Do you recall learning to ride a bicycle as a young child?
At first, you probably wobbled and fell and wanted to quit, especially if you banged a knee or an elbow in the fall. But with mom or dad at your side, or perhaps an older sibling, you had the courage to persevere. Or maybe you started out with training wheels, which made the learning experience easier and less risky. But at some point the training wheels had to come off, and then you were on your own.
As you practiced riding your bike, your skill and confidence grew. Eventually you got the hang of it, and soon were riding around the neighborhood as if you had been doing it all your life. You quickly realized that developing the ability to ride a bike greatly expanded your mobility. What you probably didn’t realize was that it also rewired your brain.
Research shows that when we learn a new skill or develop a new habit, it literally creates new pathways and connections in the brain. But developing those new pathways doesn’t happen overnight; it takes practice. And this is true whether we’re attempting to learn a physical skill like riding a bike or developing the mental disciplines and habits that help us win in business.
As children, we have plenty of time to practice learning new skills. In business, not so much. Between the constant interruptions from our treasured technology tools, the multitude of responsibilities on our plates, and the need to get the product out the door today, who has time to practice?
That’s why I constantly emphasize to clients and keynote audiences the importance of using “neuroprompts” to carve out time for practice drills at work. Neuroprompts take many forms. They might be visual reminders that keep our most important goals in front of us and help us stay focused on winning. They could be questions you pose to yourself and others to force you to pause and think differently for a minute or two; or train others to question you. They make very useful tools for reminding us to pause, think and focus as well as practice winning. Because if we don’t practice, we won’t get better at it.
What does practicing winning look like?
Focusing on the right things. Constantly aligning and engaging our teams in getting to the destination. Pausing from time to time to rethink our assumptions, attitudes and beliefs about our customers and our business. Most of all, practicing winning involves becoming more intentional with our time and energy so that we dedicate them to our highest priorities rather than simply doing the next urgent thing in front of us.
Neuroprompts come in a variety of sizes, shapes and formats. Sticky notes on your laptop screen or bathroom mirror. A funny cartoon on your desk that encourages you to slow down for a few minutes. A “ping” on your smart phone that reminds you to stop and refocus. Thought-bubble white boards that help you refocus and redirect after interruptions. How and where you employ neuroprompts is limited only by your imagination.
One of my favorites is a 3-minute ‘hourglass’ to help me start the day by focusing on winning. Every morning – before checking email, answering voice messages, or responding to any of the incessant demands on my attention – I sit down at my desk and spend three minutes focusing on what I need to do to win. If I’m on the road, I do it in my hotel room before breakfast. Either way, I mentally review my to-do list for the day and evaluate whether spending my time in that manner will support my vision of winning. If not, I decide whether it can be delegated, delayed or dumped altogether.
The beauty of this exercise (it really only takes three minutes!) is that it helps set priorities and manage your time more effectively. It supports a sense of confidence and enthusiasm when you make progress towards your goals. And when you get distracted, it reminds you to pause, refocus, and realign your actions with your vision of winning.
When working with clients, I find neuroprompts to be especially useful in getting the organization focused on winning. For example:
Assumption inventory. Once a quarter – or even monthly for industries undergoing profound change – gather your management team and ask:
- What has changed with our customers, our markets, our industry and the world at large since our last inventory?
- What assumptions are we continuing to make simply because we “know them to be true”? Of these, which are no longer valid? How do we know that?
- What processes, systems and ways of behaving are we continuing to hold onto because “we have always done it that way?”
- What ideas for new products or services have we come up with recently but didn’t follow through because “that will never work”? What has changed that might now make them feasible?
Project “pre-mortem.” When implementing a key strategic decision, ask the following questions to analyze your decision-making process before launching the project or initiative:
- Does the data supporting our decision come from multiple independent sources or just one source saying the same thing in different ways?
- Did the team engage in honest, open debate, or did we engage in “groupthink” in order to avoid conflict?
- Did the leader’s opinion unduly influence others in a certain direction?
- Did we accept the data without challenging it? Was there a rush to achieve consensus that might have caused key elements to be overlooked?
- What are we making up about this project? What voids of information are we filling in? What decisions are based on our “making stuff up” rather than on hard data?
Winning in today’s business world is not easy! It requires constant training and retraining, learning and unlearning of your brain. But it’s not likely to happen unless your regularly prompt yourself to do it. One of the great strengths of the human brain is its neuroplasticity – the ability to adapt and change. Are you using neuroprompts to leverage it?
Call to action: Identify one neuroprompt you can begin using to keep you and your team focused on winning.