Some people are born with the ability to think big…and have the connections to make big thoughts turn into actions, products and, eventually, organized movement.
All the rest of us are just born with the ability to think big…and no connections to make the big thoughts turn into anything else.
Who are these Big Thinkers?.. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Bronson, to name a few. We tend to think of them as these larger-than-life figures..the stuff legends are made of!
While it’s true they are visionaries, the main difference between these legendary successes and you and me is NOT their visionary abilities. Rather, the difference is they had people who helped them connect the dots. People who helped them lay the pavement to get their project ideas going in the real world.
In Bill Gates’ case, it was his mother who helped him launch his software business. With Mary Maxwell Gates’ experience in a wide range of leadership roles, her Master’s in Education and her corporate background, she was a big thinker who knew how to get things started. Thanks to her connections with I.B.M., Gates’ software company got their first big client.
But it wasn’t just her social connections, which helped make that happen. It was the connections in her thought processes that she passed onto her son. Successful leaders think different.
Brain scientists say neural pathways in the brain are habitual in nature. When we are born, our brains are ready to start making connections and forming tracks or patterns. If we keep this ability to form new thought patterns, we have retained the quality of successful leadership…or thinking different. But unfortunately most of us don’t retain it.
For an example of one who did, let’s take a look at a successful and innovative leader, Richard Bronson. Bronson credits his mother for showing him by example how to do moneymaking projects, teaching him survival skills and the importance of staying in action. He tells the story of how one time she dropped him off about 3 miles from their home in rural England and told him to find his own way home. He was only five years old!
Childhood experiences such as these are exactly how to help kids think in creative AND action-based patterns. Letting her son find his own way home literally allowed Branson to create a new path for himself…both in the real world and in the neural pathways in his brain! And as his mother it was very important for her to help him create and memorize the way home!
Mapping out a route for a journey, writing steps for completing a project, or learning a language all engage the neurons necessary for forming new paths in thought.
Team Neuroplasticity describes the process, “There are a variety of reasons that drive the creation of neurons linking together in new ways…New neural pathways begin to be formed to acquire and store the new language. These new pathways become stronger the more they are used, causing the likelihood of new long-term connections and memories.”
Maybe it helps to think of our thought patterns as a transit system. Our habits and experiences form tracks in our brain…like a railroad. By the time we are of the age to start taking risks and creating our life, we have already well-formed tracks for behavior that are prohibitive of taking risks.
In other words, we are entrenched in habitual thinking and our behavior reflects it. Habitual actions have a powerful pull. So much so that to try something new or to act in a way that is against an existing pattern feels wrong.
When trying to create a new life or change a habit or get out of a default pattern of life, the difficulty is there are no tracks, no train that we can get on to go someplace new. Being able to form these new thought tracks are crucial for action and innovation.
Many clients I work with have great ideas but they have never taken action. My main job in this case is to allow for the ideas to take shape or become real through dialogue. This forms the first few planks in the railroad track. Whether or not the client continues to lay down planks and then actually ‘go loco’ or become like a locomotive and move along the tracks is the next step.
When someone marinates in an environment of innovative thinking and learning, they are more likely to become effective action-taking visionaries. For example, Steve Jobs grew up in Silicon Valley. Do you think he was exposed to innovative thinkers? Oh yes! In fact, when he was 12 years old he joined a club called the ‘Hewlett Packard Explorer Club’. I can only imagine how being immersed in that environment gave him the freedom and confidence to go out and take effective action in unchartered terrain.
One of my clients likes to make rave costumes, teach yoga and study sign language. The decision to follow a path where she can create products and earn the money she needs to live by doing these activities only came after she realized law school was not a fit for her. Without being exposed to friends and family members who encouraged her to follow her passion, she would right about now be miserably hitting the law books…trying to force herself into a life not meant for her.
Now I am not trying to trash law school! I have some friends who are lawyers and are great at it and love it. But it’s only a fit for a special type of person. If you are trying to fit yourself into path that’s wrong for you, but seems safer than exploring in new terrain, you will most likely find unhappiness. If you try to change those safe patterns of behavior and explore, you will find discomfort, but eventually greater fulfillment and a greater chance of happiness.
So go ahead, take that language class, learn a new sport or just for starters drive a new way home from work! Anything to get out of habitual thinking.