How Activating Your Brain Can Increase Innovation
Listen to Episode 169:
Episode 169 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated — enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and sitting right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. It’s always a pleasure to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio, and as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves — and their companies — to their next level of game-changing innovation, growth, and success.
Scott Harper: Well, Pam, we’re entering into our sixth year of Growth Igniters Radio podcasts.
Pam Harper: Unbelievable.
Scott Harper: Yeah, time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? And you know what? One of the biggest things we’ve learned over the years from our clients, as well as from guests on Growth Igniters Radio is that while the business environment will always be turbulent; you can’t avoid it. But the degree to which individuals, teams and companies innovate, transform and grow despite this turbulence starts within our own minds.
Pam Harper: Exactly. Although this is true for everyone, it’s especially critical for top leadership teams to find ways to pick up on the early signals of changes in the environment, frame the information in new ways, make high stakes decisions, and then take bold action in the face of complexity and deep uncertainty.
Scott Harper: Yes, and we know that neuroscience has made lots of inroads into understanding how to tap into our brainpower at the highest level. But, you know, there’s so much and so many complex concepts out there that it’s sometimes hard to digest for everyday use.
Pam Harper: That’s why we’re speaking today with Scott Halford, President of Complete Intelligence LLC. Here’s just a bit about him: He is a writer and longtime professional speaker and educator of businesspeople worldwide. He focuses on brain-based behavioral science, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and influence. His clients include some of the most venerable businesses in the world such as GE, Google, Bank of America, American Airlines, and more.
Now, in 2014, Scott was inducted into the National Speakers Association Speaker Hall of Fame. He’s been the brainy business columnist for Entrepreneur.com and a blogger for The Huffington Post. Scott is the author of, Be a Shortcut: the Secret Fast Track to Business Success, and the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Activate your Brain: How Understanding your Brain Can Improve your Work and your Life. This is the book that really got us interested in talking with Scott. You can read more about Scott Halford by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 169, and scroll down to his bio.
Pam Harper: Well — Scott Halford, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio! Wow, another Scott.
Scott Halford: Good morning. Yeah, exactly. How are you going to keep us apart? Other than, I’m not your husband.
Pam Harper: Well, okay. I think what I’m going to have to do is say Scott Halford and Scott Harper. We’ll work it out, but it’s going to be fun.
Pam Harper: Okay, so let’s just start out… We can do it, we can do it.
So, what led you to conduct research about understanding the brain? It’s not the kind of thing that people just casually go out and do.
Scott Halford: Well, no, it’s not a casual dalliance at all. But you know, I think the thing that spurred it was that I was working with physicians around emotional intelligence during Physician Leadership, and they always wanted to know, “Where does this show up in the brain?” Because we know that our emotions are generated through the brain.
And when we were able to look at it and see it, actually, in FMRs and scans of them, isn’t really able to locate places, it became real to them. And it was through this nebulous thing that emotions can sometimes be for people. They’re real, it’s data, it’s things.
There are things that you can see, and when I saw how real that became to them, I thought, “You know what? I am going to be dealing with cynical, jaded people who just don’t believe in this stuff. They don’t believe in it.” It’s kind of an interesting thing when somebody took, “Oh, I don’t believe in that.” It’s like, well, it’s your branding. Your brain is kind of generating everything that’s actually generating your disbelief around this right now, and so that’s how it happened. Yeah.
Pam Harper: Okay. So what is the biggest insight that you gained from the process? Was there a big “Aha”?
Scott Halford: The big “Aha” is that I went, “Oh my gosh, I do have a brain,” aside from that, the biggest insight was that people talk about soft skills, but I think they’re the hardest skills that we’ll ever learn. Engineering is a piece of pie; it’s easy to do math. I don’t say that pejoratively, but compared to understanding the intricacies of the interactions between humans, it’s so complex. So the fact that they call it “soft skills” was not good to me. But what happened was the big “Aha” was all I had to do was to show the science and then they became seen as the hard skills.
Scott Harper: So, Scott — you mentioned that your book “Activate your Brain,” is especially geared toward business people. Why is that?
Scott Halford: Well, because you know if you look at today, and you look at what’s required from corporations, every single quarter, they have to improve themselves. Year over year, quarter over quarter. And that is a constant improvement that’s been going on since Wall Street’s been around, and when you look at the amount of pressure that is coming down on these people, is immense. They have not only their job but then they have their families, they have the community, and they have so many other pieces of the pie that are pulling on them to produce and perform. And we see burnout, we see depression, we see all kinds of things happening. And when you take a look at the brain-based approach to working, it changes the game. It changes everything. They have something leftover at the end of their day for the people they love.
