Overcoming the Amygdala Part 83


If you’ve been following this series, you may not yet quite have reached the point where your ‘brain has flipped’ and you are able to think differently. If you haven’t — and many people struggle with this — one of the things that’s probably happening is that you are still looking for errors around you, rather than departures.

This happens all the time around most people.

I used to work in a job where the big situation was trying to get enough customers for the organisation to become viable. That’s a huge situation, facing many businesses and groups everywhere. But my boss would come to work an hour or so after me and call me into her office and focus my attention on the fact that a few of the staff weren’t wearing their uniforms correctly. She would order me to go and sort that out as a priority, forcing my attention off the things that vitally needed handling onto one of the minor things which could have waited for another day.

Then the next day, I’d be ordered to address some other minor issue — something which she found irksome but which wasn’t centrally important at all — and the big problem of ‘not enough customers to sustain the organisation’ was put off again.

This may have happened to you. You want to zoom in on a particular task or area, but you’re obliged to do something else because it’s considered important by someone senior to you in the hierarchy of things. It’s maddening on many levels, but what’s behind it?

The other person is probably intent on correcting departures from their own fixed ideas of how something should be- which we could call 'errors'- rather than using the departures to find the underlying core situation which, if fixed, would sort out 90% of all the other problems.

Pursuing a few of the staff to make sure that they were wearing uniforms correctly is just fixing an eyesore — it does nothing at all to address the key issue of viability. The product would be ‘the place looks a little smarter’ which might have some tiny effect on the customers who came in, which might have had an even tinier effect on new people walking by in some way, if luck held. Meanwhile, the failed marketing campaign which was effectively selling the company out didn’t get spotted as the real reason for lack of growth — and the company continued to decline.

Yes, lack of all the staff wearing correct uniform properly was a departure — but it was only one departure in thousands. Instead of observing and recording departures until a primary source for most of them turned up, the result of just going around 'fixing departures' is almost completely useless and is often detrimental to the overall scene.

But this is what most organisations engage in. What’s worse, it’s what most individuals engage in.

The sequence goes: ‘I see something wrong; I must fix it!’ So the person goes off and ‘fixes’ it. Then they immediately see something else wrong and go off and fix that. Then something else catches their eye, and so on. This is what lies behind much obsessive behaviour — the compulsion to ‘fix’ every tiny departure that is spotted.

‘Amygdala pings — rush off to fix; amygdala pings again — rush off to fix' and so forth.

This is what leaves individuals (and organisations) utterly exhausted. It also contributes to the amygdalic panic arising from spotting departures ‘everywhere’. That’s what produces a kind of paranoia: the world seems insane, because departures appear wherever one looks.

What’s missing here?

What’s missing is a grasp of what thinking is supposed to look like.

This is what’s supposed to happen, if you want a sane, ordered and reasonably amygdala-free existence:

1. Have a normal information flow available. 2. Observe it consciously. 3. When a departure is seen become very alert, consciously — but resist the temptation to rush off and ‘fix’ it! 4. Analyse departures to see where most of them are coming from. You do this by noticing departures, counting departures, and grouping departures according to where they belong. 5. When one area is isolated as the source of most of the departures, analyse that area more closely.

6. Obtain more data by direct inspection of the area indicated. Fix that area!

In the case of the organisation I was involved with, there were many noticeable departures along the lines of the five categories we’ve looked at before:

i) the organisation was ‘staff heavy’ — i.e. there were lots of staff present who maybe shouldn’t have been needed. There were also plenty of missing qualifications — in other words, of all those staff, very few were officially qualified to be doing their jobs.

ii) there was a big focus on meetings — lots and lots of face-to-face meetings, when a simple communication or phone call might have done the trick. So instead of attention being placed on what needed doing in the day, the ‘out-of-sequence’ departure was ‘let’s have a meeting first and then think about doing the work’.

iii) partly as a result of the above, there always seemed to be too little time, or none at all.

iv) as described above, the significance of relatively minor matters was often exaggerated, while key issues were frequently put aside.

Departures along these lines mounted up over time.

So where did these departures belong? How could they be grouped together to lead to some kind of meaningful resolution?

Well, the ‘staff heavy’ situation could be traced back to the top executive in the organisation hiring staff without any kind of coordinated plan - and that person was also responsible for the fact that many of the hired people weren’t properly qualified. The numerous meetings were also at the instigation of the same executive, who was also the one who kept altering the significance of relatively minor matters. All of these things added up to their often being no time to do things properly. So looking at the departures in terms of what they told an observer about the overall picture, it looks like the key thing or person to handle was the executive at the top. Change her approach or remove her and what would be the most likely outcome?

a) people wouldn’t be hired randomly, and those who were hired might have some qualifications

b) meetings would only be held when needed, so the focus could be placed back on actual work

c) this would result in more time to do that work

d) and attention could then be placed on things that really mattered, rather than ‘fixing’ every departure singly as it appeared.

Can you see how that might have resulted in a better, saner operation?

What about the case of an individual?

Instead of dashing around trying to ‘fix’ everything as it arises, an individual should ty to step back and observe, looking for departures not in order to do some kind of hurried repair but as things in themselves, clues if you like, little messages written in the world which, if watched and measured and added up, might lead to the ‘treasure’ of the Big Departure which, when given appropriate attention, might lead to a resolution of a whole load of minor wrongnesses.

Running around trying to fix departures individually is creating ‘amygdala fodder’; analysing departures so that they lead you to the larger underlying thing which generates most of the other problems — that leads to sanity and a quieter amygdala.

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