Monday, November 26, 2012

Overcoming fear and quieting the Lizard Brain

It seems to me that the two biggest fears in the business world are of failure and embarrassment. All other fears are derived from these two big monsters.

I recently listened to the HBR IdeaCast interview with Tom and David Kelley, The Four Fears Blocking You from Great Ideas.

Their message is for leaders to unlock the creative capability that exists in many of their people by countering the obstacles to creativity:
  • Fear of the messy unknown
  • Fear of being judged
  • Fear of the first step
  • Fear of losing control
The Kelley's also wrote the HBR.com blog Fighting the Fears the Block Creativity and the HBR article Reclaim Your Creative Confidence, and David Kelley gave a talk at TED2012, How to Build your Creative Confidence.

Quieting the lizard brain

I see a connection with Seth Godin's writing about Quieting the lizard brain. Seth describes the lizard brain as the resistance that keeps us from doing the things that make you successful.

"The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't do all the art you can, the reason you don't ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance." 
― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Like the Kelley's, he says that we don't need to be more creative. All of us are too creative. What we need is a quieter lizard brain.



What can leaders do to quiet the lizard brain? 

The Kelley's suggest that we should take small steps to build confidence and overcome fear. Seth Godin says you should only start things that are worth finishing, be committed to finishing whatever we start, and to thrash out the lizard brain resistance in the beginning.

I can think of a few effective approaches that leaders can promote to their teams to counter fear and the lizard brain:
  • Focus your energy on important work. If it isn't a priority, then don't waste your time on it.
  • Don't be afraid of rework. Just get started once you decide to do something.
  • Don't wait for the perfect plan. You will learn along the way. Nobody has omniscience.
  • Fail small and often. You can learn from small failures without getting hurt.
  • Try ideas out and see where they take you. Dip your toes in the water before jumping in.

What other ways can we counteract the resistance from the lizard brain?






Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Leader Thoughtship - A New Blog

I have been meaning to start up a blog for a while now, and so now here it is! I haven't had a lot of time to look into best practices, to find the ideal hosting service, or to think much about site design. However, I do have lots of thoughts to share on leadership and driving change. At some point, you just have to pull the trigger and go for it. It is the middle of the night in Austin and I'm wide awake from jet lag. What better time than now?

Over the past few years I have been collecting thoughts on leadership, marketing, and business development. There is a single common thread, and it is about driving change. After all, that's what leadership is all about, right?

To kick things off I am going to share a presentation on storytelling that I have given eight times now. The first time I gave this presentation was at the ISA Marketing & Sales Summit here in Austin on August 16. Preparing for this presentation turned out to be a much more wild and exciting ride than I expected. I started out with a single statement - "People make decisions based on emotion and then back them up with reason." I have used it before in presentations, but then I felt that I shouldn't just throw this cliche around without understanding why this is the case. And so the journey begins...

As a chemical engineer, I'm not  really well versed in psychology and biology. I always thought that maybe this emotion vs. reason cliche had something to do with right-brain vs. left-brain interactions and possibly conscious vs. subconscious decision making. It turns out to be much deeper than this. I spent quite a bit of time on Google and doing literature searches in EBSCO, and a single concept kept poking its head out here and there. That's when I learned about the Triune Brain Theory.

Triune Brain Theory

The Triune Brain Theory says that our brain has three parts: lizard brain, animal brain, and human brain. In a nutshell, the human brain is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is where abstract thought, language, and reason happens. Behavior is driven by the lizard and animal brains. And so, if you want to drive change, you must appeal to these areas of the brain. The lizard brain is your flight-or-flight pain avoidance mechanism. Solution Selling says "no pain, no change" and so hitting the lizard brain with pain can be a key driver for change. Since the animal brain drives most behavior and this is where we experience emotion, then it makes since that people would make decisions based on emotion. We back up those decisions with our human brain, but this isn't where memories are stored and so we might rationalize the decision but then the rationale goes away over time.

Triune Brain Theory

Here's the crazy part of my story. I already heard about this theory a few years ago in a TED talk by Simon Sinek, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. It is my #1 most favorite TED presentation that I've seen (and I have seen a LOT of them). It resonates with Solution Selling concepts, inspiring with vision rather than facts and figures, and differentiating your company based on your mission. I have shared the Why/How/What model with countless people and I have learned about a similar Is/Does/Means solution marketing model that is described in a book called Conversations that Win the Complex Sale. What I completely forgot about was the part of Simon Sinek's talk that described the three layers of our brain. I was inspired by the Why and the How of his talk. The three-brain rationale was compelling when I heard it but once I was satisfied that the reasoning was sound, I discarded that part of the talk and remembered to start with Why. Now I have experienced firsthand how starting with Why is so important. We remember the story behind the Why, and it is much harder to remember the What.

Sounds simple? Maybe too simple to be true?

Here's the presentation I gave about storytelling. I'm going to be revisiting this presentation in later blog posts. I have a lot to write about.