Understanding Brexit

On the whole I avoid directly discussing politics in my blog, however, as the EU offer another extension to the agony of Brexit I am going to attempt to look at it from an evolutionary psychology perspective.  For more details on the colour coding see this explanation of Spiral Dynamics.

It is no great stretch to see Brexit as tribal.   There are three main tribes involved.

The Red tribe are the smaller.  They believe in “Strongman” leaders, who represent a sort of uber father figure to them, and to whom they are fiercely loyal.  They want their leader to take responsibility for all of the big questions so that they don’t have to and to simply things for them.  They like messages from the leader to be unambiguous and to clarify things as good and bad.  Although rules are very important they also believe that the ends justify the means.

The Red tribe like Brexit because they have been told to by their leader and because the EU is complicated.

The Blue tribe are more than twice the size of the Red tribe.  They like to see the country in competition with other countries.  They strongly believe that their country is better than other countries and don’t want to get to close to them.   They don’t trust other countries and they want a leader who is strong on their behalf and does not compromise or show vulnerability or weakness.  They see negotiations through a win/lose lens.  Because of their belief in exceptionalism, rules do not apply equally to them in relation to other countries.

The Blue tribe like Brexit because they never liked the idea of having to collaborate with others.

The Blue and Red tribes make up nearly 57% of the population.

The Orange and Green tribe are about the same size as the Blue tribe.  They like to collaborate with other countries and are excited to get close to them and learn about differences.  They don’t have a big need for a leader at all, but want their representatives to be collaborative and compromising.  The Orange and Green  tribe is collaborative and inclusive to a fault and will condemn their own tribe members if they show signs of excluding others.

The Orange and Green tribe regard international cooperation as a self evident good, so obvious they don’t really know how to explain the benefits of it.  They hate Brexit.

The Orange and Green tribe are baffled by the Blue and the Red tribes.  They have forgotten that they used to be in them.  They often regard their views as stupid or primitive.

The Blue tribe do not understand that the Orange and Green tribe exists, all they can see of it is people being weak and failing in their patriotic duty.  They see the Red tribe as useful idiots who are also dangerous.

The Red tribe do not understand that either of the other tribes exist and only see varying levels of weakness.

There is also a catch – the Blue tribe and the Orange and Green tribe (and the tiny Yellow and Turquoise tribes) are vulnerable to being triggered  to behaving like the Blue or Red tribe under stress – particularly the kind of stress caused by something like Brexit.

The reason that Brexit is so intractable is that for all three tribes it operates on a values level.

For Red is satisfies their need for simplicity.

For Blue it delivers their need for independence.

For Orange and Green it removes interdependence which they need.

Values are deep within our psyche and once established will rarely change in a lifetime.  The experience of transgressing one of our values is traumatic, we feel ashamed and embarrassed about ourselves.   Having someone else transgress one of our values is horrifying, insulting and demeaning.

The Brexit referendum opened this Pandora’s box which assured that whatever happened a large part of the population would end up traumatised by a massive values transgression.

What is the answer?

At some point there will have to be process of reconciliation and forgiveness led by those from the Yellow and Turquoise tribes who are tiny in number and therefore not a democratic force.  However whether this can or will happen before the UK breaks apart from the EU and then in all probability the UK breaks apart itself seems improbable.

These tribal tensions have existed for at least 50 years in the UK (and other countries).  What unleashed them in 2016, in the UK and the US was, to some extent, a combination of the Megatrends of Ageing and Digitisation.

The ageing of the Baby Boomer generation means that for the first time ever the median age of the UK is over 40, with the largest 5 year bands of the population being between 45 and 50 and 50 and 55.  People generally become more conservative as they age and the pace of social transformation caused by digitisation means that more and more people are left struggling to understand their world.

The Red and Blue tribes are the most likely to be disadvantaged by both digitisation and demographics and the least likely to understand them.  Red more than Blue.

The Orange and Green tribes (and Yellow and Turquoise) are the most likely to be able to benefit from and enjoy the changes created by digitisation and demographics.

The growing Green part of the Orange and Green tribe is the most concerned and active about the climate crisis, for them Brexit is antithetical to the need to collaborate on a global scale to solve this crisis.  The Blue and Red tribes would prefer to deny or ignore the climate crisis since it requires collective initiative and action to resolve.

As with any crisis, the crisis will get precisely as deep as it needs to get for us to learn the lessons.  And, as with any crisis the choice is to transcend or succumb.  Survival is not mandatory.

We will be discussing what to do about these and many other issues related to the Post Conventional world at Holocon2020.  If you like discussing and solving the big issues of our future, it would be great to see you there.  The early booking discount runs out on 1 November.

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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