Your brain is fundamentally lazy – it is always looking for short cuts or the path of least effort.  This can lead to a limited view of the world based on your own perspective.  How are you overcoming it? 

In order to function well our brain requires a lot of energy, mainly in the form of glucose and oxygen, and it also needs a delicate balance of rest and stimulation.   If it doesn’t get these in just the right amounts it rapidly down-grades its functioning, and critical thinking goes out the window.  However, in order to be a successful Leader or Manager you need to harness the limited resources of your brain by tapping into the brains of others.

Use or Lose
While we all have the same fundamental brain structures, it is the way in which we have connected our neural networks that makes us all so unique.  You were born with 50% more neurons than you have now.  By the age of about seven to ten the ones you didn’t use deteriorated and wasted away, while the ones you did use became stronger and eventually created the information superhighways that give you your current mind-set, reference points and mental maps of what you think is ‘reality’.

There is a distinct evolutionary advantage in this.  We are born with a vast blank slate that enables us to adapt to the environment we grow up in.  This includes how to survive both physically and emotionally: how to adapt to the norms of the people around us so they look after us.  We spend the first seven to ten years of our lives using particular groups of neurons while neglecting others, all based on the threats and rewards we perceive.  As we get to adulthood we build sets of rules about how the world works and how we can best survive in it.  These rules are only based on our previous experience (often very early experience) and not necessarily the truth. 

So we all have a rather limited view of the world, each of us is only seeing what confirms the rules we made up in our formative years.  They give us the superhighways of thought that we automatically have in any given situation.  New thinking requires a lot of effort because it means that we have to inhibit the usual default patterns and make new neural connections. 

The effort of Learning
Children have a fantastic capacity to learn because they still have so many possible connections to experiment with.  It is relatively effortless because the rewards are so great and there is little, if any, inhibition required.  We are left with the connections we used most.  The rest became obsolete and withered away.  But it’s not all bad news.  With considerable conscious effort, a willingness to be wrong (which the brain finds excruciating) and a healthy optimistic curiosity we can change our mind, learn new things and adapt.  However, that is quite a lot to ask, and a tired or depleted brain will avoid it like the plague.

This is where teamwork, collaboration and cooperation come in.  The power of an effective team is about knowing that we are all totally unique and see the world in different ways.  By tapping into the different perspectives of others we can enhance our own knowledge and awareness to a level that would be far more difficult on our own.

However, due to the complexity of everything mentioned above, many meetings descend into people trying to impose their rules and their ‘reality’ on others who then spend their time defending their own position.  We become defensive because we don’t want to experience the extreme discomfort of having to change our mind and admit that the vast amount of effort we put into building our maps of the world may have been an error.  The brain perceives it as a threat to our survival and puts us in ‘Flight or Fight’ mode.  This creates an even narrower focus, fewer neural connections and a pessimistic mind-set.

But is doesn’t have to be this way.    

Utilising other Brains
Effective teams have a common vision and shared values.  Sometimes these are not even stated or discussed – the team just gets on with what needs to be done.  But when a team hits a setback and new thinking is required or team members change, it can be very powerful to realign everyone to a clearly expressed vision, and values that guide behaviour and decision making.  This ensures that precious brain energy is not wasted on trying to figure out ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ but can focus on the ‘how?’

By understanding the fundamental vulnerabilities of our brains and how to harness the perspectives and experience of others, wise leaders and managers can tap into vast resources beyond their own.  Diversity of opinion is the key to success in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.  21st Century Leaders need to elicit input from others to challenge their thinking and provide different points of view based on different experiences no matter how uncomfortable it makes them feel. 

If your thinking isn’t challenged or you aren’t open to exploring the truth, you can slip into the default patterns of your own rules and biases because your brain is fundamentally lazy – it is always looking for short cuts or the path of least effort.

There is now a lot of research being done on how fallible we are and how our lazy brains can delude us into thinking we are being rational, when all it is doing is looking for the easiest way to jump to a conclusion that fits nicely with our individual superhighways of thought, preconceived mental maps and mind-set.

I’ll be writing more about this over the coming months and in the meantime I invite you to consider . . .
- How diverse is your current team?
- How good are you at encouraging different opinions to be expressed? 
- How open are you to seeking the truth rather than confirmation of what you believe?

If you are interested in discovering your thinking preferences and neural superhighways do let me know because we now have a very simple Assessment that identifies your key strengths, and some potential blind-spots.  For more just drop me a line at info@InspiredWorking.com.

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards
David Klaasen 

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