Building New Paths
Let’s say you are walking to a new office location or following a new trail through the woods. The first time around, the route feels new and fresh, you may even feel out of sorts. But the more you walk the path, the clearer it becomes. Before too long your feet automatically take you down the path without you even thinking about it.
Your brain operates the same way. The pattern that your neural circuits develop through repetition gets stronger and stronger as you repeat words, actions, and thoughts. This is a process called neuroplasticity. For leaders, it’s good news as well as bad news.
The good news is that you can build a strong company culture and get everyone aligned and aimed in the same direction by repeating the same messages until they’ve built strong pathways in everyone’s mind. If you’re really good at this, the messages reach beyond your employees to your customers and prospects, strengthening their good feelings about the company and its products. Apple is a master at this.
The bad news is that the repeating patterns allow you to hold onto ideas even after they’re no longer relevant or true. Leaders who’ve been successful for years by following a set of ideas about how and where to guide their company are often unable to change their thinking when conditions change. In a worse-case scenario, this can lead everyone in the company to continue to believe all is well even when poor results have shown this is a fantasy.
The beauty of neuroplasticity is that it enables us to change the pathways. It takes conscious effort however to proceed on a different path. A few people seem to be wired in ways that are infinitely flexible but for most of us…no such luck.
Whether you are naturally flexible or inflexible, it’s important to get out of your rut, to try different paths. To learn new things, go to new places, meet new people. Spend time forcing your brain to break free and grow along with the world around you.
Take advantage of your neuroplasticity by frequently varying your routines. Read books in genres you never imagined you’d find interesting. Study something you never thought about in any detail.
I recently met an interesting CEO who mentioned that whenever he travels, which he does quite a bit, he never stays in the same hotel twice. If he’s staying in one place for several days, he moves to a different hotel each and every night. I’m going to do a version of this during a trip I’m taking in two weeks. Over five nights I’m going to stay in four hotels and in the middle, by design, spend an entire night in the airport.
What’s your brain rut-busting method? Share a story of how you keep your mind agile and open. Or share a story of how your brain ruts led you astray and how you broke free and emerged to success. You might find yourself the star of a future missive.