Last weekend I picked up a copy of Guy Martin’s new book. Of course Christmas is coming so all the new books are coming out just now. Guy Martin – truck mechanic, bike racer and all round good bloke has assumed a new status as TV presenter in recent times. He is about as grounded as a person can be. Guy is also bit of a hero for bike blokes like me. His brother has raced with my son David and he and his dad are regulars in the paddock.
Flicking through the first few pages I noticed a reference to Steve Peters and the inner chimp. It struck a chord. Like me Guy has an issue with the inner chimp from time to time.
I came across this concept last year at the 2014 SOLACE summit. Before then it had passed me by. Peters has worked with a lot of top level sports teams and individuals as well as business leaders and, apparently, Guy Martin. Peters tries to teach people how to manage their inner “chimp”: that’s his name for the bit of the brain which runs on emotions and gut instincts, makes snap judgements and thinks in black and white. It contrasts with the more rational, evidence-based part of the brain which sees shades of grey. The paradox is that we need our chimp for basic survival instincts, for example – but if we don’t manage it, and let it run our lives, things can be very, very bad. At an extreme level it’s about how when someone says something in a meeting that you feel is critical of you, you do something other than launching yourself across the table and beating them to death!
In an article in the Independent newspaper about Peters one senior businessman who has used Peters for workshops said: “We were basically trying to look at ourselves from a psychological point of view and improve. You can’t kill the chimp but you can manage it. If you don’t have a plan, the chimp comes up with one for you. It’s about how do you deal with pressure situations and clear thinking. It is about understanding emotion: how the mind works and not rushing in with knee-jerk stuff, from dealing with people to taking a deep breath and not sending the email.” Good summary.
This week as we grapple with budget planning and performance, outside scrutiny and pressures (I’ll leave the Keith Miller quote out for a change) at times the inner chimp get close to the surface and to taking control. The question that arises for me though is whether or not the chimp can be a force for good rather than bad. Is it wrong to get angry about the things we feel are wrong? Maybe not. But the expression of the feeling must be positive even if it has a negative chimp like origin. Our clients, customers and colleagues don’t deserve to be dealt with by a chimp.