An adorable rescue dog named Kratu went viral a second time recently. Why? For a second year in a row at the Crufts dog show, he proved he was terrible at agility. On a day-to-day basis, many of us feel the same way (in the human sense of the word, of course).
We want to nimbly leap from idea to idea – to pivot between strategies as soon as we hear a rumble of change in the distance – and instead we feel mired in the muck, plodding through emails and conference calls as we mindlessly slurp up our desk candy in lieu of lunch. (That last part might be just me – but in my defense, it was really good).
That being said, we increasingly believe that the human brain might be more plastic – more susceptible to profound change – than we may have given it credit for. Simply doing differently – and letting our consciousness catch up – might be the key to really re-shaping how we operate.
[ How does your EQ stack up? Read also: 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]
So in that spirit, here’s a quick guide to tricking your brain into boosting your agility in 24 hours.
6:30 AM: Wake up and don’t reach for your phone. Our smartphones make us feel agile: I’m firing off work emails! I’m booking date night dinner! I’m diving into a Twitter debate! But filled time is not agility.
In fact, to be truly agile, your brain needs some downtime – unfilled moments to explore different possibilities. What feels like agility in the moment is often the brain going back to an issue it already toyed with – even if you weren’t fully conscious of it doing so. So – keep the phone off for a while and let your brain play while you get your day going.
8 AM: Make your way to work by a different route. To change how you navigate the world, sometimes it helps to literally change the way you navigate the world. Getting to work by a different route can wake up unused brain pathways, and get the brain working on new ways to tackle other, more complex challenges.
9 AM: Use a free half hour to think deeply about strategic issues. This one may have you scratching your head – who has a free half hour at 9 a.m.? If you’re a morning person, research shows we should schedule ideation time at the point in our circadian rhythms when we’re sharpest.
Similar to working out first thing in the morning when your body feels strongest, this gives your brain muscle a work out at its peak performance time. (Note: if you’re a night owl, feel free to put this one in at 9 p.m.!)
Noon: Eat the same lunch you always eat. Yes – this is the Steve Jobs black turtleneck thing. Agility isn’t just about making your brain do new things; sometimes it’s about letting your brain not make decisions to free up room for other, more important decisions. Not having to figure out lunch can be an easy place to start.
2 PM: Talk to someone outside your organization. Truly agile thinkers make unexpected connections between ideas – and to do so, they constantly expose themselves to voices from outside their immediate context. A host of research ties "open networks" to breakthough thinking. Making sure you connect outside your organization on a daily basis is a great way to “turn your circle into a horseshoe.”
4 PM: Conduct an after-action review on something that went wrong. Agility isn’t just about moving forward – looking back thoughtfully to build out other ways failure could have been averted can be just as powerful. “Fail fast” doesn’t mean “fail fast and forget” – making the learning cycle more conscious means you can move faster, in a smarter way, the next time a problem presents itself.
6 PM: On your commute home, experience some sci-fi. Science fiction – whether you watch it or read it (and please – go for an audiobook if you drive to work!) – makes us question our views on technology, the future, and indeed even the present day. Imagining new realities by experiencing storytelling – which we know affects brain biology in a really profound way – builds an agile brain’s bank of possibilities.
11 PM (or earlier): Get some sleep! Sleep deprivation slows down your reflexes while performing mechanical tasks and cognitive tasks alike. Sleep less and you also learn more slowly – one reason why working late into the night often generates diminishing returns. All of the mythology about non-sleeping geniuses aside, agile folks are on the whole very well-rested.
Will this routine get you to full agility in a single day? Of course not. But do it over a week, a few weeks, a month … the change will start to kick in. Agility is a journey, but it’s not a mysterious one: There are many small ways you can push your brain to be more nimble. Your brain will thank you for it.
[ Why is adaptability the new leadership power skill? Read our report from HBR Analytic Services: Transformation Masters: The New Rules of CIO Leadership ]
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