How flexible is your brain?

Brain image

If you are a “Swifty”, strap in, I am going to upset you. The other day, Taylor Swift’s new album was “leaked” online with the sharing of a Google Drive folder containing 17 tracks. When I heard this news, I thought, “Oh goodness me. That old trick. Can’t they think of anything new?” At this point, it is probably worth pointing out that I used to work in the music business and gave out promotion copies of new records to journalists. As I handed over the record, I would say, “This is just for you, but this has not been released yet. So don’t write anything about it. But I thought you’d like to hear it.” 

Of course, none of the journalists ever respected my plea not to write about the record. They would say they had an “exclusive,” and then all the other journalists working on competing magazines would call me demanding copies of the record. This would get me much more media hype than if I had just sent out the records on the day of release. Despite her protestations to the contrary, Taylor Swift’s “leak” is reminiscent of what I was doing several years ago. 

What surprises me is that the music business hasn’t developed a new way of gaining publicity, relying instead on old-fashioned techniques. But the problem with people in the music biz is that they spend their lives talking to other people in the business. They might come up with new ideas if they asked people in the sausage-making world how they get publicity, for example. They may be doing something different, which was never previously considered by the music moguls.

Stepping outside your normal world allows you to develop “cognitive flexibility”. It lets your brain bend a little from its normal path. Yesterday, I was in an all-day workshop helping to plan the future of the university where I work. To help us produce this five-year plan, though, we had people join us from different schools as well as from outside. This helped us think differently, enabling us to produce some exciting ideas (watch this space…!)

If you follow any politics, one of the obvious problems for politicians is a need for cognitive flexibility. They think in straight lines, usually with “advisors” who think the same way. This leads to echo chambers, with everyone convinced, for instance, that the answer to the problem of the moment is having planes that can fly to Rwanda. The migration issue that this is meant to solve needs alternative thinking. However, to achieve the required cognitive flexibility, the Conservative politicians will probably need to sit in a room and work on ideas produced by the Labour Party.

Perhaps politicians have yet to realise that if you do what you have always done, talking to the same people you always do, you will never get a different result. As business people, we often need to think differently to achieve better results. But to think differently you need to talk with different people and do things in a different way. 

That, though, is uncomfortable. Try folding your arms the “wrong way round”. Fold your arms how you’ve always done it, and you feel OK. Do it differently, and you can’t cope with the irregular feelings.  We need to get ourselves outside this “comfort zone” to improve our thinking, though. 

One way you can do this, which is not too uncomfortable, is to buy a magazine you would not normally read. For example, if you are a car enthusiast and love motoring magazines, buy a craft-making publication for one month instead. This will expose your brain to new ideas and ways of thinking you have yet to consider. This, in turn, allows your thinking to become more flexible. You can achieve a similar psychological effect by watching a TV show you would not usually consider.

Cognitive flexibility can achieve a great deal. Last month, BBC Radio Stoke revealed that a couple in Newcastle under Lyme had started a cafe business with no prior experience so that they could have a place for their autistic son to work. They had tried all the usual routes to getting employment for their son without success. But switching their brain to a different thought pattern meant they created a solution.

We all get too easily stuck in our regular ways of thinking. We need to adapt our thinking to generate new ideas. Meeting people in other sectors or reading material outside our comfort zone is a good place to start. If Taylor Swift’s publicity people want any new ideas, they could do worse than stop off for a coffee at a cafe in Newcastle under Lyme. Exposing our brains to the brains of those who think differently is essential for cognitive flexibility.

Like this article?

Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Facebook
Share via email

Other posts that might be of interest