Ever get half way through updating your business plan and realise the only new thing is the date?

To help you switch off from autopilot mode and engage in new ways of thinking, we spoke to bestselling author and leadership advisor Dr Jason Fox, to find out how business owners can shift their mindset, and the mindset of their staff from default thinking mode to unlock new business ideas.

With Dr Jason Fox’s advice, you and your staff can break your businesses’ glass ceiling and keep ahead of your competition.

So, just what is default thinking and why is it dangerous?

Default thinking

Default thinking is when your brain runs on autopilot to save you time and effort. At work, this might look like your staff completing tasks quickly, but not stopping to assess and evaluate whether they could be working in a different or better way. While Dr Fox agrees that this type of thinking can be great 80 percent of the time, the real problem is that it is probably happening 98 percent of the time.

“At work we’ve become so good at finding quick fixes, familiar solutions and default ways of doing things, that it is robbing us of the ability to engage in a more thorough, deeper type of thinking. It is the curse of efficiency,” said Dr Fox.

So how do you shift the mindset of your employees to break the curse of efficiency? Dr Fox believes that you need to encourage your staff to be curious. “Remember, curiosity takes time. You need to get to a point of awkwardness and stay in a state of tension for long enough to break through to new territory.”

Dr Jason Fox

How to encourage your staff to be curious

1. Start a conversation

One way to encourage curiosity is to create a work environment that inspires your staff to discuss their ideas. This could be through a digital collaboration space, or through face-to-face brainstorming. The key is to encourage ongoing staff participation and to develop an atmosphere that supports staff to question current processes, give alternative ideas and allows them to test their ideas.  

Dr Fox said, “Collaborating and sharing different ideas, different trends, and different ways of thinking all contribute to unlocking new business ideas. When ideas are formed, it is then important to choose some ideas to test. This will determine if a new idea is a viable alternative to the default.”

2. Limit the number of goals you set  

As humans, we all love to set and complete goals. However, when our objective is to encourage staff to be curious, Dr Fox explains that we need to be careful about the goals that we set. 

“Goals can narrow our focus and deprive us of the ability to explore tangible opportunities along the way. Goals encourage a myopic focus where we fixate upon the short-term goal at the expense of the bigger opportunities. The issue is not that goals don’t work, it is that goals work too well and they should be treated as prescription strength medicine and not something doled out over the counter.”  

3. Motivate staff

So, now that you’ve set up a collaborative space and thrown extreme goal setting out the window, it’s time to turn your attention to staff motivation. In 2010 Harvard Business School interviewed 600 managers to find out what they thought would motivate their teams the most.

From the five categories, of recognition for good work, interpersonal support, clear goals and targets, incentives and rewards and a clear sense of progress, the majority of the 600 managers selected recognition as the top motivator for their staff. However, when employees were asked what motivated them the most, a clear sense of progress was the clear winner.

Dr Fox explains the attractiveness of a clear sense of progress for staff, “it’s less about fixating upon distant goals and targets, and more about celebrating small wins along the way. The more that you can reduce the invisibility between effort and meaningful feedback, the more likely you are to have people invest effort into things.”

4. Get concrete

Last, but not least, to encourage curiosity you need to get concrete about what you’re aiming to achieve, or the direction that you want to explore. Dr Fox recommends that you have behavioural-based conversations that build a shared understanding with your staff.

“You need to have a conversation to map out what things might look like, and to ensure that you and your staff have a shared understanding. For example, if you tell your staff to be more proactive, what does proactive look like to you and them?”

Dr Jason Fox

Dr Jason Fox is a bestselling author of The Game Changer and How to Lead a Quest: a handbook for pioneering leaders. He is also a leadership advisor and motivational speaker. For more information on Dr Jason Fox or to subscribe to his newsletter The Museletter.

Need help to start your own business?

If you or someone you know has a business idea, contact your local New Enterprise Incentive Scheme provider and ask about the new Business Assistance with NEIS program. NEIS has been providing accredited training, business mentoring and support to help individuals start their own business for over 30 years. 

For additional resources to help you start your own business, visit the SelfStart Hub.

Illustration by Kim Lam/Dangerlam.

Illustration by Kim Lam/Dangerlam.