Written by: Barry Borgerson, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Grave Peril and Great Promise
A Fork in the Road! We have hit a fundamental fork in the road due to unstoppable technology advances where maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. We all have hidden automatic mental contexts that have become so crucial to our widespread prosperity and well-being that we will not have a successful future in many important ways unless we learn to understand them comprehensively and manage them systematically. We indeed live in a time of grave peril but also of potentially great promise. By following a systematic path, we can periodically transform our problem-solving and realities-creating mental “lenses” to avoid the success-destroying peril of being stuck in old mindsets and succumbing to technology-enabled constructions of delusional beliefs. Conquering this contextualizing part of the mind will also create the emancipating promise of a better future than we ever experienced. This article describes that path, discusses where we are in the West, and shows how to transform to gain a competitive advantage in the 21st century.
Introduction: Conquering Auto-Contexts Is the Key to Restarting Widespread Prosperity and Well-Being
The Next Level of Understanding and Managing Human Nature
Learning to Manage the Foibles of Human Nature: Why does change remain so difficult and profoundly slow in our digital era when we need to make deep changes increasingly often? Why do so many people become easy victims to purveyors of simplistic solutions that satisfy their desire for success without providing the success they desire? Why do people increasingly believe manifestly false assertions? Human nature evolved in such a way that crucial parts of it have eluded effective understanding and therefore systematic management – until now!
Seemingly Disjoint Aspects of Human Nature: You may be surprised to learn that for many aspects of human nature that you have probably noticed or at least know something about that your understanding of what they mean and how they work varies from solid to vague to minuscule. Here are some examples.
Paradigms and paradigm shifts
Business cultures and culture changes
Worldviews and worldview transformations
Revolutionary (as opposed to normal) science
The Science Revolution and the Enlightenment of the West
A mysterious untethered second form of “truth”
Beliefs (vs. thoughts)
Changes of kind and not degree
Cult conversions and political brainwashing
Disinformation and Big Lies
Disruptive thinking, social models, institutional frameworks, conceptual and operating models, assumptions of operating teams
Many Incarnations of Auto-Contexts: All of the above topics are incarnations of the same process hidden in the deep recesses of the mind that few investigators have previously identified. That mental mechanism, which produces what I model as auto-contexts (automatic contextual frameworks), is what we now must explicitly understand and directly manage. If we don’t, our current widespread ignorance of this uniquely human property will create an existential threat to many positive aspects of our previous way of life. Fortunately, conquering auto-contexts opens up amazing new possibilities for us not just to reverse many of our growing problems but to create grand new benefits similar to what happened after the West’s Science/Enlightenment Revolution. The underlying foundation of the greatness aspects of the modern West occurred because our predecessors indirectly struggled through a multi-century process of transforming the foundational auto-context for the West. Now, we must go through a similar transformation. Leaders, businesses, and even countries that transform their overarching auto-context first and learn to make periodic and systematic transformations will gain many competitive advantages.
Winning in the 21st Century
The Modern West Had an Unfair Competitive Advantage for Two Centuries: In many important ways, the West won the last third of the 18th century, the 19th century, and the first two thirds of the 20th century because of the Science/Enlightenment Revolution that reached maturity around 1770. However, over the last four decades, the West’s unfair competitive advantage has systematically eroded because other advanced societies cracked the code on how to use science and build technologies and products very effectively. As a dramatic example, in 1978, I was privileged to be an invited member of the first delegation of computer experts from the United States to visit China. They were just coming out of their disastrous Cultural Revolution and the state of their technology expertise was very primitive, so they read our articles and invited us to visit them as part of an effort to jumpstart their technology progress. Now, just over four decades later, they are a technology juggernaut comparable to what we produce in the US and the rest of the West.
