They’re control freaks

The Way We Respond To Risk Is Related to Childhood Learning

They’re control freaks.

This is a phrase we use loosely. When we say it do we think about what it really means? Do we know anything about the root cause around compulsively needing to exert extreme effort over things – that are not ours to control, in order to make things happen in a certain way? And, do we exhibit characteristics of being “one” ourselves – a person that has to control the outcome of most situations?

An article in “Psychology Today” titled “Control Freak…” by Glen Croston, Ph.D., talks about how an individuals’ need for control can reveal how they were conditioned as a child. By living in a chaotic childhood environment, we are influenced very early, around how we respond to risk.   

Risk is of vital concern to business leaders, process and product developers, people who deal with life or death situations and for those who consider sustainability.

The sustainability of ideas, actions, relationships and anything else we create or do, to meet our own needs – without depleting the future needs of others! 

In psychology, this phrase “control freak” describes one of multiple personality impulse disorders; this one depicts a person’s attempt to control the order of things with behavior; the person often uses a dictatorial approach to undermine others, either consciously or unconsciously.

Doctor Paul Slovic, a risk expert, and professor of Psychology at Oregon University is quoted in the article I referenced earlier,

“The less we feel in control, the less willing we are to risk.”

Paul Slovic

The parking lot of Madaket beach on Nantucket – in the winter of 2019, is where I would drink my morning coffee and begin scribbling or taping potential solutions for multiple mobileLACE models that would’ve enhanced past digital transformations I had contributed to. I was concerned with reducing the high risk of failure.

The transformation failure rate from 2006 to 2016 was over 90%; it is just now – technologically, coming down to the high 70’s.

Early in the summer just before my time was over in “my” Emerald City, I was preparing to work through risk constraints. This time while sitting on the beach in two days, I read The Elephant Brain.

I was unexpectedly pleased to become immersed in the topic of human consciousness or unconsciousness yet again. Despite the title, authors Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson also use primates as a central analogy for consciousness throughout the book (not just the elephants.) 

Attempting to appeal to humans reading their book – they talk about human behavior and how we would rather believe that we have no ill or unconscious motives, or less desirable traits for being successful in life. Doesn’t matter if the activity is love, business, or anything else we desire to achieve mastery over, we would rather deny any ill motives than evaluate our underlying intentions honestly to understand ourselves better and increase our failure rate.

Sometimes we don’t have to retrospect, as these unconscious motives reveal themselves without our permission automatically or habitually; if we’re lucky enough to have an honest friend, we can choose to acknowledge their likely critique and rid ourselves, or at least begin to understand why this repetition occurs over and over and find a solution for change. 

If we continue to deny, it is easier to dupe others for a time because we are still unconsciously deceiving ourselves.  

Instead of the proverbial Elephant in the Room, the authors speak of the elephant in the brain as the rhetoric or stories we might tell ourselves to continue hiding or denying having crappy motives for our actions. They say this is mostly due to “interspecies competition.”  

They use the peacocks here to discuss the way humans compete to achieve; they talk about “gossip” from a perspective I had never heard before – they discuss as merely a collective enforcement for ridding ourselves of difficult situations or people.  What a new view for me!

In business, we try to control situations and people to posture, to get the results we need and want – to win.  We compete more often then cooperate. This is interspecies competition…

While this is part of the fabric of our lives and the norm for our present culture, it’s not necessarily healthy for our evolving race. We have an urgent need to move forward in a more socially acceptable manner today – accepting others without judgement or for personal gain only, and co-operating with each other to get to holistic solutions not individual wins.

We can save our “gam” – for times we are actually competing in an event; after many years of denial our wake up call is here – a socially and economically connected globe requires co-operation, collaboration and holistic solutions.

Competition gets in the way of transparency, honesty, integrity, and agility – all of the main ingredients for building a successful brand and business and having honest and reasonable relationships. Given the constant scrutiny of the 24/7 digital mediums we should welcome not having to be anything but authentic with kindness, as a new culturally acceptable norm.

Because I try to look on the positive side instead of discussing the power dynamic around controlling others and the dysfunction that goes with it I would rather share this list of things I found that we can control without encumbering, encroaching upon or squashing anyone else’s freedom to exercise his or her power of choice.    


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Robin Gregory

CEO mobileLACE

Lean Agile Enterprise Coach, Business Enterprise Analyst, Digital Transformation Specialist, Writer. 25 years of business and technology experience.

mobileLACE is a team of intelligent advocates with a passion for sharing experiential knowledge about digital transformation. Our intention is to assist leaders in the 21st century marketplace by blending cultural intelligence with technological agility into our products and services.