Pam Harper: Well, so innovation for business growth in a world that keeps changing is especially challenging, to put it, mildly grueling. If we really want to be honest, it can be up and down and sideways. What is the most important thing that the neuroscientists have learned so far about achieving full potential in these kinds of high stakes, ambiguous situations?
Scott Halford: The one thing in neuroscience is that we will never get to the place of, “What is the thing?” Because neuroscience will always say, “there’s not the thing, there’s several things.” There are different pieces that get us to innovation. The biggest thing that’s in a way, though, that I can see from my own experience through business as well through the neuroscientific models, is that the biggest thing is the noise, the constant input of information and requests into our brain. We have piles and piles and piles of requests, if you’ve metaphorically looked at all of the things that your brain is trying to tackle for you at any given moment, you would be astounded. And yet when we do, instead of pulling back, we push on. And when we push on, we don’t make ourselves better, we actually make ourselves messier.
It’s not happening in corporations where we’re doing any kind of pullback and allowing people the space to be able to think, and the time to be able to think, or you know, we’re not getting them the kind of basic timing in the morning or the timing in the afternoon, to actually settle into the day and come out of the day. There should be rituals, in my opinion, at corporations, just like there are rituals in your personal life. You get up, you brush your teeth, you might take a moment, you have your pocket, you read the paper. Those are all rituals, and we do them in order. The same thing could happen in business, it’s just that that’s another culture of American business.
Pam Harper: Well, there is a lot to learn about the brain for sure, and we’re eager to get into it. But first, we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back we’ll dig deeper with Scott Halford, author of the book, Activate your Brain, about understanding how the brain works, can help you and your team increase creativity and innovation for growth. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to ignite, sustain and boost momentum for game-changing results and we’re on the web at BusinessAdvanced.com
Pam Harper: To everyone listening, welcome. We’re glad you joined us. Whether it’s because you’re a subscriber, or you’ve just found us wherever you pick up your podcasts, but there’s a special reason to visit GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, and this is, it’s the only way you can access all of the previous podcast episodes from the start of Growth Igniters Radio, which is now going into our sixth year.
Scott Harper: It’s also where you can find unique show notes, bios and resource links specifically related to each of our podcasts. We feature award-winning CEOs, thought leaders, and bestselling authors. You can explore more by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me, and Scott Harper. Today, we’ve been speaking with Scott Halford, author of the book, “Activate your Brain,” about how understanding how your brain works can increase the quality, not only of your life at work, but way beyond.
Pam Harper: Scott, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Scott Halford: Good morning, afternoon, evening, wherever you are in the world. You can find out about me by going to the web at www.CompleteIntelligence.com or ScottHalford.com.
Pam Harper: And you can see Scott’s full bio and other resources for this conversation by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select episode 169, and there’s lots more to find out.
Pam Harper: So let’s get back to our conversation, you got our appetites whetted about this whole idea of understanding the brain in a different kind of way. Can we start out with how you would describe the different functions of the brain? That was a part of the book I found particularly easy to understand, so let’s make it come alive for people.
Scott Halford: Wow, yeah. Well, if you look at how the brain sets up, the vast majority of what we do, and how we think is operated by 100% of the brain. And so the fallacy, that the myths out there that we only use a part of our brain is significantly not true. What is true is that we use 100%, a hundred percent of the time. What we don’t use is the capacity, therein lies the good news about where it is that we can find new ways to think, find new ways to be, find new inventions, and it all happens in this capacity.
Scott Halford: Humans are collecting information all of the time, about 11 million bits per second. Your non-conscious brain is exposed to it, so if you’ll look at… Say that you’re 40 years old, and Pam and Scott are 40 years old, each one of them that you represent, 80 years times 11 million bits per second, and 11 million bits that are different even though you are married, they’re very different, you’re having very different experiences.
Scott Halford: When you look at that, and you multiply that, how many seconds old you are times 11 million bits per second, and if you look at the pool of data that brains offer you. If you just got quiet, if you picked an area and you said, “I want to… I’m interested in innovation,” And you studied innovation, and that’s all you did your entire career, well those 11 million bits would become really smart, wouldn’t they? And they’d become so smart that when you allowed access to them, what would happen is, you would begin to have thoughts and ideas born out of the experience of those bits that no one else would ever have had, and they would be incredible. They would be beyond our ability to even conceive. So what we’re trying to do is get quiet.