What Is the Key to Gaining an Unfair Competitive Advantage Now to Win the 21st Century? “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off,” President Joseph Biden said on June 8, 2021 discussing a bipartisan bill to boost technology competitiveness. Biden made that statement with regard to US government investment in technology development to level the playing field with other countries and particularly China, but winning the 21st century requires that other leaders follow an additional path. We in the US, the rest of the West, and now in many other advanced parts of the world including China are very good at developing technologies. However, no countries are adequate yet in systematically managing the human-nature ramifications of these Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. That fundamental inadequacy is leading to the systemic descent of the West on many aspects of our previous greatness including our widespread prosperity through reliable business successes. However, we can follow a discontinuously new path that will halt our decline and empower us to achieve a greater, more systematic future than we ever previously attained. Countries that accomplish this top-level auto-context transformation early will achieve a new unfair competitive advantage over other countries that miss this wave – they will have the best chance to win the 21st century!
The State of America: Problems related to automatic human activities are not confined to business and prosperity – our most visible dysfunctions reside in our self-governing systems. On July 4, 2021, the CNN program GPS hosted by Fareed Zakaria presented a special report on the “State of America." Pulitzer prize winning historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham were guest contributors. When I use quotes from Zakaria, Goodwin, or Meacham in this article, they will come from that special report. Meacham: “I hate to say it because of the way the decade turned out, but I think we're in the 1850s in America. I think you have a dedicated minority of the population...who are no longer part of a coherent and constructive and good intentioned conversation about the future of the country.” That 1850s breakdown of our political system ended in the conflagration of the Civil War. As Meacham points out, our political system is falling apart again. However, you will see in this article cohesive, constructive, and good intentioned ways to resurrect the functioning of representative forms of government (democracies, republics) – the noble self-governing experiment launched as part of creating the modern West with the establishment of the US two and half centuries ago.
Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Certainties-Producing Auto-Contexts
Our Realities-Creating Mental “Lenses”: The most consequential aspect of the automatic mode of human activities is the hidden realties-creating and perception-framing mental “lenses” through which we understand the world about us and manage the many previously mysterious problems as outlined in the article Our Mysterious Problem-Solving Deficiencies. These deficiencies have created an existential crisis in our prospects for systematic success achievements, prosperity improvements, and well-being maintenance. To make the progress we desperately want, we must learn to understand and manage crucial aspects of human nature that we have avoided until now.
We Must Focus on Our Automatic Activities: My Brainz Magazine article, It’s All in Your Mind: A Systematic Path to Transform Behavior and Culture Habits, demonstrated that we all operate in two distinct modes. We can usefully understand these two modes by modeling our activities as occurring due to two distinct “selfs.” We have our familiar, transparent thinking mode that is where we formulate and sometimes can execute our intentions, which for convenience we refer to as our thinking-self. However, we also have an unfamiliar, opaque automatic mode that operates independent of our intentions, which we can learn to understand and manage effectively if we view it as the involuntary actions of our auto-self.
2Selfs Theory: Once we explicitly recognize the existence of our auto-self, we have the opportunity to understand comprehensively and manage systematically this previously mysterious aspect of human nature that evolution has bequeathed us but kept hidden from our normal awareness. Part of that understanding is identifying the four types of auto-self activities:
1. Auto-Contexts: The frustratingly elusive (we don’t notice them) and devastatingly illusive (they confuse and often deceive us) auto-self type that is the topic of this article.
2. Auto-Behaviors: Automatic behavior habits including failure to take needed actions consistently and displaying behaviors that negatively impact those around us.
3. Auto-Skills: Rapid actions without thinking-self direction or attention. They act in sports, musical performances, and nonverbal (evocative) communications. Auto-skills also provide crucial parts of language processing and perform complex image processing. At work, auto-skills play a key leadership role in motivating others through effective interpersonal communications and public speaking.
4. Auto-Expertise: Detects patterns and relationships in familiar, complex situations and presents “intuitive” results to the thinking-self. When former GE CEO Jack Welch spoke of making “gut” decisions, he referred to what we model at the mental level as auto-expertise.
