Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps by Jennifer Garvey Berger

April 4, 2019

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

The increasing complexity of the modern business world presents leaders with the bane of risk management – the known unknown. In layperson’s terms, it’s the challenge of needing to know what to do to prepare when you can’t know what’s coming.

In her new book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger argues that we are often woefully unprepared for that known unknown. She outlines the dichotomy that: “we humans are brilliantly designed for an older, less connected, and more predictable version of the world.” On that premise, she leverages her background in adult development and complexity theory to map out a way to purposefully reshape some of that original design.

From Quirks to Mindtraps

Using a combination of a single narrative case study supported by smaller examples, the author outlines five hard-wired behavioral quirks that have become second nature to us over the centuries. In a modern world of increasing complexity, those quirks now have the potential to trap us into misguided thinking:

  • We prefer simple stories that often blind us to the complexities of a real one.
  • We are drawn to a perceived rightness, but just because something feels right doesn’t mean it is right.
  • We desire agreement for any proposal but longing for that alignment often robs us of good ideas.
  • We are trapped by our need for clearly delineated control that often strips us of the influence needed to truly effect change.
  • We are trapped by our ego when we become shackled to who we are now rather than challenging ourselves to embrace who we can be in the future. In the author’s narrative case study, the character Mark, sees himself as no longer having the technical expertise to run the departments under his control.
Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps

Our preference for simple stories, for example, creates the belief that each story will have a beginning, middle and end. The neatness of that narrative facilitates the connection of causes and effects. In reality, we end-up projecting forward into an unknown future based on past information and rely on selective data to fill-in the missing pieces so that the logic and simplicity of the story are maintained.

Breaking the Pattern

Stories have maintained connections and legacies for generations, but the conviction to accept those stories as dogma has a dangerous downside. It frees us from the anxiety and pressure of challenging that dogma in search of a better alternative that is more applicable to our present situation. The key to avoiding this mindtrap is to view simplicity and neatness as red flags and to be prepared to question every element of the narrative, from the basic premise to the highly-selective data being presented.

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps identifies five pernicious quirks of human behavior that often misguide our decision-making. In today’s fast-paced business world, those quirks can quickly become traps that steer us in the wrong direction if we don’t learn how to break the pattern.


Andy Ghillyer

Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.