Hidden brain ————–> prefrontal cortex ————–> creativity
Our brain is only willing to expend the necessary energy to be creative when the prefrontal cortex, our conscious awareness, has analyzed all the possible responses it knows about and nothing is satisfactory.
But the vast majority of our decision making doesn’t take place there in the prefrontal cortex. This decision making more often occurs in the “Hidden Brain,” a function with which we have no direct connection and no insight. Research demonstrates that our brain operates by concocting a plausible explanation of the sensory data it receives. Regardless of whether this is real or not, the brain treats this plausible explanation as the ‘truth’ it can act upon. Moreover, this interpretation always begins in the amygdala, the flight or fight, stress response area. Because the amygdala is concerned solely with individual survival to the exclusion of everything and everyone else, we ‘see’ the world in our own way.
Of course, reality and other viewpoints may differ from this ‘truth.’ For this, we have mirror neurons, an adaptation which enable us to ‘feel the pain of others’ without having to actually experience it ourselves, an attempt to incorporate these other views into our interpretation. But studies demonstrate that the more power and control one has, the less active these mirror neurons are.
Research also indicates that before our brain is even able to be creative, the prefrontal cortex must evaluate and find that none of the available options aree satisfactory. Unless we can get past this amygdala thinking to the prefrontal cortex, where our brain can consider and explore all the known possibilities, we’ll never get to creativity and innovation.This sequence cannot be short circuited. It’s just the way our brain operates.
How, then, can we know where the brain is processing?
resistance <———————> satisfaction
Resistance is one of the few clues we have, but identifying where the resistance is coming from is not so easy. People who say ‘no’ may have a well reasoned view and speak from their prefrontal cortex. Others who say ‘yes’ may have no interest in following through and are really just trying to protect themselves; they are in their amygdala.
Studies show that a person with a fixed, strongly held belief is processing in their amygdala. But that same person, discussing options and alternatives, is now processing in their prefrontal cortex. When we apply prefrontal cortex approaches, like Lean tools, and it doesn’t get a satisfactory response, it may not be that the other person is lazy, unmotivated, or incapable. It may be they are just in their amygdala, and unless we can get past that resistance, there is little hope for a fruitful discussion, let alone the chance for anything creative.
In addition, we have seriously misinterpreted what satisfaction means.
The conventional belief is that it depends on what the other person wants. ‘What I want’ is amygdala thinking. Satisfaction really depends on what they need, or prefrontal cortex thinking. Often we don’t know what we need, so we substitute what we want. To get to prefrontal cortex thinking, we have to discover what is actually needed- what you need and what they need.
In a previous podcast, Scott Sambucci noted that the sales process is about matching the product to the customer needs. The first step, then, is to learn those needs. This is where the “Engagement kata” starts, because as Dan Pink argues in To Sell Is Human, we are all ‘selling’ our ideas all the time.
In Lean fashion, the Engagement kata is an attempt at the most direct path from where you are to where you want to be – from amygdala to prefrontal cortex, from resistance to satisfaction.
Step 1- Recognize the resistance- how can we know if we even need to invoke the Engagement kata?
Fortunately, It only takes two questions to identify if the other person is satisfied.
When you are concluding any conversation, ask:
- Are there questions or concerns that come to mind?
- Is there something that will make this difficult for you to do?
‘no’ and ‘no’ signifies satisfaction; they are in their prefrontal cortex.
But if the person is not there:
Step 2- Respond to the resistance
a) Discover their need – two questions that provide insight into their perspective:
- ‘what about this doesn’t work?’
- ‘what about this doesn’t work for you?’
Everyone is happy to tell you what doesn’t work from their perspective. But when you ask ‘what’s difficult for you,’ it expresses your commitment to them and demonstrates you have their interests at heart, boosting your mirror neurons and theirs.
In actuality, there are only three reasons someone resists:
- there is no agreement about the problem at hand;
- they don’t see any way to be successful in what is proposed;
- they agree on the problem and see a way to be successful, it’s just not worth their effort to change. These questions help you sort that out.
b) Examine your own credibility
If the gap is between resistance and satisfaction,
and the point of cause is the mirror neurons,
and the root cause is in the effect of power on those mirror neurons,
then the countermeasure is to boost your mirror neuron activity.
Given the plausability issue and the preference for our amygdala, how might we do this?
The insight here comes from the 2002 BBC Reith lecture, ‘A Matter of Trust,’ by Onora O’Neill, British philosopher, talking about the growing mistrust of the media at that time. She lays out a framework for acting with credibility, based on acting toward others without deception and without coercion.
In contrast to the media, which she felt was at times intentionally deceptive, in healthcare, this is mostly unintentional. We can be inadvertently deceptive when we don’t assure our data is the ‘right’ data – capable (of providing insight into the issue at hand) and believable (gathered in an acceptable manner, and verifiable by those who are impacted by it.) Satisfaction surveys are a good example of data that can be deceptive.
We might be acting coercively when we don’t devise standards the ‘right’ way. They may be either too prescriptive or not detailed enough. There are usually unintended consequences that we have not recognized or not bothered to seek out. To act without coercion requires a commitment to tease out options that enable every involved party to be successful in their responsibilities, even if those options are not immediately recognizable.
This is the significance of the spirit of ‘kaizen,’ translated as ‘change for the better’ with the implication that it is ‘better for everyone involved.’ Your credibility, then, is the key to your response. And, like a nickname, you don’t determine how credible you are; that is determined by the other person.
Two questions that provide insight into yourself to flesh out your response:
- ‘am I using the ‘right’ data?’
- ‘am I supporting the ‘right’ standards?’
Step 3- Reconcile the resistance – 2 questions to reconcile the gap between the two:
- ‘what can we agree on?’
- ‘what can we agree to?’
This keeps us from having to ‘hold someone accountable,’ or convincing the other person to ‘buy-in.’
Now, it’s about what you both can live with – what each of you needs – what everyone agrees to try and the difficulties encountered in trying to follow through. This is way less threatening to the amygdala. By the time you answer these questions, everyone will be in their prefrontal cortex, ready and able to participate in the next step toward improvement.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to be notified about posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.