Understanding how our brains are wired, as well as thinking patterns and motivations of individuals is no longer optional—it’s an essential leadership skill. More than ever, people are gravitating toward leaders who draw out the best in them, and allow them to think for themselves. Your job is to not only draw that out, but to inspire them toward team collaboration, excellence and deliverability.
Motivating your team to think creatively and work efficiently can be a daunting task. We've honed techniques to increase workplace engagement and create environments that spark teamwork, innovation and performance. It starts with knowing your own brain and practicing Conscious Communication (understanding and speaking to motivations).
First of all, know the different levels of brain functioning.
- The Reptilian Brain is focused on survival, and responds primarily to life-threatening conditions that impact things like our breathing, heartbeat, and ability to digest food. This "lizard" response is the well documented fight, flight or freeze. None of which gets the work done. When exposed to (workplace) threats (i.e. hierarchy, lack of fairness, certainty, etc), the reptilian brain will literally override all other brain function.
- The Limbic System is the emotional part of the brain and it responds to both physical and social threats. We are wired to minimize threat, and maximize reward. This area provides our “drive” and other feelings and emotions. Think autonomy and relatedness. It also has the capacity to override the “thinking” part of our brain. Read on...
- The Prefrontal Cortex is the last part of the brain to fully develop (between ages 18-24) and is responsible for executive function. The prefrontal cortex is often called the CEO of the brain and this “thinking” area is easily tired out and overruled by the other parts of the brain. It's responsible for cognitive processes including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem solving, and planning.
To be at our best, we must make sure that all areas of the brain are functioning as they should. A threat reaction will affect our ability to be engaged or rational. An unconscious emotional reaction will affect our ability to think clearly and leads to isolation or cliques. Too much intense thinking will drain our brain’s CEO. When any of these things happen, our brain goes into a REACTIVE state. It's critical that we mitigate threat reactions, unconscious, emotional reactions, and brain overload if we want to work at our full potential, and lead others to do the same. When we work in this way, our brains are in a CREATIVE state and we feel good, and do good!
So how can you use this knowledge to stimulate innovation within your team?
Innovation is about change. It is about doing something different than you did previously. It's about seeing the unseen. It is about trying something that you have not done before, and therefore may feel like a danger to your survival (thank you, reptilian brain:).
Awareness is a cornerstone for stimulating innovation. If we're not aware of our natural wiring, it's tough to manage our habitual reactions. In order to find the best solutions, tap into people’s underlying emotions and mental states. Being curious, and empathising will lead to openness, understanding and alignment.
We have identified some Pillars of Conscious Communication that skillful leaders can use to achieve CREATIVE states within their teams. Cycling through these Pillars will create an atmosphere where innovative solutions are nurtured. Keep in mind that a solution may come at any time during the cycle.
1. Lens: Focus on Big-Picture Reflection. Get out of the details that cause the brain to play it safe (i.e. find the same boring solutions as the last time). What issue are we really trying to solve? What needs are we trying to meet by doing this? What results are we looking for? What do we want to be different?
2. Language: Teach your team the roots of productive dialogue so innovation isn’t threatened. Use Conscious Communication, as it allows people (and their brains) to stay open and ideas to flow. How do you start? Ask them to state an open, curious observation about what they would like to see different. And to avoid setting off the REACTIVE brain, task them to state their observation without any blaming, comparing, shaming or guilting. (This is a fun and important exercise for the Brain’s CEO and is hard as ever!)
3. Listening: Listen to understand versus respond. When your team uses CREATIVE communication versus REACTIVE, people learn to listen to understand others and the basis of their ideas. We get less caught up in judging people and can more easily understand what need(s) their ideas are trying to meet. We can go back to our LENS conversation to see if the ideas fit the needs we are trying to meet as a team or notice if we are missing some vital needs that are essential to our success.
4. Learning: Test out your ideas, test your thinking. BUT before you do, focus on assessing how YOU WILL KNOW that this idea will meet your big picture needs. What will you see? How will you know that you are getting the results you want? Have fun noticing what comes up. You can also prepare a way to gather the information as you implement. Organize the information into tables, charts and graphs, pictures. Continuously check back.
5. Let Go: Use relaxed, playful distraction and walk away from the problem to engage in activity to relax your mind.
- Watch for the "Aha" Moment: This should just happen. If it doesn’t repeat steps 1 through 4 above.
- Quickly Strengthen New Connections: When a new idea pops into your head, write it down. Don’t worry about the idea making perfect sense. Write down every detail that comes to you, without judgement.
- Explore the Impact: Explore your new idea to make sure it meets your needs...not your wants!
6. Life: Life is our studio, our place to study ourselves. Using the pillars of conscious communication (Lens, Language, Listening, Learning), continuously examine how you react to new information, or someone’s tone or choice of words. Are you accessing the CREATIVE brain or REACTIVE BRAIN?
Innovation is crucial to success. We are asked to constantly push the envelope to discover new solutions to our problems. We can meet these challenges by changing the way we think and do things.
If you’d like more information about how to use these six steps to increase innovation, or on how to improve any aspect of leadership, please give us a call at 819-827-8000. We are always happy to provide a free 30-minute consultation.
Innovation is risky business to our brains. It’s threatening and goes against the brain’s primal way of working: “business as usual”.