I am beginning to be glad I am such a dummy. Have you noticed how the smart guys really screw things up? All those smart guys in Washington got us into a war in Iraq. Oops, no weapons of mass destruction. All those smart guys on Wall Street bought into the mortgage mess. Oops, the mortgages weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. All those smart guys in the Silicon Valley convinced themselves that IPO’s of pre-revenue startups were a great investment. Oops, the tech bubble bursts.
Ever since the Age of Reason, we have convinced ourselves that we are rational human beings. The central concept is that reason should overrule emotion. So, we rationalize everything, convincing ourselves that our rational mind is in charge. Our leaders – government and corporate -- are no more or less immune to this phenomenon than are we. To make matters worse, we are now converting our best reasoning into software, moving to a society ruled by algorithms. Wall Street runs their trading operations by computer. Computers write news reports for Forbes magazine. And, Wal-Mart’s computers automatically generate orders to their suppliers when their stock runs low.
Now, the math geniuses behind this trend are preparing us for robots that will clean our houses (think Roomba on steroids) and cars that will drive themselves.
We can’t trust the tech industry with our credit card numbers. Now, we are going to have them drive our kids to school?
All of this is going on within the context of recent studies of brain science that suggest we are not simply moved by math. We are motivated by emotion and our success is a function of the human cocktail that blends both sides of the brain.
|Karl Albrecht, Ph.D|
I had been thinking about this when someone sent me a link to Psychology Today’s website. The blog post (Brain Snacks), written by Karl Albrecht, Ph.D. delineated recent presidents along the lines of the type of thinker they are. It divided them into two spheres – left brain is Blue and right brain is Red. And, it further identified the high concept thinkers (Sky) and the pragmatists (Earth). So, there are four possible combinations.
Dr. Albrecht is careful to disclaim any notion that he is certain of his analysis. After all, he hasn’t examined the “patients”. That said, he believes he has had enough opportunity to observe the style of recent presidents to reach some tentative conclusions. Ronald Reagan was both a Red Earth and a Red Sky. Bill Clinton, a Red Sky. Big thinkers with a vision, he says.
Not so, the current contenders to be our nation’s chief executive. Obama, according to Albrecht, is a Blue Earth thinker while Romney is likely a Red Earth. “If you’re hoping for a Reaganesque ‘new America’ narrative, for example, don’t hold your breath,” says the good doctor. “Whoever wins, it’ll be all about tools and tool belts.”
He goes a step further and claims that even the programs that the two candidates propose will not matter a whole lot. “Very few of them will survive the first collision with the Congress and the lobbyists,” he says. “Ultimately, what matters is the individual leader’s ability to deploy his or her particular kind of intelligence, and his or her cognitive orientation, in a way that can mobilize people and resources to get the big things done.”
I have reported on the writings of Stratfor founder George Friedman in the past (Hey, We Had a Deal... Didn't We?). He has observed that we have had a crisis that gave rise to a strategic president who made big changes to the way we are governed about every 50 years. Most recently, it was Ronald Reagan. Friedman does not suggest any reasons that it’s 50 years. He just makes the observation.
I had been hoping that the current crisis might give rise to a strategic presidency – one which would make big sweeping changes to our entitlement programs, our fiscal circumstance and our social policies -- someone who might shorten the 50 year cycle. But, if Dr. Albrecht is correct, we’ll have to wait a little longer. Pragmatists like Obama and Romney are not guided by ideology. They focus on what can get done.
What they can get done is important. However, how they LEAD is more so. Reagan was able to convince Democrats to vote against their own interests. Clinton forged a path contrary to his party’s ideology on trade and fiscal matters. Bush imprinted our nation with a new security paradigm following 9/11.
So, what happens next? Can either of the current candidates LEAD us to a more sustainable economic future? Or, should we just find an algorithm to do the job?