Pam Harper: You could be overwhelmed if you just let it all flow in, couldn’t it?
Scott Halford: You absolutely could, and so it’s like your brain has the keys to the kingdom, and it lets you in every once in a while for a tour. And if you’re really good, let’s just come and stand in one of the rooms.
And the thing that people don’t do is get quiet. So the way I look at it is this, if you think about, all day, what is happening between you and your environment. You take in information, you have emails, you have texts, you have the news and newspapers, you have their computer, everything coming at you, giving you information. So there’s the input to your brain, and then there’s the output, what you tell people to do, what kinds of things you put out on your computer, the texts you generated, the emails you generated.
So those input, output, they take up huge real estate in the brain. And so what those 11 million bits per second are doing, is they’re leaning against the wall, waiting for you to get quiet and to notice them because they have some information for you. And what we do when we do get quiet, is all of a sudden we run into that information and we go, “Eureka!” And “Aha!” We act as if we basically have come up with something brand new when indeed your brain has known it for a long time, and that “Eureka,” is the moment it feels when it’s discovered that piece of information in the brain, and it only happens when we get quiet.
Scott Harper: Okay, so building on that, Scott, one of the tools that you use repeatedly throughout the book is a two by two quadrant diagram of arousal and adrenaline, or corticosteroid levels — stress hormone levels. Can you explain a little bit about that and how understanding and recognizing which quadrant we and our teams are living in impacts performance as business leaders and team performance in general?
Scott Halford: Yeah, this is a big one. Let me reduce it down, it takes a lot of pages in a book, but the things I understand is that if you look at stress or cortisol, and you look at adrenaline, is that it travels with adrenaline. It also drabbles with glucose, and those three things, when they come together, they help you to be aware of survival.
And survival is all about the fight, flight, or freeze. And so the fight or flight response that everybody knows, we always forget the freeze part, sometimes it’s good just to stay put so the burglar doesn’t hear you in the house… Fight, flight or freeze, that’s what it allows us to do. Well, those three hormones are necessarily temporary in the system. Well, when we live in a world that is pounding us all the time with me, want, want, want, need, need, need, do, do, do, our stress, or hormones, are up all the time. And the stress or hormone used to be there so that when we saw a wild feral animal or something that could get us out in the wild, it allowed us to survive the moment by fight, flight or freeze and that was great. But we don’t have animals anymore.
Those animals are your colleagues and well, if that’s the case, then indeed we’re surrounded by animals all of the time. And that’s when our glucocorticoids take over, and if they do take over in a way that is constant, what happens is that we begin to live with the difficulties and the nastiness of stress and what it does, not just to the immune function, but your organs, and the brain. So that’s a piece.
Pam Harper: I could see the relationship between what you were saying about getting quiet and this issue of the stressors, because how else are you going to shake off the stressors except to get yourself quiet? Would you say that’s true?
Scott Halford: Yeah, that’s one way. Another way is to exercise. It’s literally walk faster than a walk for about 30 minutes a day or multiple times a day. Laughter is another way to mitigate the stress effects.
Pam Harper: So now let’s build on that, and how do these different brain functions interact? Especially when it comes to creativity and innovation.
Scott Halford: When we’re looking at affect, affect is a fancy psychological word that means when you look at moods, dispositions, and traits that equal either positivity or negativity. And what we know, very simplistically, is that positive emotions generate innovative thoughts, negative emotions help you to find old information, and what we’re doing is old information to solve new problems. That’s where most of America stops, is finding old information because we’re in a survival mode, and if all you do is have your people at work and the constant stress out manner, then what you have is this basic machine and people getting you old information repackaged to deal with new issues. They’re not innovative for people who are innovative.
Scott Halford: If you look at Google, and you look at Microsoft, and you look at Apple, and you look at these big, big iconic companies that are just generating huge creativity, it’s because they sequester teams of people and say, “You go and don’t deal with the everyday hassles of the corporate world, you’ve carved out, go invent something,” and it’s exactly how the iPod was created. It was by pulling the pressure off and allowing them to be a positive asset. Be happy, to laugh, to giggle, to play games. There is a lot of criticism that happened for those companies where “Oh I guess now we have to have ping pong tables in our office.” Well actually, you might help yourself if you do. So the fact is, is that positive affects are the thing that generates all kinds of invention. It creates new thoughts, new ideas, and that’s where we’re seeing big, huge things shift in the organization.
