Rewiring the brain to boost visionary thinking

by Iain Hopkins10 Sep 2012

An alarming 71% of Australian business leaders lack high levels of visionary thinking – yet new research may reveal that neuroscience is the key to unlocking this potential in everyone.

Research conducted by consultancy Human Synergistics, involving input from 6,500 business leaders, has found that increasing workplace pressure, linked with advances in new technology and insecurity around the economy, has created “narrow-minded thinking”.

The survey uncovered that just 7% of leaders are at the top end of the scale, what Human Synergistics consider to be ‘Total Visionaries’, highlighting a shortage of innovative thinking and the constructive behaviours that drives business performance.

As a result, a new project has been launched with participation from leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders – including Matt Braid, CEO of Volvo Australia, James Ajaka, chief Nudie, and Naomi Simson, founding director of RedBalloon. The overarching goal of the project is to unlock what it takes to become an ‘Extreme Thinker’.

Shaun McCarthy, chairman of Human Synergistics, said the new project is designed to enable leaders to develop a new way of thinking that leverages the left brain’s analytical reasoning as well as the more innovative and imaginative right brain thinking. “It will take leaders from a restricted style of decision making to a more visionary one that benefits both the individual and the company itself,” he said.

“To put it simply, we are helping leaders to teach their brain how to unlock that ‘Aha! Moment’ in a very deliberate way, more frequently.”

McCarthy told HC last month that many of the great innovations in history were not thought of in the context in which one would normally think of them. “Everyone knows Einstein thought of the theory of relativity; very few know the idea came to him while sitting on his front porch drinking a glass of red wine. It didn’t come in the laboratory with a blackboard,” he said.

Research partner and consulting neurologist Dr Trisha Stratford of the University of Technology Sydney said that typically panic, anxiety or stress is the inhibitor to Extreme Thinking. “When these states of mind kick in, we tend to move into what we’re calling a ‘Fragmented Mind‘ which gets us stuck in the ‘Try Harder Cycle’ – when we work longer hours, have more meetings, drink more coffee without getting the results we need.”

Although results of the Extreme Thinking program will not be known until early 2013, the practice requires leaders to follow a four step process that is closely monitored over a six week period – in essence:


  • Step one: Stop trying and slow your thinking. Stop focusing on the problem and change your breathing
  • Step two: Let it go/take a break. Take a break from working on the problem, focus your attention on something else
  • Step three: Let it form. Be specific about the problem/question or issue and let it go to the back of your mind
  • Step four: Let it spark. The idea arrives because the brain has connected the dots and produced the best solution



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