Welcome to the Talentism Weekly Sensemaker!

Our goal is to give executives in our network regular, digestible access to our thinking on creating clarity and unleashing business potential in the midst of change. Given the exponential growth in information in our current media environment, we believe synthesizing what matters from that firehose is an easy way to provide value to the people we care about (meaning you!)

What you can expect

  • New long-form Talentism thought pieces
  • Syntheses and commentary on Talentism-related external research
  • Short-form musings on what we’re learning and seeing in the course of our work
Each Weekly Sensemaker will follow the same general format:
  1. Think: A long form thought piece, short perspective on a common theme, or external research (with commentary)

  2. Reflect: Reflection prompts on the primary theme explored in the piece

  3. Try: Actionable experiments to put the reflection into action and evaluate the results

Expect these emails to be focused on practical information useful to busy executives. A big part of our culture is experimenting to see what works, so please don’t hesitate to share feedback with us about whether you’re finding these emails useful, and what (if anything) you would want more or less of when it comes to content and format. 

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Thanks for being part of our sensemaking crew!


With the holidays upon us, what topic could be more timely than threat triggers? You know the feeling; you’re doing great -- strategic, thoughtful, creative -- and *boom*, there it is: that one thing you just can’t stand that plunges you into reactivity. Or maybe you’re already at the end of your rope, and now you just got pushed over the edge and you find yourself shutting down, getting angry, feeling despondent; whatever your particular flavor of threat response happens to be. All of us have threat triggers deeply wired into us that can hijack our best-laid plans and aspirations. These triggers helped our ancestors respond quickly to dangers, but make it hard to learn, navigate complexity and access compassion, the responses more often needed at work (or with our families!) While threat triggers are deeply wired, you *can* manage them better if you can recognize them in yourself and others. When we can actually identify the trigger that’s occurring, we are better able to target our (and others’) actual needs, and take our “bad / stupid / lazy” narratives a little less seriously. If we know, for example, when someone asks us to do something we don’t understand, that what we’re really struggling with is a threat to our autonomy, we can stop getting sucked into arguments around why someone’s idea is bad, and instead orient toward where we can find more room for independence. 

So, when your brother Jim insists on deep frying the turkey again even after what happened last year, take a deep breath, think about the real triggers at play, and start looking for what you really need to get what you want out of the holidays this year. 

Happy holidays from everyone here at Talentism!

Talentism Psychological Threat Triggers Framework 

By Trevor Hunter

All living organisms are concerned with two things: surviving and procreating. With humans, as with all social animals, those two can get intertwined pretty heavily, but loosely shake out to two separate areas: Security and Status. Each has a few distinct flavors.

The most basic level of security threat is physical. Hopefully this pops up rarely in business, much less one's life in general, but it is a threat trigger that physical harm will actually come to you. Aside from physical threats, the other threats to survival are food, shelter, and a feeling of safety (which manifest often as "wanting to stay where its comfortable").  

Providing is the threat triggered when you worry that you will not be able to provide yourself those things. Humans, being social animals, can also feel those needs for others (i.e. "providing for your family").

Worries about safety led to the need of all animals to be able to identify like from unlike - things that will attack versus those that won't, things that might carry disease versus those that won't, things that will threaten your food supply vs those that won't, etc. They did this through determining relatedness. In humans, this shows up in tribalism, i.e. in-group / out-group dynamics. 

Last is membership. With social animals (including humans), group excommunication can be a death sentence in the wild. Because of that, we have developed a natural sensitivity toward other people’s attitudes toward us. When you see people being conflict avoidant, or people pleasers, or worried about delivering tough feedback, this is usually a membership trigger at play.

Status triggers in humans are complicated because of the near eusocial nature of human existence. But even we have a basic status trigger that most if not all animals have: autonomy. This is a basic desire to be able to do what you want to do, extending to a desire for free movement and ability to sculpt one’s environment. In humans, this is popularly associated with "alpha male" behavioral patterns (though of course all humans can do this depending on context).

A bit less common than autonomy-based status threats are threats to status as influence. For autonomy, this is being able to do what you want; for influence, it's being able to make others do what you want. In the office an influence trigger might show up as micromanagement, as people try to pressure others into behaving a certain way

Both of those have mostly to do with power dynamics. But there's a social status-based categories as well: fairness. Humans have a basic sense of what is fair and unfair as far as rewards and punishment go. People have an expectation of an outcome for themselves or others with regard to reward or punishment, and if that is not met, it is thought to not be fair, inducing a threat state.



  • Think about the last time you got really stressed out (or your current stress, if it’s present). What is the situation? Does it fit into one or more of the categories described in the write-up? As a reminder, these include:

    • Physical security

    • Providing 

    • Relatedness

    • Membership

    • Autonomy

    • Influence

    • Fairness

  • By identifying the potential root cause of the trigger, do you notice any

    • Changes in how you feel?

    • Ways in which the situation looks different to you? 

  • How are you currently dealing with the situation / stress?

  • If you’ve identified the potential root cause of the trigger, do you see other ways to attend to the trigger more directly?


  • In a doc or a notebook, spend the next week tracking your triggers. They don’t have to be big things, just moments where you feel some stress coming online. Briefly note:

    • What happened (just the facts)

    • What feelings / sensations you experienced

    • What thoughts / narratives about the situation arose

  • Take a look at the triggers at the end of the week. What common threads do you see?

    • Reflect on the most common sources of stress in your life. Do they correspond to the same threat triggers you’ve noticed via this tracking exercise?

  • Once you have some hypotheses for your main threat triggers, brainstorm a few specific actions you can take to address them directly

    • For example, if you think autonomy triggers have been getting you into trouble with other executives lately, the next time someone comes with a proposal that irritates you, you could try getting clear on the specific expectations they have for your participation before arguing the merits of the idea itself.

  • Put a few of these experiments into place, and track if they make a difference


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