Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Creatures of Habit

Posted by Picasa Quote spotted in advertisement carried by The Star-Telegram, a major Texas newspaper which I read as we took off from Dallas to Boston: "We are what we repeatedly do."-Socrates. (The newspaper was just AWFUL-not a shred of international news and coverage of US election results mostly in terms of Texas-the home of GeorgeW, so not a mention of voter backlash and Democrat gains!)

But let me not judge an entire nation on the lack of depth and perspective of one newspaper because we know the likes of The Washington Post, NY Times and Wall St Journal are not in the same category.

Back to how our actions, repeated many times, become habits, then become hard-wired in our muscle memory and even at cellular level through neural pictates (spelling????) in the cell structure.

I admit, as an analytical thinker, I was a bit dubious about all this cellular intelligence stuff, but at a non-rational level I chose to keep an open mind about it, especially in taking an Eastern philosophical approach to life.

But.....I have now had a powerful Eureka! moment and have become a true believer in the powerful way our habits are hard-wired into our bodies. It came through a simple and common pattern-breaker: having to drive on the"wrong" side of the road.

Absolutely everything is reversed, and there are so many actions in driving that are simply repetitive habit that dictate to your body and all of a sudden, your muscles are on auto-pilot and if your brain doesn't take control back and actively "think" and problem-solve, you are going to be indeep doodoo up the wrong side of Santa Monica Boulevard in peak traffic!

But sure, those are the big issues and your brain is on alert for them, so surprise surprise!-you hire a car and discover an entire city/region you have no prior knowledge of in the course of a day, without calling 911 or waking up in a hospital emergency room!

3 factorso are at play here:
1. Courage (otherwise known as chutzpah or stupidity, based on where your own comfort zone sits, and
2.Intuition-listening to the inner compass, and
3. Acute observationskills-taking in clues that you don't even know are clues until your intuition deliberately accesses them in your brain's random access memory in a moment of panic!

This is a long-winded self-congratulatory back-slapping story because I was astounded at how my "comfort zone" was threatened at the thought of walking out of the LA + Calgary Airports at 1 am in the morning, hopping into a car without any orientation of the city/province and only rudimentary tourist maps, no passenger to help navigate (maybe that was a good thing because Mars/Venus tells us that a man can't ask for directions) and armed with only a determination to see and do as much as I could in limited time and an attitude of allowing myself to fail, have an adventure and a giggle, smile brilliantly if I upset the locals and ....well, just doing it!

The more I succeeded, the more my confidence grew and the bolder I became.Driving sans map into the CBD of Calgary for a frantic one-hour shop yesterday at 5pm (and finding parking!) when all of Calgary was pouring onto its congested streets heading home, is a personal best. LA wasn't so bad because it was Saturday and Californians at the beach are meant to be a little laid back, and Rome to Venice by car 20 years ago doesn't count because my sister was navigating although central Rome through the Via Veneto is worth a black belt!

No, its not the big things that tripped my brain-its the little things. Where cerebral process is bypassed and hardwired into a habit, that sparked most of myEureka minute. How my body consistently walked to the wrong side of the car where the steering wheel was meant to be, and how even in walking on thestreets and in airport terminals crowded with purposeful walkers, my body automatically steered left, much to the consternation of the Americans who must have thought me a stubborn upstream salmon!
Vive la difference!
The purpose of this business trip is about deepening my knowledge base and expertise around Innovation in organisations- and my first profound insight comes from a bodily not a cerebral process. The lesson I take from this is that just like we navigate traffic with eyes wide shut when we are in familiar territory, we operate on auto-pilot at work when executing our routine day-to-day roles and our powers of observation and thinking devolve to a muscular and cellular level where we are unable to "see" what is clear as daylight to a fresh pair of eyes.

In order to get a "fresh" pair of eyes, we have to pattern-interrupt: Swop tasks, swop roles, or if too hard, invent a different way at least once a week of performing a routine task because we will bypass the brain AND the senses if we don't- and there's no way we will get fresh ideas for innovation that way!

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