Smarter, Happier And More Productive Teams…Without Spending A Cent

Smarter, Happier And More Productive Teams…Without Spending A Cent


By cultivating ‘thinking habits’, you strengthen your brain and enable yourself to grow and adapt throughout life. And the same goes for your business. Encouraging your employees to increase their brainpower will make them better at solving problems and developing profitable new ideas.

You can increase the productivity of your colleagues with these three simple and virtually cost-free strategies:

1. Tell employees they can get smarter and they will

Give employees a newsletter or brief white paper on how to grow intelligence. You will not motivate or encourage your team by putting them down. In What the Best College Students Do, Ken Bain from University of the District of Columbia conducted a study that found the most creative, successful people have the conviction that their intelligence is expandable.

Because they believe they can grow their brains, his subjects demonstrated more curiosity and open mindedness, took more professional and intellectual risks and were very successful.

There’s more research to back this up. Psychologists from Columbia and Stanford looked at about 100 seventh graders who were struggling in maths for eight weeks. Most of the students held the belief that intelligence was something that was set for life. The students were given tips on how to use study time effectively, then divided into two groups.

The first group read an article entitled You Can Grow Your Intelligence, about how nerve cells in the brain make stronger connections after we learn something new, while the other group read an article about new ways to remember new information.

The first group shifted their views, believed they could grow their intelligence and demonstrated greater motivation to do well in maths class weeks and months after the study had ended. Giving your staff something similar to read certainly seems worth trying.

2. Make employees step outside their comfort zones

Showing people they can accomplish tasks they may feel are beyond their abilities boosts confidence and helps fire up brain cells. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s 1978 study of ten-year-old children demonstrated that if you think you can, you often can. She gave kids a series of 12 puzzles to complete. The first eight matched the skills of the average ten-year-old. The next four were beyond the capabilities of anyone in the age group.

One group of students said things like, “I can’t solve these problems. I’m not smart enough,” and gave in to defeat. The children in the other group told themselves that they could solve the difficult problems with more effort. Both groups of children had similar natural abilities and some children in the ‘helpless’ group seemed to have more natural abilities than those in the positive group.

Their view of intelligence as being either fixed or fluid made the difference in outcomes. Those who saw themselves as being able to solve the problem did so more frequently because they thought about things longer and kept trying out various solutions until they found one that worked.

Neurologically, this effort expands brain cells and makes you better at solving problems.

3. Allow for free discovery time

Opening your mind to subjects and experiences that take you off the predictability of a normal workday shakes up the brain and makes it work harder. 3M offers employees ‘15% time’ — a programme that lets them use a portion of paid time to tinker with their own ideas.

The policy has paid off by producing many of the company’s best-selling products, including Post-It Notes.

Google also takes the power of exploration to heart with its well-known Innovation Time Off, a programme that allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time working on projects that interest them. This resulted in some of Google’s newest and most successful services, including Gmail and Google News.

This experiment is well worth conducting. Encourage employees to take walks, or read and research projects and ideas that captivate them. There is nothing to lose, but the potential for gain is great.

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Debra Kaye
Debra Kaye is a partner at New York-based innovation consultancy Lucule. An international brand and culture strategist, she has worked with such brands as L’Oreal, American Express, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, Clairol and Sony. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections that Lead to Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2013).