Our Inner Operating System

It is no wonder that many of us try to adapt to an increasingly fast-paced and complex world by running faster, working longer hours or being on red alert most of the time. This is the fight for survival in the jungle of modern times: we are trying to secure our income, attain status or prove our worth. In doing so, we often engage with the world in the reactive, fear-fuelled way our brains developed to respond to a tiger suddenly showing up outside our cave (often called a fight-flight-or-freeze response).

You might have already experienced a change in your inner operating system or seen it in others. Such changes are often set in motion by significant life events or experiences, such as a new role or promotion, having children, getting divorced, a major setback or a loss. Even if the cause is positive, this is a form of crisis or upheaval: the world as we knew it has gone, or our old ways of going about life do not work any longer. Sometimes smaller challenges of daily life (such as a disagreement at home or at work, or a demanding project or meeting) can also bring out in us a sense of crisis or upheaval, even if quite modest. Though Nick was not facing a major life event or setback, he felt at a point of crisis when he realized his ways of operating were no longer working.

A sense of crisis or upheaval helps us realize that our inner operating system is not serving us optimally, and this creates an opening for adapting our ways of thinking and behaving. We will feel some level of discomfort, depending on how much our inner operating system is under strain. And here we have a choice: if the discomfort leads us to bury our head in the sand and avoid confronting how we operate, we will miss out on the opportunity to grow. But if we can find the gifts that these challenges contain (however painfully they may present themselves), they will lead to a strengthening of our inner operating system and of our performance.

If you have faced a situation that rattled your inner operating system, and taken the plunge to adapt how you think, feel and act, you might have noticed an uplift in your effectiveness and/or your well-being. Perhaps you had a new sense of your potential, were clearer on what mattered to you and made bolder decisions to prioritize accordingly. Maybe you became more flexible in how you interpreted situations or other people’s behaviours and felt more able to choose how you responded (ah, the magic when things or people that previously annoyed us don’t anymore!). Perhaps you felt more confident about grabbing opportunities or dealing with obstacles, having survived a crisis. Changes like these come from a transformation in our inner operating system.

Developing our inner operating systems is more powerful when done collectively (in teams, networks, organizations and at home) and benefits ourselves, our organizations, our families and society more broadly. That’s because our inner operating systems bump up against one another all the time, which means that we can support or disrupt growth for other people. Furthermore, brilliant strategies and slick processes only get organizations so far: the human element – how we think, feel, make decisions and behave – is crucial for making any initiative successful. This means how people grow at a deeper, personal level is fundamental to collective success.

There would be little need for developing our inner operating system if our lives were stable, certain, simple and clear, because we could simply keep doing what we have always done. However, a VUCA world continually presents us with unfamiliar and challenging situations. Being able to see and adapt how we operate helps us to maintain effectiveness and well-being in these situations. This means we can notice when the path we are taking is not working and have the flexibility to create and take other routes. We are also able to find the gifts that challenges contain and use them to grow beyond our limits. In short, being able to evolve our inner operating system is the source for navigating life wisely.

We can become wiser by upgrading our inner operating system to build in greater perspective, choice and flexibility, which enables us to bring out the best in ourselves and in others, as well as grow our potential over time.