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Blog and News

Speeding Up By Slowing Down
04/17/2014 Doug Beckley

We have all experienced the ironic and inconvenient functioning of the human brain.  The tricky solution to a work problem eludes us all day at the office, and then quietly appears while we’re in the shower.  We fight to remember the name of a colleague while standing in front of them, only to recall it instantly when the pressure is off. Neurobiologists have studied this phenomenon in depth – and their findings show that we need to start behaving very differently if we want to increase our cognitive effectiveness. The brain will not be forced. 

Our success is an outcome of effective cognitive functioning. Decision making, judgment, creative problem solving and impactful use of communication – these are the most fundamental tools of success. Greatness comes not from having an exceptional brain, but from using the brain we have in an exceptional manner.

Half our brain tied behind our back: In today’s techno-ADD, hyper-proficient world, most of us try to keep up with the roar of tedious activity by being “efficient”.  Unfortunately, what we mistake for productivity is actually a self-delusional misuse of our brains.  Our days are filled with overstimulation, packed schedules, multitasking, technological over-communication, and meetings with a lot of activity but very little impact. We mistake busyness for effectiveness. We fail to discern whether our activities impact our goals, whether our decisions produce results. In reality, the hard driving orientation we think creates success actually blocks sound thinking.

A good carpenter measures twice and cuts once. Highly effective people take time to think deeply, to solve problems without interruption, to communicate until people understand, and to spend time on activities which produce results rather than just more activity. In short, they have disciplined themselves to work smart, rather than just hard - by slowing down and releasing the power of our vast creative intelligence.

Independent studies at both Princeton and Duke Universities revealed the following habits and routines of highly successful people:

  • They control their work environment. Successful people are not victims of their environment, but rather structure a work atmosphere and routine which allows time to plan and think and discuss without unnecessary interruption. William Faulkner removed the outer doorknob from his study, and taught people not to knock unless there was a fire.
  • They do not rush communication. Highly effective leaders know that unnecessary mistakes will be made and relationships needlessly stressed - until people truly communicate by creating shared understanding through real dialogue. Bill Gates routinely asks his top managers to repeat back what he has requested of them, simply to ensure they leave the conversation with the same understanding.
  • They walk away.  Thoughtful decisions and creative solutions cannot be forced by working harder. Effective thinkers understand that their best ideas are already within the brain – the trick is releasing them. Take a walk, eat lunch in the park, go away for the weekend. Albert Einstein was famous for doing his best thinking by taking walks around town.
  • They keep their brain healthy. The Duke success study showed that top CEOs were more than three times as likely to make time for their health including reasonable nutrition, exercise and enough sleep – all of which are proven to increase cognitive functioning.  Apple CEO Tim Cook hits the gym at 5 am every morning regardless of what city he may be in.

For many of us, slowing down will feel counter intuitive – we are much too busy to take strolls and have relaxed chats.  And that is the point at which we are at odds with not only proven brain science, but the research of success.   Success is a function of sound thinking, discernment and good ideas.  This means doing things right, rather than doing them fast.