Human Ramifications of Escalating Technology Disruptions: The onrush of technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution is overwhelming our current naïve abilities to manage their unintended consequences effectively in our businesses and elsewhere. Also, technology-enabled manipulations will continue destroying the participative political and governing systems of countries that fail to mentally inoculate their citizens against such dysfunctions. Advanced societies, and that certainly includes the West, will not have positive futures unless they conquer the many ramifications of auto-contexts!
The Abilities Mismatch Has Now Overwhelmed Us: All current advanced societies have a fundamental disparity that has recently emerged and is growing between the widespread capability to manage thinking-self-based activities and the chronic lack of ability to manage the auto-self ramifications this thinking-self prowess has unleashed. I call this the “Abilities Mismatch.” To take a West-centric view, the empowering results of the combined Science/Enlightenment Revolution emancipated our thinking-self and launched the modern West about two and half centuries ago. Prof. Klaus Schwab, founder and perennial chair of the World Economic Forum, indirectly frames this issue in his prescient book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which he identifies the accelerating arrival of a wide range of technologies. For our purposes, he also identifies many fundamental inadequacies business leaders, and therefore the businesses they run, have for accommodating this rising tsunami of technologies.
Escaping the West’s Doomed Cultural Revolution
We Do Have a Way Out of This Mental Trap: The Abilities Mismatch is fundamental and has caused us to reach a point where incremental progress can no longer head off a systemic descent. Human nature might have evolved in such a way that we could not escape this trap we have blindly stumbled into. In that case, we would likely face the continuing demise of many of our previous successful ways of life. Fortunately, there is a way out of this trap but it will require another mental revolution of the same magnitude as the Science/Enlightenment revolution that launched the modern West.
The Third Industrial Revolution Was Inherently Self-Destructing: The foundational technology of the Third Industrial Revolution, which the World Economic Forum identifies as launching in 1969, was digital semiconductors. Unlike steam and electricity technologies and the products they spawned of the first two industrial revolutions, semiconductors had the unprecedented property of producing huge year-over-year and decade-over-decade improvements of performance while lowering costs. This led to an explosion of computing, information processing, and communications technologies and products. These new technology capabilities impact us in business, politics, values, and other aspects of our lives. The Abilities Mismatch emerged because we can no longer successfully accommodate the disruptions caused by these digital technologies unless we learn to manage their auto-self and particularly their auto-context ramifications. If we fail to acknowledge and take direct action to overcome this structural Abilities Mismatch, the widespread successes, prosperity, well-being, and self-government we in the West had enjoyed for so long will continue to atrophy.
America’s Version of China’s Cultural Revolution: To understand our current difficult situation in the West, it is helpful to relate it to China’s Cultural Revolution. By 1966, Mao Zedong’s power was waning as the centrally-controlled economy was following the reliable highly seductive but repeatedly destructive path because it violates human-nature. To head off the rise of market economies that would breathe life into the Chinese economy but contradict his communist agenda, Mao and his subservient acolytes launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution to satisfy his insatiable need for power and regain solid control of the government. This resulted in a decade of antiscience and anti-prosperity suffering throughout China. When I visited China in 1978, the professors I met with at their universities had just recently returned from the farms to which they had been exiled. The West is going through a similar Cultural Revolution based on the human-nature flaw due to the Abilities Mismatch. In the US on January 6, 2021, we saw a pied piper, to satisfy his insatiable need for power (and with the help of many subservient acolytes), attempt to retain power after being voted out of office in a free and fair election. He incited his version of Red Guards (or Brown Shirts) to storm the US Capitol in an attempted coup by trying to stop the time-honored and constitutionally mandated peaceful transfer of power. This Cultural Revolution, like China’s, ignores science, which creates huge negative consequences – in this case for the coronavirus and global warming. Today, China pretends to be a communist country whereas in reality “Communist” is just the name of the single-party dictatorship that for economic progress has relied on market-economy reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping after the collapse of their devastating Cultural Revolution. No amount of antiscience dysfunctions, pandering to white grievances in a growing multicultural world, constructing delusional beliefs in voters, or rigging elections will extricate the US and indeed the West from its current descent. We are unstable now due to the structural Abilities Mismatch, but successes and well-being in the US and the rest of the “free” world including the whole West cannot withstand a long-term regressive Cultural Revolution like China suffered through. We need an emancipating mental revolution!
