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Keeping your mind fresh and flexible

When was the last time you travelled home from work on a different route to normal?

In my coaching work I often encourage people, especially those who are maybe a little stuck or who want to up their game, to go and seek out variety and unpredictability.

This is important because so much of what we do, what we say and how we think, is driven by habit. Habit is useful, because it’s ‘expensive’ from a brain-power point of view to have to stop and think about things before we do them. Being on autopilot is efficient. And yet, if habit is all that drives us, how do we develop, learn and grow?

I’ve long argued that the extra brain-expense of doing things like driving home on a different route every now and then, is a good investment, because it helps our brains make new connections and be more pliable. Those connections and that pliability are extremely useful for increased problem-solving and mental and sensory acuity – the ability to spot information and recognise patterns.

So it was interesting reading Steven Kotler’s book “The Rise of Superman – decoding the science of ultimate human performance,” in which Kotler cites unpredictability and novelty as being essential steps towards achieving what athletes call flow state.

“[things like] brushing your teeth with the wrong hand,” says Kotler, “…increases novelty and unpredictability, demanding focus and pattern recognition.”

I’m still only half-way through that book and undecided about just how useful it might be, but it’s nice to see others also emphasising these points. Kotler also goes on to quote renowned neuroscientist James Olds as saying that new routines in our daily lives produce dopamine and norepinephrine, the feel-good chemicals that our brains use to amplify focus and enhance performance. In fact, I got really excited, because Kotler then says that James Olds practices what he preaches by driving home from work a different route every night!! Unfortunately, even though this would be a great way to justify what I’ve been telling people to do for years, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate – read for yourself what Olds did actually say in one interview by clicking here.

Regardless of that possible slip up, I’m interested in how you keep things fresh and your brain nice and flexible? How do you make sure that not everything you do is driven by habit or routine?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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Capability – Part 2

Why you should be worried if people in your business are saying “I don’t know how…” – and what to do about it

This is the second in a brief two-part series about Capability at work. 

Part one (click here) explored what kind of approaches you can take if you want to help individuals to change their behaviours or to be more capable. In this second part, I look at why you should really sit-up and pay attention if you’re hearing a lot of “I don’t know hows” in your business and what’s needed if you want everyone to feel more capable.

If your business is not capable of doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and of doing that better than your competition, there’s trouble ahead!

Just recently, a couple of client organisations who are in the first stages of becoming more effective and more competitive have mentioned that a few of their people are saying that they, “Don’t know how… (to do what’s required of them).”

This is both a good thing to hear – because it shows that (a) you’re listening and (b) people feel able to tell you – and also the last thing you’d want to be hearing! How can your strategy be a good one, if it’s not based on already having (or rapidly acquiring) a competitive advantage of some kind? How can you execute a great strategy, if key people don’t know how to do what you need of them?

As well as developing individuals – see part one of this series – what might you need to be doing to develop a deeper sense of capability right across your organisation?

Here’s a couple of pointers based on my experience. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list, but should be a good springboard for your own investigations:

  • Are you strategic enough about acquiring and developing Capability? Specifically:
    • how clear are you about the core competencies (related bundles of skills) that set your business apart from the rest?
    • are these core competencies made known, valued, rewarded and measured?
  • Do you promote Curiosity across the organisation? Curiosity about what makes your business tick is a precursor to improved capability. Instead of hearing people say “I don’t know how,” you want to have them saying “I wonder if this would work…?”
  • Building on that, is it OK for people NOT to know stuff? Organisations often reward people (in the widest sense of ‘reward’) for their expertise and knowledge and also often unknowingly punish those who don’t know. Make it OK for people to risk NOT knowing and you open the door for them to learn stuff you’d never have dreamed of.

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.

Confucius

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