Do Your Neural Pathways Need a Shakeup?

BlogHer Original Post

Happy New Year! May you grow and thrive in 2008. Do you remember the movie from 2004 called "What the Bleep Do We Know?" It talked about quantum physics—normally not a very approachable topic—but it was highly watchable. The point of the film was that we build up neural pathways in our brains that shape the way we think. These pathways are like ruts in a dirt road—once you get in one, it's really hard to break your way out. Finding a new perspective or a new way of thinking once you've settled into your well-traveled and familar neural pathways is a challenge.

An article in the New York Times about innovative minds set me to thinking about that old movie. The Times article points out:

(O)nce you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

The article mentions two books that may help you find innovative ways of doing things when your thinking has gone stale. One is “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). The other is "The Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine... And What Smart Companies Are Doing About It" by Cynthia Rabe (AMACOM, 2006).

In a review of "Made to Stick," librarian Jill Hurst-Wahl had this to say:

What we need to do is to create "sticky messages." Sticky messages are not necessarily creative messages. In fact, there is formula that the brothers Heath have discovered that will help us to create sticky, memorable messages. That formula is:

S -- Simple
U -- Unexpected
C -- Concrete
C -- Credible
E -- Emotional
S -- Stories

At what if? imagine the possibilities Peg Kaplan commented on the NY Times article, saying,

Many among us tout an individual's credentials: degrees, experience and expertise are king. Yet, at times I have argued that the beginner, the neophyte among us, can sometimes produce more creative, radical and wildly successful concepts and results than our so-called "experts." The newcomer is not prejudiced by his years of education and "brainwashing." He can see what others have been taught to reject out of hand.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Susan Mernit commented on Susan Mernit's Blog with a quote from the NY Times article:

“Look for people with renaissance-thinker tendencies, who’ve done work in a related area but not in your specific field. Make it possible for someone who doesn’t report directly to that area to come in and say the emperor has no clothes.”

--Cynthia Barton Rabe, author of “Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine — and What Smart Companies Are Doing About It,” quoted in a NY Times article on how relying on expertise leads to lack of questioning and familiar results.

Susan sez: This is a role consultants often fill, but one managers should build into their own planning, IMHO.

Deborah Barlow, at Slow Muse also commented on the topic. She calls it zero-gravity thinking.

That’s what the poets in my life are–my very own zero-gravity thinkers. They work in a related area but not in my specific field. They force me to look at the world differently.

Now the question I have is this: Can a visual artist do the same for them?

If your current way of thinking keeps leading you to the same place again and again, perhaps you can change your life (and keep those New Year's resolutions) by learning something about how to shake up your neural pathways with some innovative new perspectives on the issues affecting your life. Try out the two books mentioned above, or even the old movie, to help you get started.

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