What does it take to get to the next level? Sometimes it’s doing what feels uncomfortable – taking risks.

First, let’s look at our roadmap to plateaus. Back in the 60s, two psychologists, Paul Fitts and Michael Posner, set out to uncover why we plateau. They discovered that when we acquire a skill, we go through three stages:

  1. The first stage of skill acquisition is called the cognitive phase. In this phase, we must concentrate intently on what we’re doing as we figure out strategies on how to accomplish the skill more efficiently and effectively.
  2. The second phase is the associative phase. During this phase, we make fewer mistakes. Consequently, we feel more comfortable with the skill and begin to concentrate less on what we’re doing.
  3. The final stage is the autonomous phase, or what we might call the plateau phase.  We reach a skill level where we’re able to capably do the task without having to really think about it at all.

You’ve gone through these phases in everything you’ve done. Think about driving. There may have been challenges at first (appropriate pressure on the brake) that you had to think about as you did them to improve, then it felt more comfortable behind the wheel, and finally, today, we hardly think about our actual driving.

This also shows up in our work. We think carefully about a new project or new business, we start to get into a rhythm, and then we plateau, or the business plateaus or the brand plateaus.

Taking risk: There are variety of ways to overcome a plateau. Taking risks and stretching past our comfort zone is perhaps the most rewarding, yet least followed path. Typically people look for easier routes to beat the plateau, or they settle with status quo.

Insights can feel this way: risky. On one hand, it may be that an insight inspired you to think about the uncomfortable. Now you need to do the uncomfortable. Other times the insight is affirming the idea of the uncomfortable, giving you and your team the emotional edge, added information, and reassurance to push out and take on the challenge in order to find the growth you need.

What is your plateau? And what is the next risk you and your team need to take?

Will Krieger

Why Exercise Makes You a Better Researcher

My new year’s exercise goals are holding strong. It’s been unbroken since January 2. I’m thinking more clearly. Inspired, with fresh ideas. More than ever before. Why are flashes of insight and creativity so easy to come by so far this year?

I’m starting to layer this question with a book I recently read, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, where the author (Daniel Levitin) describes the two modes of the brain:

  • 1) The central executive brain – Central-decision making mode. The job of the central executive is to prevent you from being distracted when you’re engaged in a task, limiting what will enter your consciousness so that you can focus on what you’re doing uninterrupted.
  • 2) The wandering brain – Responsible for our great moments of creativity and insight. This is when your brain is not engaged in a purposeful task – no screens in view – when you’re sitting on a sandy beach or relaxing by a fire, and your mind wanders fluidly from topic to topic.

If you think about your typical flow of thought throughout any given day, these two modes will make sense. Both happen, and both are critical functions of the brain. But, only one function can happen at a time.

As I’ve pointed out before, I believe, and The Organized Mind agrees, our executive brain is on overload. And it has been for some time. A growing number cry for a chance to disconnect. Many know they need time and space to think, but they can’t find time – or, worse yet, they don’t make time.

Data and insights are at the heart of any creative idea whether it’s a new product, new market, or new marketing strategy. As marketers and researchers, we need to deliver data and insight but also inspire this creativity to happen for ourselves and our teams. To do this, it requires us to switch off our executive brain on occasion. Switch off our thinking about the tasks we need to do, the meeting we have next, etc. Switching off our screens for a period of time.

Exercise is a great way to do this. It’s a primal switch. The one that forces your brain to focus, heighten alertness, and yet let your wandering mind takeover.

Get out from behind your desk and move. You will thank yourself, and others will too when you deliver that next great idea.

Will Krieger