Resurrecting and Exceeding the Greatness Aspects of the West: From a technology-disruption standpoint, the Fourth Industrial Revolution that Schwab identifies will exacerbate the problems unleashed by the Third Industrial Revolution. We have been trying to solve the Abilities Mismatch, particularly in business, using the proverbial “finger in the dyke” approach by identifying “soft” success factors to try to manage the auto-self ramifications indirectly. Fortunately, we now have a way to create a future even greater than anything we previously experienced by learning to manage our auto-self directly. Conquering auto-contexts is the necessary path to resurrecting and exceeding the greatness aspects of the West because explicitly understanding and directly managing auto-contexts will create discontinuously new capabilities to establish progressive leadership careers, repeated successes for businesses, functioning representative governments, and advances in many other aspects of life.
Roadmap for this Article on the Imperative to Understand and Manage Auto-Contexts
Feel-Good Simplistic Solutions Create a Path to Failure: You can follow the easy path by not reading anything or by only reading articles or books that provide feel-good simplistic solutions. In today’s digital world, there is no systematic, reliable success path forward without expending the effort to understand and manage auto-contexts. In many aspects of life and business today, you will increasingly fall behind those who invest the effort to understand and manage automatic human activities. That is particularly true for auto-contexts.
Auto-Contexts Create the Foundation for Successes and Well-Being: As we learn more about the hidden intricacies of human nature through 2Selfs Theory, we can now understand that the glue that holds societies together and creates the foundation for prosperity and well-being is the set of auto-contexts that societies construct and propagate. Parts 2-7 of this article provide an overview of different important aspects of auto-contexts starting with some fundamentals and then looking at specific areas of our life that will benefit greatly when we learn to conquer auto-contexts in their many incarnations. My subsequent Brainz Magazine articles will expand on several of these key topics. Finally, Part 8, which we broke into two segments to make it easier for you to work through it, examines the big picture of the significance of what we must, and now fortunately can, achieve with this mental revolution and makes a comparison with the Science/Enlightenment Revolution that launched the modern West two and a half centuries ago.
Part 2 of this article will start the process of guiding you through understanding and managing auto-contexts by building up from a well-known incarnation in the form of science paradigms
You can locate other Parts of the article as they appear by following this link: https://www.brainzmagazine.com/executive-contributor/barry-borgerson
Barry Borgerson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Dr. Barry Borgerson graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Ph.D. in computer science and one of his minors in the management of human resources. Barry co-led a multi-year DARPA-funded research project at the University and then went on to a highly successful career in the computer industry starting as a lead computer architect and progressing through successive promotions to increasingly responsible leadership positions in technical management up to executive-level general management. When he took over a business that was failing and initiated actions to change some dysfunctional behaviors and the outdated culture of that business, he encountered so much counterproductive resistance that he started a long-term study into why very smart, highly educated, and extremely experienced people frequently cannot enact externally obvious changes they need to make to succeed. That study led him to discover that the underlying cause of so many dysfunctional activities and the tenacious, normally uncontrollable, resistance to deep changes reside in enigmatic automatic human activities that business leaders normally do not notice, cannot change on their own if others point out their dysfunctions, and often deny they even exist. Barry then developed 2Selfs Theory, a comprehensive, business-friendly, generalized theory of the mind that models the sometimes cooperation but often competition between our explicit problem-solving abilities (using our “thinking self”) and our previously mysterious involuntary activities (driven by our “automatic self”) and provides systematic, reliable processes to align our elusive automatic actions with our explicit intentions and needed success priorities. Dr. Borgerson has repeatedly verified the effectiveness of the pragmatic 2Selfs Theory by applying it in many venues including through transformation coaching to reconstruct counterproductive behavior habits of business leaders and to change obsolete or dysfunctional company cultures, where the transformation processes worked immediately and repeatedly as the theory predicted.