Thought LeadershipHave you ever experienced a time in your life when you were having trouble coming up with an idea?

Have you ever observed someone at work saying, "I can't do that" and then nothing happened, or you said, I can't do that" and find that you're stuck?

What did you just do to yourself?

You just put yourself into a type of trance. A trance can be defined in this case as a focused state.

Whenever you are concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else you are in a trance. Trance states are very simple and in fact, people put themselves into a trance several times each day. You put yourself and others into a trance or a focused state by saying, "I don't know how to do that." In this example, the focus is on what you cannot do. Usually when you say that, your unconscious mind, which is very suggestible and willing to comply, says, "OK, I understand you don't know how to do that." Your unconscious mind wants to remain consistent with the conscious mind so it will sabotage any solution you may try so the first command you gave it, (i.e. I can't do that) will remain true.

Getting someone out of a stuck state

As a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Safety Council's Training Institute, I saw an example of this.

A person was there who wanted to learn how to generate creative ideas for safety meetings. I knew this because at the beginning of the day, I asked people why they had come to the training session that day. I asked what desired outcome they wanted from the course and the answer was, “I am just not creative. I can't come up with any new ideas." This, by the way, was stated as the person's identity, "I am just not creative." I could have said, “Oh, sure you can, you are great at safety ideas, you can come up with ideas."

Since I was just told by the person they couldn't come up with any ideas, if I didn't acknowledge that belief, I would get a negative response. Someone in this situation might respond to themselves internally, “You're not listening!" Then they would search for ways to convince me of their belief. In addition to being guilty of not listening, I have challenged this person's identity. That is sure to create a greater degree of resistance. The negative side of this is that the belief is being reinforced as the attempt to convince me is taking place. The brain is now committed to convincing me they really don't know what to do. That reinforces the state, which is negative.

I know you don't know but what if you did know?

To move a person out of that state is a simple thing to do.

You can get somebody to come up with an idea even when they are blocked. That someone could even be you! When someone says, "I don't know how!" you reply, “I know you don't know how, but, if you did know, how would you do it?" That does two things for the person. First off, you don't put them into a trance or an "I don't know" cycle. You have acknowledged their belief, which makes them realize they have been heard.

The other thing it does is create an idea or concept of possibility. It presupposes it is possible to do it in such a way that the conscious mind will have no objection.

One illustration of this concept occurred in the 1950s. At the time, no runner had been able to break the four-minute mile. It was an invisible wall no one had been able to break through. Suddenly, a man named Roger Bannister came along and broke the four-minute mile barrier, proving it was possible. The most interesting part of this story is in that very same year 38 other runners broke the four-minute mile.

Now, what had happened? Did they all of a sudden become ”better" runners? No! Their brains now knew it was, in fact, possible to achieve this new record and then they could do it. Their brains said, "We can do this," and they did.

I read the director of the National Transportation Safety Board said, "We should have zero accidents this year." Jay Leno that evening made a joke about it saying we should have one big wreck each year.

You must believe

What was interesting is the director had a very valid point. In order to achieve something, you must first believe it is possible to do. If the whole industry can grasp the idea, then it is possible to go years upon years without a plane crashing. Remember, as soon as Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile people thought it was possible. The director at the National Transportation Safety Board made a statement which shows he believes it is possible to have zero accidents. He had caught the vision and from there he could take measures to make it happen.

Unfortunately, several people in the room said, “No, it’s not.” There are some people who believe it is impossible to have a one hundred percent safe airline, given the current economy, the competition and the deregulation. However, if the director had said, "That's right, it's not possible, but if it were possible, how would you do it?" he would have opened the door to envision what he knew was possible.

You see, at that point, you stop arguing with the person’s model of the world, the representation they have in their brain. As a result, they realize they have been heard and respected and they are now willing to deal with the imagined possibility of what it would take to accomplish the task. You open up the possibility. A Roger Bannister shows up on the scene and you know what happens. Now your brain says, “OK, I know it’s not possible but if it was, what would I do?” Then it goes into problem solving mode.

Whenever you find yourself saying, "I can't," or "I don't know how," agree with yourself. Say, "That's right, I don't know but if I did what would I do?" It even works when you know you are doing it to yourself.

Back to my training class in Los Angelesn when I asked one person, "What do you want to learn today?" That person said, "I don't know how to come up with any creative ideas for safety meetings." I replied, "I know you don't know but if you did know what would be a good safety idea you could use at your next meeting?"

A chuckle resulted and everyone else laughed because I had just taught this technique. The reply was, "I don't know." I said. "I know you don't know but if you did know how would you do it?" Again, the answer was, "I really don't know."

I replied, "I know you really don't know but if you did know what would you do?" Then, I just shut up and there was quiet as thinking took over.

A magician revealing secrets

Keep in mind I had already taught the class this technique. It was just as if a magician told you how a trick worked and then performed it and it still amazed you. Inside of five minutes, half of a page was filled with new ideas for making safety meetings more interesting.

I should point out these ideas were generated with no one in the class making any helpful suggestions since this was an exercise in coming up with ideas in your own mind. As a result, the person had ideas they knew would work with their employees. These were ideas that would fit the workplace and the needs of that company.

Just moments before, the person thought they were not creative and were not capable of doing what they had just accomplished. How did the person get to that point? Not by saying, ”Sure you can do it." The difficulty with this phase is it locks the person's brain into this state of being stuck.

The secret is to agree with someone that they can’t do it and then give them the key to opening up the possibility that they can do it. You tell them you know they can’t do it but if they could how would they and then wait for the results. When they do accomplish it, you can even teach them the technique so they can continue to use it on themselves.

It is a tremendous tool you can use in any area. You ask yourself the questions, "How can we improve our safety record next year? How can we achieve better results?" You say, "I don't know how we can get better, but if we could, how would we do it?" You can do this by talking to yourself. First, agree with yourself and you will discover a big difference in your results. Each one of us is capable of putting on interesting and effective training meetings if we take the time to ask the right question, "How can I improve the effectiveness of my training?"

Until next week,
I'll be, "Watching Out For Everyone's Safety™"