Sunday, October 7, 2012

This Is Your Brain… This Is Your Brain in the White House

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.”

George Friedman
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?


  1. Ken Mayeaux • I for one am ready for some Red Earth. In my humble opinion, all the Blue has resulted in a loss of a lot of Green ($$$$) and we need to look to the Earth we stand on and develop the resources of this amazing country. Our future does not lie in trying to be like everyone else in the world, we are unique. However, there are those among us that feel that just because the Creator launched us with a sense of equality, we should strive to pull everyone down to the lowest level among us instead of allowing those that want to rise to the top to do so. He also put us in this amazing place so that we could develop our talents, take care of ourselves, and give a hand up to those in need, no all rollover and wait to be fed. We cannot do that if we are being told and we come to believe that we are not unique and we are not special.

    If you want to see what a Blue Earth country looks like, just keep watching Venezuela. Their recent election was totally corrupted by Hugo Chavez as he continues to increase his strangle hold on the people of that country. There was a glimmer of hope that the opposition just might be able to mount a significant challenge to HC, but at last, he has become too firmly entrenched into and in control of every facet of the Venezuelan government. More voters registered than there are actual voters, millions upon millions spent on "giveaways" to his base (the poor) in the year leading up to election, and almost total control of the media to limit the exposure and the ability of his opponent to get his message out (any of this sound familiar).

    In response to the concept of a Regeanesque kind of President (Red Earth/Red Sky), I think our country needs to get back to the tenants of the Red Earth before we can once again look to the Red Sky ........

    Lots of food for thought here John ...... thanks for the brain stimulus after the big "Indigenous Day" celebration ........

  2. Thanks John. You certainly tease the senses…or is that the “census”. Anyway, although you point out some interesting items, I personally feel that in the US, we are at a juncture where ideology will be even more long term impacting than simply pragmatism in the way we implement recovery. And even when it comes down to pragmatism in design and execution, we have already experienced the Obama approach which is now trying to revive itself by saying that he is more like Clinton but just came into office during a hurricane which is now moving out to sea, so NOW, we can finally in the next 4 years get something done.

    Even if the Obama agenda is “in the sunshine”, which there continue to be discovered repeated signs that this is not so or his efforts are just simply out of control, it is bearing fruit that is distasteful to what I think are the foundations of America. Obama is certainly not Martin Luther King in seeking to bring people together peacefully in the spirit of freedoms void of prejudice; he is certainly not John Kennedy in professing “ask not what your country can do for you….”; he is certainly not Ronald Reagan’s successful economic rejuvenation theories and reinvigorating the American spirit; and he is certainly not Bill Clinton in his ability to understand how to balance a budget and the implications to our children and our long term strength as a leading global influencer if we do not (interesting how quickly many American’s forget the other oddities of the Clinton administration but I think he has and planned reentry as he outlived the growing electorate); and he is not an FDR who believed in maintaining strength on a global basis while doing what it takes to stabilize and revitalizing the economy back home and to get out house in order.

    Anyway, if reelected, the next 4 more years may become dog years in the evolution of our country, both economically and ideologically, depending upon who is elected. I do believe the ideological approach taken will impact significantly the pragmatic approach taken.

    All the best,


  3. Robert Spencer • Really like the new article, John. I especially liked the introduction of the concept or left and right brain thing as well as the thinker/doer perspective.

    Perhaps the only thing I am left wondering is if those Presidents really had the goals they said they did or were they looking to do things a little different and they used their rhetoric as cover. Unfortunately, that is something we may never really know.

  4. John, Thanks for another insightful article. If only the masses could read and understand half of what you have discussed, there "might" be a revolution. Unfortunately, that is highly unlikely. I for one, have had it and at 71 am ready to just kick back, fish, surf and enjoy the sun, in Panama!

  5. Don't forget all the smart bankers and Wall St brokers. War and depression. That's some fix the smart guys got us into.
    Posted by Robert Bregman

  6. Robert Bregman • Don't forget all the smart bankers and Wall St brokers. War and depression. That's some fix the smart guys got us into.

  7. George Korchowsky • A word from the classics: "Hubris". GWB had a lot of it. He had Cheney coaching International Affairs, and Cheney had the Oil and Gas lobby and the K Street neoconservatives coaching him and cheering him on. The GWB/Cheney administration was sorely bereft of experienced ex-military civilians in senior position, and had under estimated the real cost of a war of choice (not necessity) in Iraq.

    As "bold" as the neocons wanted to be, they did not have much more than their narrow interests at heart. More ideological and corporate driven, than common sense and value driven.