In the movie Jurassic Park, there is a scene where Dr. John Hammond tries to convince Drs. Malcom, Sattler, and Grant of the benefits of opening a theme park filled with real, live dinosaurs created from actual dinosaur DNA found in archeological excavations. The first criticism is offered by Dr. Malcom, who said, “The lack of humility before nature that is being displayed here staggers me. […] Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you are doing here? […] Dinosaurs had their shot and nature selected them for extinction.” Then, Dr. Sattler followed up by asking, “How can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem? And therefore, how can you ever assume that you can control it?” Finally, Dr. Grant ended with a brilliant remark and a chilling question, “Dinosaur and man, two species separated by 65 million years of evolution, have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea of what to expect?”
However, the possibility of dinosaurs roaming the Earth today is not limited to a handful of mad scientists playing around with ancient DNA. Dinosaurs actually exist among us. Not only does their DNA run deep in the animals that evolved directly from them, like birds and crocodiles, but it is also present within us, at least in a small percentage. And, what is even more worrisome, dinosaurs can travel in time to the present through our behavior. Yes, we can be them.
Our Reptilian Heritage
Dinosaurs, the prehistoric rock stars that ruled the Earth for about 165 million years, had very tiny brains relative to their full body mass. Their neurological capabilities were dominated by the brainstem (a.k.a. the reptilian brain), which was in charge of survival, territoriality, and reproduction. Fear, anger, arousal, and rest were their basic moods. The flee-or-fight response was their main mechanism to achieve their biological mandates. This does not mean they were not intelligent. What it means is that their intelligence was primordially focused on solving problems about staying alive, keeping uninvited guests off their turf, and producing offspring. For all practical purposes, dinosaurs were the original heavyweight Machiavellians, convinced that “the end justifies the means.” Any abstractions about the greater good, interspecies diplomacy, and freedom and opportunity for all were not their concerns. Leadership was the result of being the strongest and the fiercest. It was what I call Jurassic Leadership,in honor of the movie of the same name to which there is much more than meets the eye.
Our Limbic Heritage
Later, after large dinosaurs became extinct, the species that followed, mainly mammals and birds, developed a new brain structure atop the brainstem called the limbic brain, which was capable of more complex functions such as long-term memory and long-lasting social bonds. Since the offspring of these newer species required more time under their parents’ care, an incipient emotional dynamic may have been present. While survival, territoriality, and reproduction remained at the forefront of everyday concerns, prehistoric mammals and birds were, in general, more intelligent and socially bound than dinosaurs. The strongest and fiercest still ruled—but scientists believe they cared for their own in ways that expressed stronger social bonds. Leadership was the result of a combination of physical strength, protective instincts, and social connections.
Our Neocortical Present
As evolution continued, higher mammals came on the scene with a new brain component called the neocortex. This new structure came already wired for better sensory perception and a higher intelligence, allowing animals to process more information from the environment more effectively. In apes, for example, the neocortex gives them the ability to make rudimentary tools and organize themselves in highly complex social systems. In humans, the neocortex is larger than in apes, giving us the skills and intelligence that are unique to us. Language, abstract thinking, visualization, and self-awareness are all the product of this magnificent addition we call the neocortex.
The Human Brain (a.k.a. the Triune Brain)
Despite having the latest evolutionary upgrade, the human brain is still composed of all prior stages in the evolutionary chain. In the words of Dr. Paul D. MacLean, this provides us with a “triune brain”—a cerebral organ comprised of three layers: reptilian, limbic, and neocortical. This means that, while we can meditate, write laws, and build space stations, we continue to bond emotionally with our own, just like our mammalian ancestors did, and have the primary need to survive, protect our territory, and reproduce, just like dinosaurs did. Integrating these complex, sometimes contradictory, forces is our main challenge as humans. In particular, it is the challenge for human leaders, who must put their intelligence, feelings, and instincts at work to guide their organizations into the future.
Modern Organizations & the Dinosaur Within
Our triune brain gives us a superb piece of hardware that no other living being on Earth has. What we sometimes lack is the software necessary to make the best possible use thereof. Such software is consciousness, the ability to harness and steer our reptilian instincts and mammalian social traits for the greater good, the only real form of long-term sustainability. In this regard, consciousness is only attainable through education, self-awareness, and a determined effort to transcend our ego.
Without consciousness, the neocortex becomes just a set of extremely powerful tools to channel and amplify our reptilian instincts and our ego. In fact, without consciousness, the social strengths of the limbic brain such as respect and compassion are disconnected. People who lack consciousness are just dinosaurs with human intelligence. They are extremely dangerous. They focus only on self-preservation, territoriality, and reproduction, which, for modern humans, translate into greed, corruption, betrayal, tyranny, disregard for other people, and all the other ills of humanity. Individuals who lack consciousness make organizations suffer and, sooner or later, society in general pays a high price for said suffering.
The lack of consciousness has caused all the major crises of human history, including those of our generation such as the 9/11 terrorist attack, the reigniting of conflicts in the Middle East, the 2008 recession, the resurgence of communist tyrannies in Latin America, and more.
There is a reason humans can access consciousness: we must use it. Otherwise, we will let our dinosaur within run lose.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever witnessed, or exercised, Jurassic Leadership? Now that the 2016 US Presidential race is getting started, would you describe any of the candidates as a Jurassic Leader? What governments and corporations exercise Jurassic Leadership? What’s the relationship between Jurassic Leadership and the top 3 reasons not to want to be a leader? How does consciousness turn Jurassic Leadership into Human Leadership?