How Your Default Mode Network is holding you back

Ever got to work in a morning and had no recollection of how you got there? It’s pretty common as you’re used to driving that route. Now flip it around and recall the first time you went somewhere new. As you were venturing into the unknown, chances are you remembered every bit of that journey.

This autopilot is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s a coping mechanism that our brain uses to save energy. Our brain uses a huge amount of energy, around 20% of our total energy outlay (UCL News 3/8/2020). But not all cognitive functions are equal. Out brain has an autopilot setting called Default Mode Network (Shulman et al,. 1997) which uses much less power than conscious thought. When we’ve come to learn that a process works and has a safe outcome (ie you’ve done this before and things worked out well), we switch to autopilot to save brain power and energy.

This amazing energy saving feature of the brain is actually stopping you from seeing the inefficiencies hidden within your business, or indeed your life. By switching into autopilot, your brain is no longer consciously thinking about the task and why you’re doing what you’re doing – it just does it, meaning you’re not looking for improvements.

Most businesses have grown organically over time, starting small and then scaling up to meet the growing demand. When new staff join, they’re shown the way that you do things, which they learn and then the Default Mode Network kicks in as they repeat and repeat. This leads to tasks and processes that served a purpose when the business was small, still being done despite them being outdated or irrelevant.

The world is changing so quickly, with new technology and thinking continuously coming to the fore. It’s a case of adapt of die and if you’re stuck in your Default Mode Network, there’s a real chance you’ll get left behind and lose your competitive advantage.

It often takes an event to change your routine, which then jars you out of the Default Mode Network and into conscious thought. This could be some roadworks causing you to change your route to work or in business, a client complaint, a process issue, or a more dramatic event like Covid-19 which forces you to think about things.

The easiest way to snap yourself back into conscious thought is to have someone else look at your business, or life, from the outside and tell you what they see. This feedback will force you back into conscious thought, which will enable you to see how you can change to improve.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a place for your Default Mode Network, but use it for making a cup of tea rather than working on improving your business, or life.

We’ve just launched a new service to help businesses called “Discovery Day”. We’ll come and spend a day with you and tell you what we see, using a view from the outside. Discovery days normally focus on looking at your processes, procedures, customer journey for efficiencies, but we also love doing work on corporate culture and social impact.

To book your discovery day, give us a call or send us an email. We guarantee it will be one of the best things you’ve even done!


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