Pam Harper: That’s an important point for sure. And we’re going to talk more about what we can do to start small in the next segment. But first, we’re going to take a break. Stay with us…
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been speaking with Scott Halford, author of the book, “Activate your Brain,” about how understanding how your brain works can increase innovation and help your company transform and grow. Scott, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Scott Halford: You can go to my website Www.CompleteIntelligence.com, or ScottHalford.com; it will take you to information about how to get the book, and you can certainly find it on Amazon.
Pam Harper: And you can see Scott’s full bio and other resources for this conversation by going to Growth Igniters Radio, episode 169.
Pam Harper: So Scott, let’s talk about three immediately useful ideas that any top leadership team could use to activate their brains and improve how they innovate. You talk about starting small, is there a start small kind of way that’s immediately useful for holding meetings that foster collaboration, especially when there are the strong egos involved?
Scott Halford: Well, the “start small, start now” is a very individualistic kind of maneuver, and when you look at it in application to teams, it would be basically looking at, if we’ve got a big project that we have to complete by XYZ time, say 90 days, then what we do in to “start small, start now” is to break down the elements of that project into almost minuscule pieces, so that every day, every single day, every 24-hour chunk, you have a success because the brain loves completion. It loves achievement. And to give it a check Mark, it’s a, “Ta-dah, you’ve got it done.” It would mean to have every person on the team create their list of things that are down into that minuscule kind of granular type of activity. And to have the team come together and look at first off, are they all in alignment, or are they all on the same page?
And in doing so, they are able to look at each other’s little lists of 24-hour check mark lists and make sure that those are all in sync as well. And so, it sounds like a lot of work, but what happens is most organizations, most teams, they take the approach that you go do what you do, and everybody goes off, and that’s where communication breaks down, then all of the little checkmarks that they’re trying to get along the way, some people have them done, some people don’t and it holds up the team. Teams that work well communicate a lot. Teams that work well know what’s on the other person’s agenda, and they make sure that all of those things support each other, and it means getting that agenda down, the project worked down to very, very small 24-hour tasks.
Scott Harper: Okay, so building on that and going to a next idea, you’ve already talked about how stress can just kill innovation, creativity, and interaction. Can you give us an immediately useful idea for decreasing stress, especially when a team is facing a high stakes decision about investing in a course of innovation?
Scott Halford: Stress is an individual thing, it’s definitely not a team thing. The thing that you want to look at, is that your team is an amalgamation of all of the individuals experiencing their stress. And so as a leader, if I’m looking at helping my team get better, what I’m doing is I’m individually working with each person and making sure that each person is taking care of themselves through exercise, through the things that they eat, making sure that they sleep properly, and that sounds like a really bizarre thing for our team, for a company to get involved in. Well, if I’m a coach of a high stakes, high bred… Like an athlete that is a thoroughbred and I’m spending a lot of money on making sure that I recruited them, and that they’re going to operate well, well guess what? I do dictate what they eat, they sleep, and I’m not suggesting that corporations do that. I am suggesting though, that they actually support that kind of thing and that they allow each individual to manage stress in the way that is important for them.
But the vast majority of things that we know about stress, meaning that we take time to get quiet, that we take time to move and exercise, that we take time to laugh, that we take time to collaborate in a way that actually is about kinship as opposed to competition, and those things are really important to the individuals that become the team, that become the company and the invention. So it starts small, and the small is the individuals work on their own stress.
Pam Harper: Okay. So even when you’re sitting on a board, say we have listeners who sit on boards of directors and the C-suite and no matter what level of the organization you’re talking about, it starts small and everybody needs to manage their own stress in order to make some of these very big decisions that we’re talking about.
Scott Halford: That’s right. Yep, yeah. If you have a collected group of well-rested people who are able to think and able to dive more deeply into information and not get critical of information, tired brains are critical brains. Tired brains are not innovative. Although we’re really good at problem spotting, that’s a tired brain, we’re not very good at problem-solving, that’s an awake brain.
Pam Harper: I think one of the things that could be useful about this is it becomes important to go off-site to make some of these decisions because then you can get the rest. Then you can relax and that might be another immediately useful idea. Just get it on the schedule that when you have something that’s a really big decision, that might be a time to go off-site, to come together as a team. What do you think?
