Why I always shock my brain, and why you should too.
By Mark Bouris
Catch me on the wrong day and you’d think I’d never been taught to brush my teeth. At least, not properly.
You’ll see me fumbling with the toothpaste, gripping the brush awkwardly, pawing at the tap, and basically just making a mess of it, as thought it’s the first time I’ve ever tried it.
But I can assure you that there is method to what must surely look, and sound, a lot like madness. Let me explain.
In business, and in life, it’s only too easy to switch on auto-pilot, to keep doing the things you’re doing, the way you’ve always done them.
It’s what psychologists call convergent thinking.
The easiest way to describe it is like seeing the world in black and white. Every question has one, and only one, correct answer. One plus one equals two. Every path is straight.
It’s the thinking most of us have grown up with, because it’s the system taught in schools. Remember sitting an exam in high school? Every question had an obvious answer, right? Better still, you’re told what you are before you start. Study those answers and you ace the test. Simple.
But convergent thinking also produces a particular kind of worker, one who is reliant on an existing system or structure, rather than encouraged to push the boundaries. Someone who can remember the answer to a problem, just so long as you’ve already told them what it is.
Divergent thinking is the opposite. It’s not just seeing the facts, but asking how you can use them to your advantage. It’s thinking outside the box when it comes to problem solving. In other words, it’s asking if one plus one really has to equal two.
Which brings me back to brushing my teeth. Every second morning for years I’ve used my left hand to brush my teeth, to pour my coffee, and to write any texts or notes I need to write before I leave the house. Then every other morning I use my right hand, and so on. I do it because I want to train my brain to think differently, to activate the areas responsible for creative thinking. Because when I go to work everyday I know I’m going to be tasked with solving all sorts of problems, and you bet nobody is going to have given me the answers to study.
Do you want to know the quickest shortcut to failure? It’s complacency. Show me someone stuck in auto-pilot, who thinks they have all the answers, and I’ll show you someone going nowhere fast.
If you want to be the best, you have to have mastered divergent thinking.
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