is going through unprecedented environmental, political, social, economic and technological change which will have a profound impact on us all. Indeed, technological developments (e.g., artificial intelligence and bioengineering) raise deep questions as to what it will mean to be human.
Yet as part of humanity marches headlong into a future which was once considered the realm of science fiction, the vast challenges of issues such as climate change, wars, erosion of trust in political systems and mind-bending levels of inequality remain.
Whether we seek to be a part of the debate about the future or to maximise our ability to play a meaningful role in addressing the enormous challenges of the present, we urgently need new ways of thinking. We need to up our game. This means learning – both individually and collectively – how to use and direct the vast power of our brains more effectively and flexibly, because ultimately this is where all ideas and action begin and end. Those who choose not to do this will simply be left behind.
But most of us have neither the time nor energy to spend years seeking new forms of conscious awareness, or the resources available to the likes of Silicon Valley or the Military to invest in new technologies which heighten our cognitive functioning. So what are we to do?
Drawing on insights from the Cognitive Sciences, adult learning and coaching, Unconscious Innovation seeks to promote simple and effective (“anytime/ anyplace”) tools and techniques which have an out-sized impact on the cognitive functioning and flexibility of those use them and broader society as a whole.
Crucially, my approach is not just theoretical, but is based on living in extremely diverse situations (from Afghanistan to Switzerland), working in a range of fields (from health to anti-corruption) and performing a range of organisational roles (from leadership positions to training). I have worked with companies in a whole range of sectors, international organisations, not for profit organisations and individuals throughout the world.