The Four Modes of Thinking and How They Impact Performance

Robert Tucker
August 08, 2017

Robert Tucker

Driving Growth Through Innovation

Four Modes of Thinking

Hi there, this is your brain speaking. Just wondering what thinking mode you are operating in today?  Seems simple, but it’s important to know what’s going on up there. Success in today’s hyper-competitive world depends on what’s happening upstairs in that frontal lobe of your brain where problem-solving, creativity and other cognitive functions take place. Our research with thousands of managers and individual contributors throughout North America and in 48 countries suggests that we need three to four times as many ideas every day to perform at peak levels in our work. Anything less than a constant flow of ideas won’t be sufficient as we enter a future of constant change.

Fortunately, doing a quick, unannounced spot check on your thinking mode couldn’t be easier. Use the list below to identify which of the four dominant thinking modes you are operating in right now. Then check out the tips following on how to alter your thinking style.

DEFEATIST MODE

This mental state is dominated by worry, frustration, and fear of what might go wrong. Guess what: we’re all thrust into this mode some of the time. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience. In Defeatist Mode, our monkey mind (as the Buddhists call it) feeds us all kinds of negative and unproductive chatter of the doom and gloom variety. We’re rehashing painful past events and replaying tapes of personal setbacks and sadness. We dwell on things we “could have, should have, and would have” done. Defeatist Mode is a negative use of the imagination. Our “idea factories” are shut down, and our idea-producing performance is stalled.

SUSTAINER MODE

In this state of mind, we’re mostly “going through the motions,” sustaining the status quo. We incessantly check our devices. We multitask, and we grind it out – on autopilot. In Sustainer Mode, if an idea does happen to flutter into mind, we’re apt to ignore it or conjure reasons it will never work, or will be shot down by bosses, spouses or others. Our voice of judgment, that inner critic we all have to deal with, is temporarily in charge. “Ah, that will never work,” or “the boss wouldn’t go for that,” or “you’ve got way too much to do already, you can’t possibly find time to do something with that,” are all indicators of this frame of mind. From a performance standpoint, this mode is also an inevitable part of life. Many jobs are primarily about execution and following established policies, procedures and protocols. The downside of spending long periods in this mode is that it can deaden and diminish creativity, rather than causing us to challenge the status quo with game changing ideas.

DREAMER MODE

If this is your mental state at present, give your brain a kiss! You’re on a performance path, at least as far as generating ideas is concerned. Something has stimulated these endorphins of possibility and it’s important to identify what. Perhaps you took a walk in nature, or had a pleasant conversation with an old friend who genuinely listens to you and is supportive. Maybe you got some good news that set you off in a positive direction. In Dreamer Mode, you come up with ideas easily and without too much effort —lots of them in fact. You have thoughts like: “wouldn’t it be great if.” Functional MRI brain scans show the brain’s pleasure centers lighting up when we’re in this state. We’re all here occasionally, enjoying that dopamine rush of feelings that the future is bright, and all is right with the world, if only for a little while.

OPPORTUNITY MODE

In this mode, our idea factories are operating at peak performance levels. Opportunity Mode builds upon the Dreamer Mode, but there’s an added element: an action-taking component. You are not content just to hatch ideas – you have intention to make those dreams a reality. Since innovation is not only coming up with ideas, but also bringing them to life, the downside of Dreamer Mode is that we never execute, never really enjoy the rewards of accomplishing, or of performing at peak levels. When Martin Luther King told the crowd “I have a dream” from the steps of the Washington Monument, he wasn’t just fantasizing. This was the visual embodiment of a man in manifestation mode, and his speech changed the course of history. Opportunity Mode is a confident, positive, glass-is-half-full, can-do state of mind. Your attitude is of unbridled enthusiasm; you’re willing to try anything and everything until you succeed. Problems turn into opportunities. Obstacles are simply challenges to be overcome. The impossible just takes you a little longer.

HOW TO SHIFT MODES AND IMPACT PERFORMANCE

As an innovation coach, a big part of my job is helping clients a) become conscious of their predominant mode, and b) learn techniques for consciously altering their mode (yes it’s possible to do this) to unleash the opportunity mindset. Here are four suggestions on how to take charge and shift modes:

  1. Check up on your mode of thinking frequently. The great personal development trainer and speaker Zig Ziglar used to recommend “a checkup from the neck up.” The most important dialogue you’ll have today is with yourself. As you drive home from work, ask yourself: What mode of thinking have I been operating in today? In recent days? What’s my self-talk been and why? What changes to your external environment might you make to coax you into Opportunity Mode more of the time?
  2. Take action on an idea. Take a look at your “things to do” list. Pick one out and make it happen! Action calms fear, cures inertia, and can alter a negative mindset. The satisfaction of accomplishing even a little task or eliminating an irritant, can lead to further action, feeding on itself in a virtuous cycle. There’s nothing more fun than striking through a task on the proverbial “to do” list and here’s why: it shifts your mental mode from Defeatist/Sustainer to Dreamer/Opportunity.
  3. Count to ten and win. To shift out of Defeatist Mode, literally count your blessings. List all the things in your life you have going for you: your friends, job, faith in a higher power, etc. To shift from Sustainer Mode to Opportunity Mode, invite yourself to come up with as many solutions as possible to a challenge or problem your currently face. Literally force yourself to summon from that part of your brain: What are ten ways you might address this problem? What are ten reasons why you’re happy to be alive? After you’ve proven to yourself that you can do this, consider how you might help others jumpstart their thinking and shift into performance enhancing modes.
  4. Let your Dreamer Mode come out to play. One of my favorite techniques is called WIBGI, which stands for “wouldn’t it be great if…?” To help yourself or your colleagues shift to a more visionary state of mind, invite people to weigh in with statements starting with: “wouldn’t it be great if” and vocalize whatever comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be great if we could eliminate this source of customer complaints once and for all? Wouldn’t it be great if we could halt company email after 6 pm and before 8 am? To use this technique, invite people to think about a customer irritant, a task, a policy, product, or procedure that is in need of an upgrade. Then take a step back and look at how doing this has shifted the predominant mode of thinking.

