Achieving insight across a wide variety of problems – not just word problems but interpersonal conflicts, music composition (creative problems), for example, typically follows a pattern. We focus all our attention on the aspects of the problem as it is presented, or as we understand it, combing through the different possible solutions and scenarios with our left prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. But this is merely a preparatory phase, lining up what we know about a problem. If the problem is sufficiently complex or tricky, what we already know won’t be enough. In a second phase, we need to relax, let go of the problem and let networks in the right hemisphere take over. Neurons in the right hemisphere are more broadly tuned, with longer branches and more dendritic spines – they are able to collect information from a larger area of cortical space than left hemisphere neurons, and although they are less precise, they are better connected. When the brain is searching for an insight, these are the cells most likely to produce it. The second or so preceding insight is accompanied by a burst of gamma waves, which bind together disparate neural networks, effectively binding thoughts that were seemingly unrelated into a coherent new whole. For all this to work, the relaxation phase is crucial.
-Daniel Levitin, “The Organized Mind“
Mr Levitin suggests introspection to solve the creative problem and while I agree, I’d also add the ability to talk the problem through with someone from an outside perspective helps you make the connection between disparate ideas (or neural networks) to bring together one new coherent whole.
My friend Ken Jacobs of Jacobs Executive Coaching and I do a bi-weekly “expertise swap.” During our one-hour call, we spend one half-hour on my business and one half-hour on his. He helps me with things like new business development, goal-setting and other items related to operating and growing a profitable business. I help him with his digital communications and content.
A meeting typically goes like this: He yells at me because I say “I don’t have a lot going on in new business because it’s Summer. And, because … Summer. which is unacceptable to him and that’s probably good. So we talk about what I’ll do in the meantime, and what success at Labor Day looks like.
And it usually entails me yelling at him because he still hasn’t written that blog series on how to negotiate your salary, or deal, etc. Or it might mean I’m yelling at him because now that he is an executive coach, he’s not using the fact that his “extensive background in corporate communications” makes him a perfect fit for say, executives in the marketing communications field.
He took my advice and revamped his positioning:
Stop Running From Your True (compelling) Brand Story
The worst of it, he said, is that it seems so obvious in retrospect. I know what he means. But it’s not obvious until you get outside perspective.
We often are too in the weeds of our lives and our businesses to be able to see the forest. It’s these outside conversations and perspectives we have to pay attention to in order to learn about our own selves.
I’ve had a similar epiphany about the Big Leap brand and it took getting outside of the business to discover it. For example, I used to hide the fact BLC is based in my home office in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho. I thought it was important to appear bigger than we are, and to be based in a major metro area, with cool offices. Then, I’d attend conferences and explain myself at receptions and learn that people were fascinated by the story, fascinated that I can do what I do, from here, my home office er, deck in the Summer. I found I sort of stood out and they remember me by this. Why wouldn’t that be something to talk about instead of hide?
Likewise, Ken didn’t necessarily think his agency background was relevant to what he does now. But the most fascinating people have varied backgrounds – like my former financial advisor client with a degree in psychology, or another client with an IT background in orthopedics making him uniquely capable to develop software for that vertical. When you take two seemingly disparate ideas and bring them together, you get to actually be unique. And it makes for a compelling brand story!
Stop running from that which makes you stronger in the face of your audience. So tell me – what do you have lurking in your background you hesitate to push to your foreground? I’d love to hear.
Thanks to Joe Hackman for turning me onto the book “An Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.”