There’s ‘Me’. And then there’s ‘Monkey Me’.
‘Me’ is the self that I like to project to the outside world. I’m relatively proud of ‘Me’. He’s a measured chap; thoughtful and balanced. With an eye on the future, and a clear memory of the past, he’s a complex, nuanced soul. ‘Me’ is persuaded by logic and rational thought. He can be quite earnest, and a little dry, but you’d like him nonetheless.
I’d like to think, and I tell myself, that ‘Me’ makes the big decisions in my life.
But I know enough about psychology to know that this simply isn’t the case.
The really big decisions in my life – terrifyingly – are made by ‘Monkey Me’.
‘Monkey Me’ likes sex, drinking and music. He’ll do things on the spur of the moment and loves a good party and a long lunch. ‘Monkey Me’ reminds me a bit of ‘Ted’ from the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name. And he can be just as annoying.
‘Monkey Me’ is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He lets ‘Me’ and others down, regularly. He lives for today, with scant regard for tomorrow or yesterday. ‘Monkey Me’ is emotional. He is irrational.
But I have to admit for having an enduring, if begrudging, respect for him.
When ‘Me’ will listen to the arguments and weigh the evidence, ‘Monkey Me’ will go with his gut – ‘do I like/trust this person?’. He craves physical affection and attention, whereas ‘Me’ can often come across as quite detached and, aloof even.
And yet, for all the earnest, intellectual grandstanding from ‘Me’, it’s ‘Monkey Me’ who is in the driving seat, decisions-wise.
This doesn’t mean rational thought doesn’t matter: talk to our good friend Aristotle, who was musing on this very topic thousands of years ago. ‘Me’ has views, for sure, and he expresses them. It’s just that if ‘Monkey Me’ disagrees, he’ll pull the same face as the bully who takes your dinner money in the schoolyard. With the same consequences for non-compliance.
We might not like this uncomfortable truth, but hold that mirror up (when no-one else is watching) and tell me it ain’t true, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die.
Antonio Damasio is a Portuguese neuroscientist. He should be better known in the business world, not least because he has proved what many of us have long suspected.
Damasio observed a group of patients, each of whom had suffered damage to the same part of their brain – that which deals with emotion. In many respects, these patients had overcome their trauma and gone on to lead relatively ‘normal’ lives, holding down jobs, relationships and such. But they all had one thing in common: they couldn’t take decisions.
The natural corollary, of course, is that all decisions must ultimately be emotional. We can hide it, we can post-rationalise, we can pretend otherwise – but we can’t change it. It’s how we are hard-wired.
In a far more elegant manner than I have managed here, Jonathan Haidt articulated the overarching importance of the dominant, emotional, animal brain in his ‘Elephant and Rider’ metaphor. Again, however, even this isn’t particularly well-known or understood in the C-Suite.
More fool them.
The lesson is simple. Don’t talk to ‘Me’. He thinks he’s in the control, but he has no idea.
Talk to the short, hairy guy with him.
Because for those of us in the business of persuasion, there is only one ‘VIP’.
The Jungle VIP.
Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.