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Chimp watching

One of my favourite books for any would be coach is The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters.

Peters is one of those guys who combines a formidable scientific knowledge of his field of work with the ability to reduce the complex to a series of useful metaphors.

Central to the chimp paradox is the idea that our mind can be divided up into three independently functioning sections; the human, the chimp, and the computer.

Now, as a conceptual tool, to get clients thinking about whether they’re behaving rationally or emotionally, it’s excellent. If I’m talking to Jem or others about how I am, I’ll often say I’m chimp wrestling when I’m trying to explain my emotions. As Peters points out, human are unlikely to win a wrestling match with a chimp, and need to think their way round the problem. I find that a useful metaphor to live by.

Increasingly though I also find it useful as a tool for explaining systems and organizations.

The general election is a good example.

In theory, an election is a contest between rational actors to try to persuade us all which policies should be put into the computer to change and transform society, or to maintain the status quo.

The problem is that our politicians are driven by their own needs and emotions, by their inner chimps who are driven by their emotions. So increasingly politicians look to me like a tribe of chimps, competing for status withing the hierarchy, but violently defensive against anyone who challenges their status as the leading tribe of chimps.

Increasingly, too, because they’re driven by their inner chimps the political campaign becomes chimp to chimp communication, bypassing the rational entirely.

Thursday night’s debate was a case in point. David Cameron wanted it to descend into a  chimp fight, to allow him to counterpose his stance of authority and security against the noise and the backbiting.

That it backfired is because he didn’t succeed in dispelling the image that he was also one of the chimps, seeking to protect his position irrespective of how irrational he had to be to achieve it.

Labour of course aren’t above bypassing the rational actor and going straight to the chimp. Their campaign is built around a series of ‘fears’ that voting Labour can dispel. Oh for a Bevan to take charge of Labour’s campaign and show them what to put in place of fear.

The problem is that an entire industry of chimp watchers has grown up, with its own hierarchy and power struggles, each seeking to assert that they are best chimp watcher. In all the noise and play-acting, pretend fights and posturing, how do you make sense of anything? The curious case of the Nicola Sturgeon memo is a case in point. We’re left in a maze where there is no clear reference point. So far as I can tell, Sturgeon needs to talk up the possibility of the Tories getting back in to talk up her vote as the facilitator of an anti Tory coalition, and to try and hide the fact that in the past her party has gleefully done coalition deals with the Tories. Miliband, to shore up Labour’s flagging Scottish campaign, which is a reflection of thirty years of Scottish Labour being dominated by strong chimps instead of rational thinkers, needs to remind the population of the risk of the SNP doing a coalition deal with the Tories again.

It’s not a rational debate, it’s a chimp squabble.

Is it any wonder people are turning off in droves?


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This entry was posted on April 5, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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