It’s very easy to fall into one of the less productive thinking modes without even being aware of it. It’s an inescapable part of human existence to sometimes operate from the Defeatist or Sustainer Modes. But in awareness there is power. Become self aware and identify when you’re in a negative mode and use the strategies above to shift. Opportunity Mode is what you’re in search of; it’s where productivity originates, performance is dramatically increased, and it’s where your ideas flow like a mighty river.

 
 
Robert Tucker

Want Robert Tucker for your next event?

Find out more information, including fees and availability.
Find Out More
Keep Reading
Seven Strategies for Generating Ideas
Robert Tucker
Robert Tucker
August 15, 2017
How do organizations come up with new ideas? And how do they use those ideas to create successful ...
The Four Modes of Thinking and How They Impact Performance
Robert Tucker
Robert Tucker
August 08, 2017
Hi there, this is your brain speaking. Just wondering what thinking mode you ...
Seven Fundamental Leadership and Innovation Skills
Robert Tucker
Robert Tucker
August 01, 2017
You don't need a crystal ball to see that the world of work is changing. According to ...
Seven Strategies for Generating Ideas
How do organizations come up with new ideas? And how do they use those ideas to create successful new products, services, businesses, and solutions? To answer these questions, a team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York spent time observing radical innovation projects such as IBM's silicon-germanium devices, GE...
Read More
The Four Modes of Thinking and How They Impact Performance
Hi there, this is your brain speaking. Just wondering what thinking mode you are operating in today? Seems simple, but it's important to know what's going on up there. Success in today's hyper-competitive world depends on what's happening upstairs in that frontal lobe of your brain where problem-solving, creativity and other cognitive fu...
Read More
Seven Fundamental Leadership and Innovation Skills
You don't need a crystal ball to see that the world of work is changing. According to astudy from McKinsey Global Institute, almost half the jobs people currently perform have the potential to be automated by currently existing technology. It sort of makes you wonder: what kind of work will be left for humans to do? The answer:practice us...
Read More
How Crowdsourcing Can Enhance Innovation Performance
Article first published asHow Crowdsourcing Can Enhance Innovation Performanceon Forbes.com. Disruption and digitization are changing the game for more and more industries, and more and more companies. As a result, traditional ways of approaching innovation are coming up short. What I'm beginning to see is that there's a new way of prac...
Read More
Are You Indispensable at Work? Seven Workplace Skills to Master
How to make innovative thinking and strategic workplace skills your ticket to success In a time of economic disruption, unprecedented downsizings, budgetary cutbacks and the constant pressure to outsource more and more routine functions (and the employees who perform them), advice on professional survival always seems to convey the same tired...
Read More
How To Build Your Personal Innovation Strategy
Article first published asHow To Build Your Personal Innovation Strategyon Forbes. Most of the discussion about disruption these days revolves around companies, less about the impact on people's lives. In a time of exponential change and dislocation, it's more important than ever to design a personal development road-map to keep you on ...
Read More
Winning on Shark Tank: Nine Strategies for Selling Your Bright Ideas
Later this week at a resort hotel in Huntington Beach, California, a group of managers froma $2 billion program and construction management company will host aShark Tankcontest to conclude their two day conference. The winning team will receive funding to move forward with their concept, plaques, and heaps of praise from peers andthe company's C...
Read More
Six Innovation Leadership Skills Everybody Needs To Master
You don't need a crystal ball to see that the world of work is changing. According to an importantnew study from McKinsey Global Institute, almost half the jobs people currently perform have the potential to be automated by currently existing technology. It sort of makes you wonder: what kind of work will be left for humans to do? The answer:...
Read More
Seven Fundamentals of a Winning Innovation Team
Sooner or later, you're going to be asked to lead an innovation team. This will be your time to shine, if you're up to the challenge. The distinguishing aspect of leading a special purpose team is that you're not in control, you can only influence behavior. You're tasked with figuring out how to do something new, so you and your mates are going ...
Read More
Trend Tracking: Six Essential Steps for Spotting Your Next Opportunity
I once asked Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, what led him to start the company back in 1971. He explained that, at the time, he was running a company at the Little Rock, Arkansas, airport, refurbishing executive aircraft. It was there he began to notice that with increasing frequency, business people were showing up at his company to see if th...
Read More