“By Robert B. Tucker of Forbes”
Hi there, this is your brain speaking. Just wondering what thinking mode you are operating in today? Seems simple, but it’s important to know what’s going on up there. Success in today’s hyper-competitive world depends on what’s happening upstairs in that frontal lobe of your brain where problem-solving, creativity and other cognitive functions take place. Our research with thousands of managers and individual contributors throughout North America and in 48 countries suggests that we need three to four times as many ideas every day to perform at peak levels in our work. Anything less than a constant flow of ideas won’t be sufficient as we enter a future of constant change.
Fortunately, doing a quick, unannounced spot check on your thinking mode couldn’t be easier. Use the list below to identify which of the four dominant thinking modes you are operating in right now. Then check out the tips following on how to alter your thinking style.
Defeatist Mode: This mental state is dominated by worry, frustration, and fear of what might go wrong. Guess what: we’re all thrust into this mode some of the time. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience. In Defeatist Mode, our monkey mind (as the Buddhists call it) feeds us all kinds of negative and unproductive chatter of the doom and gloom variety. We’re rehashing painful past events and replaying tapes of personal setbacks and sadness. We dwell on things we “could have, should have, and would have” done. Defeatist Mode is a negative use of the imagination. Our “idea factories” are shut down, and our idea-producing performance is stalled.
Sustainer Mode: In this state of mind, we’re mostly “going through the motions,” sustaining the status quo. We incessantly check our devices. We multitask, and we grind it out – on autopilot. In Sustainer Mode, if an idea does happen to flutter into mind, we’re apt to ignore it or conjure reasons it will never work, or will be shot down by bosses, spouses or others. Our voice of judgment, that inner critic we all have to deal with, is temporarily in charge. “Ah, that will never work,” or “the boss wouldn’t go for that,” or “you’ve got way too much to do already, you can’t possibly find time to do something with that,” are all indicators of this frame of mind. From a performance standpoint, this mode is also an inevitable part of life. Many jobs are primarily about execution and following established policies, procedures and protocols. The downside of spending long periods in this mode is that it can deaden and diminish creativity, rather than causing us to challenge the status quo with game changing ideas.
Dreamer Mode: If this is your mental state at present, give your brain a kiss! You’re on a performance path, at least as far as generating ideas is concerned. Something has stimulated these endorphins of possibility and it’s important to identify what. Perhaps you took a walk in nature, or had a pleasant conversation with an old friend who genuinely listens to you and is supportive. Maybe you got some good news that set you off in a positive direction. In Dreamer Mode, you come up with ideas easily and without too much effort —lots of them in fact. You have thoughts like: “wouldn’t it be great if.” Functional MRI brain scans show the brain’s pleasure centers lighting up when we’re in this state. We’re all here occasionally, enjoying that dopamine rush of feelings that the future is bright, and all is right with the world, if only for a little while.
Opportunity Mode: In this mode, our idea factories are operating at peak performance levels. Opportunity Mode builds upon the Dreamer Mode, but there’s an added element: an action-taking component. You are not content just to hatch ideas – you have intention to make those dreams a reality. Since innovation is not only coming up with ideas, but also bringing them to life, the downside of Dreamer Mode is that we never execute, never really enjoy the rewards of accomplishing, or of performing at peak levels. When Martin Luther King told the crowd “I have a dream” from the steps of the Washington Monument, he wasn’t just fantasizing. This was the visual embodiment of a man in manifestation mode, and his speech changed the course of history. Opportunity Mode is a confident, positive, glass-is-half-full, can-do state of mind. Your attitude is of unbridled enthusiasm; you’re willing to try anything and everything until you succeed. Problems turn into opportunities. Obstacles are simply challenges to be overcome. The impossible just takes you a little longer.