Scott Halford: Yeah, or conversely, not to do problem-solving during an off-site, but to make that a time where you’re building trust because trust is the trait in human beings that’s been with us since the beginning and that allows us to open ourselves up to surrendering, to being able to think with another individual, not to compete. That’s what happens at off-sites, they build immense trust and then they could get into the work of the problem solving and certainly you could do that at the end of an excellent off-site. Off-sites are an interesting thing that you bring up though because there are very few activities that a company spends the money on, that is more important and more helpful to move the dime on decision making and invention and innovation and overall trust of the team, then going off-site and doing things that are other than the work.
Pam Harper: Yes, when it’s a high stake situation, it’s certainly important. Well, let’s go to one more immediately useful idea, and this one maybe we’ve already talked about, but an immediately useful idea for leading others so that they stay positive because, of course, innovation is ambiguous and it’s a long haul kind of thing. How can people stay positive even through the ups and downs?
Scott Halford: Wow, if I had the answer to that I would be a billion-gazillion-gazillionaire.
Pam Harper: Yeah, it is a tough one, but we’ve experimented with some ideas, and I think it goes back to what you were saying before, which is helping people to get some of that rest and to see what they’ve accomplished already. The checkmarks you were mentioning, seeing what people have done, would that work?
Scott Halford: You know, if you want to make significant inroads into a person’s psyche, into what it is that they are, how it is that they set up to become the best contribution to the team, it’s different for every single individual. People are dealing with depression and huge, huge, huge ways and we can’t ignore that, and we can’t just come in and say, “We’re going to make you happy.” That’s not that the leader’s job. The leader’s job, I think, is to pave the way, and get access to the brightest brains they have, which is hopefully the brains they’ve recruited for the team, and to give an access to capital and time, in order to create and produce the things that need to be done and to push the company forward. And that necessarily means, we need to create big chunk kind of policies and cultural kind of initiatives, that allow our people to think, and to rest and to be involved with the other part of their life that they have work at work, and home at home,that’s done, that’s done.
We will never probably again see an unstressed life, and the necessity of actually acknowledging someone’s life outside of the workplace is a huge part of reducing stress because if I have to take little Cindy off to the doctor and I’m stressing because I think my boss is going to be angry that I’m taking time off of work, that’s going to affect my work. But if my boss has a culture that says, “You need to take your kids into work or to the doctor, absolutely go take your kid to the doctor, and there’s ways that we can work around that.” That’s a very different environment and so, if it that can be set up that allow the employee to work at their best.
I think leaders that pay attention to each individual’s needs, those are such rare leaders and they are such important leaders to our world. But if you want to become a great leader, pay attention to each and every individual that reports to you, and pay attention to the other thing that’s going on in the world. Then you will be able to say, “You know, John, I know you well enough to know that, that look on your face says you’re feeling pretty stressed. You know, go take time to exercise, or go take some time in the gym, or have you thought about the vacation days that you haven’t taken yet?” And I think we all look at that as a weakness when we do take time, and I think it’s a weakness when we don’t, I think we’re really weak individuals if all we’re doing is being a martyr about sleep. “We only had three hours of sleep last night and I never take a vacation and I worked from this…” No, it doesn’t make any sense, it’s exactly opposite of what the brain wants you to do.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. Well, Scott, you have given us so much to think about and my brain is active right now. Do you have any final thoughts you could share with us on this important topic?
Scott Halford: You know, I would say this, that you individually out there, all the listeners, are embarking upon understanding your brain. I think it’s the greatest activity you have before you, it’s not your work, it’s not your family, it’s not your church, not your community. It’s understanding your individual brain, and I know that sounds like heresy, but when you do, and you go on that and you begin to research and study it, you will be able to give to those entities that I just spoke about in ways you have never given before. And the world, I think, needs wisdom, I think it needs the wisdom that we’re holding back on. So, go on that journey, really understand your brain.
Pam Harper: Scott, thanks for being on Growth Igniters Radio.
Scott Halford: It was great to be here. Thank you.
Scott Harper: Thanks Scott, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 169.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: …Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: What can I start doing differently today to build a routine that gives me better brainpower for a more powerful life?
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters, and Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, are registered service marks of Business Advancement Incorporated. All Growth Igniters Radio episodes are copyrighted productions of Business Advancement Incorporated are intended for the private use of our audience, except as otherwise provided by copyright law, all other uses, including copying, editing, redistribution, and publication without the prior written consent of Business Advancement Incorporated are prohibited. ©2020. All rights reserved.