February 28, 2023
by Stephen T. Messenger
When you’re focused on something, your brain subconsciously makes connections… if you let it.
The Ford Flex
On a work trip last year, I rented a Ford Flex. I’ve never heard of or seen this car before. Once off the lot, I spotted eight before I got to the hotel 15 miles away. I’m sure that I passed hundreds of these in my life, yet I’ve never noticed one before I was driving it.
It’s the same with Daniel Simon’s selective attention test. Take one minute and watch the link below:
The first time I saw this video years ago, I nailed the number of basketball passes. but I completely missed the distraction. After seeing this video many times now, it’s impossible to miss the “elephant in the room.”
In other words, I now see Ford Flexes everywhere!
The Gorilla in Your Brain
In the book Goal Setting by Thibaut Meurisse, he talks about your brain being like a phone’s GPS. With a GPS, you enter the destination, and this mysterious voice will relentlessly take you there, rerouting if there’s a wrong turn or traffic.
It’s the same with your brain. When you set a goal, your subconscious mind makes connections with things it wouldn’t otherwise notice. Your brain unleashes its focus to find relationships in everything you’re thinking about and brings it all together.
I see this in my life all the time. I’m constantly looking for another Maximum Standard article to write and see leadership lessons everywhere. We talk about this so much in our household that even the kids routinely recommend normal events to turn into articles—Shoveling the Driveway was an offhand comment by my daughter while moving snow around.
It Starts with Goals
In soccer, there is a clear objective for each team, aptly named “The Goal.” Everything in soccer is focused on this purpose, to either defend your goal or score on the other team’s. The sport ruthlessly focuses on idioms like “build a wall,” “crash the net,” or “kill the game.”
On the field, soccer players have only one goal, and it encapsulates their thinking. In contrast, some people have no goals.
The Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland sums this up well:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where–”
Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”
Alice: “–so long as I get SOMEWHERE”
Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.”
Leaders need goals for themselves and their teams, or they wander aimlessly. Showing up every day and just “reacting to contact” will not achieve organizational goals. It will get you somewhere, as the Cat states, just not where you want to be.
Let Your Brain Help
Once you have those goals set, your brain is going to help… if you let it. When you have clear objectives, your one-brain powered GPS is going to see things it normally wouldn’t. It will find that Ford Flex in the sea of cars, notice the gorilla in the passing circle, and identify ways to move your ball to the goal.
But you must allow your brain to imagine, experiment, and think about the big picture.
In my work life, I constantly receive information with very specific viewpoints and objectives. None of this is bad. It’s my job to understand how all the pieces fit together and integrate multiple projects into the overall mission.
To See the Forest from the Trees
Leaders don’t get lost in the details, but instead draw in all aspects of their job to see how this one piece fits into the grand design and can affect other areas. If you as the boss are not thinking about the bigger picture, no one else probably is, and you’re missing the forest from the trees.
Allow your brain to make connections that others miss and leverage your subconscious to help achieve your goals.
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