Moana is the story of an intense, fiercely feminine, non-weaponized teenager who sees possibilities that lay outside of her reach. She is ambitious and has a sense there is more to life on the island that would require venturing out into the unknown sea. She is not satisfied with the “here and now” or doing what is expected of her. Moana desires exposure to new challenges; she anticipates discovering herself. She sings,
“I can lead with pride,
I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?
See the light as it shines on the sea?
But no one knows
How deep it goes
And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line?”
Moana is empowered by the “Anticipation” molecule, dopamine.
Daniel Lieberman, MD and Michael Long unpack as “unmessily”(I think I just created a word) as possible, the power of one particular molecule in the human brain in The Molecule of More. Lieberman and Long make the argument that one molecule, dopamine, in the brain drives humans desires, aspirations, feeds our creative nature, and pushes the human to crave more. They utilize insights from psychology, neuroscience, and social studies to illuminate the role this powerful brain chemical has in our thoughts and behavior. They explore the dynamics of dopamine and its impact on love, addiction, domination, creativity, politics and progress. And they contrast dopamine with the “H&N” molecules of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and endocannabinoids that produce feelings of satisfaction and contentment with what is right in front of you.
I resonate with Moana; the desire to venture out beyond boundaries of what is seen and to pioneer a new way forward. Change and the unknown are not things that cause me fear. Her song speaks to me. And as I read this book, I saw reflections of my dopamine tendencies. One that sticks out is tenacity. They write, “To bring an idea to fruition we must struggle with the uncompromising realities of the physical world. We need not only knowledge but also tenacity. Dopamine, the chemical of future success, is there to deliver.” Before this book, I thought of tenacity as a character trait not a result of a surge of dopamine. Having the courage to explore, to chart a course forward into the future, to realize a dream, to not have a failure of nerve requires the presence of dopamine. I wonder how a leader can access this rush when they are on the verge of giving up? Edwin Friedman talks about self-differentiated leadership from the point of view of self-awareness. Is it possible it isn’t as much about awareness as it is accessing dopamine?
I also recognize how much I value creativity, not solely from an arts perspective but also when problem solving. As I continue the journey of meaning making I have begun to appreciate creativity as a partner in understanding. The authors conversation around Model Making and the power dopamine plays in the process of creativity was eye opening. They paint a picture of how our brain works to order ones reality, “Models are imaginary representations of the world that we build in order to better understand it….Models contain only the elements of the environment that the model builder believes are essential.” It is interesting to know that one’s world view is connected to a balanced dopamine presence empowering the brain to be creative….to utilize imagination, while pointing to how biases are possibly formed and how critical thinking is practiced. I do wonder how this impacts Daniel Kahneman’s description of 2 tiered system of fast and slow thinking.
Lieberman and Long go on to say that using models is only useful to the extent that they are utilized with an open mind. Flexibility to incorporate new ideas or to alter the model is needed for growth. One must be able to contextualize a particular model. They recognize that humans have a tendency to solidify in stone ones approach or understanding if not mindful. They challenge me to remember being a change agent/pioneer requires a flexible spirt, to have an openness to take in new information and reframe ones model. This is what the expansion of one’s world view encompasses.
I find the language of Lieberman and Long of the “up world and down world” relates to the theological framework of the Here/Not Yet reality of God’s kingdom. Often the church struggles to allow the intersection of these realities guide our identity. The church gets stuck on what is in front of it and finds it difficult to be creative and take risks. This logic would suggest that the church needs a dopamine high more often. Edwin Friedman’s notion that an anxious system has a low threshold of pain and resists change. Is the presence of anxiety that which keeps the increase of dopamine from occurring. How does this impact the churches’ ability for innovation? As I begin interviewing with churches and inquire about their pioneering spirit (asking them how far they will go), I am realizing I need to find balance in my dopamine control system while encouraging churches to find the beauty of creative release. Perhaps I will find a church that is ready to go as far as I am.
 Moana. Disney Film. 2016
 Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. Page 66
 Friedman, Edwin H., and Peter Steinke. 2017. A Failure of Nerve, Revised Edition: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th Anniversary edition. New York: Church Publishing. Page 24-33
 Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. Page 121
 Kahneman, Daniel. 2013. Thinking, Fast and Slow. 1st edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.. Page 21-22
 Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.. Page 124
 Ibid, xvi