Our Brains Want To Be Lazy; Here’s How To Win The Battle

We all like to think we are open minded, but the reality is that our brains are hardwired to prefer information that is consistent with what we already know and think.

New ideas, innovation and creativity are things we all want in our organizations, but a new idea that goes against the status quo can be risky.

When you present something unknown, invisible, and unproven, you can make people psychologically uncomfortable; it forces them to think critically and decide whether or not they want to change (and people to hate switch). It also requires more effort.

Therefore, people will respond much more positively to information they agree with and already know.

It’s not just the idea, it’s who says it

In addition to our brain’s strong tendency to reject new information, when we’re exposed to fresh, new ideas, we tend to judge them based on the confidence of the person sharing them.

Research has shown that those who speak up with ease and speak with confidence are perceived as knowledgeable when it might be the introvert in the room who has the information they need.

However, it’s not just confidence and natural speaking skills that draw our attention; There’s also what Bryan Bonner, a professor of management at the University of Utah, calls the “Expert representative:”

…our brain’s natural tendency to take shortcuts, focusing on the loudest – or even tallest – person in the room, as opposed to the actual expert on the subject at hand.

This is potentially dangerous when we need to make critical decisions, as our brains like to take shortcuts.

The two ways of thinking

As a leader, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that you and your team will use the automatic, biased, condensed thinking style that our brains use by default. This shortcut mode was dubbed “System 1” by psychologist Daniel Kahneman:

“System 1’s operations are rapid, effortless, associative, and often emotionally charged; They are also driven by habit, so they cannot be changed or controlled.” ~Daniel Kahnemann

When we don’t stop to consider alternative viewpoints, when we react with emotions, when we’re tired or lazy, when we’re drawn to what we’ve seen or heard before—it’s all System 1 thinking.

Of course, System 1 thinking is an effective way for our brains to work in many situations, e.g. B. when we drive the correct route home from work without really thinking about it, or when we immediately take our hand off a hot stove without knowing it is an effort.

In business, however, we typically want to be critical, thoughtful, and goal-oriented, which Daniel Kahneman calls “System 2” thinking.

System 2 thinking is more conscious, cautious, and considered. It counteracts our prejudices, knee-jerk reactions and emotional thinking. It is our ability to solve problems, analyze information, evaluate options, and make decisions.

You want to use System 2 thinking when making big decisions, chairing meetings, or having team conversations. If you are in a leadership position, encourage System 2 thinking within your team to reduce the group’s natural tendency to avoid new, risky – but ultimately valuable – information.

Create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks, bringing new ideas to the table or speaking out against the status quo. Keeping things the same is easy and requires less effort, but it doesn’t lead to excellence, success, or profit.

How to avoid lazy thinking

  1. establish group diversity – Uniformity tends to lead to lackluster results. Groups thrive when opinions of different genders, ages, and ethnicities are welcomed.
  2. define expectations – Knowing what is expected of a group can help the group stay on track. Expectations also support accountability, as group members cannot deny that they did not know what the goal was.
  3. Emphasize the collective consciousness – Understanding common group prejudices helps keep them in check. The group should know their weaknesses and how to recognize them.
  4. Emphasize freedom of thought – Individuals can do their own research and reflection before meeting with the group. Leaders should emphasize that all ideas are welcome, no matter how outlandish or strange they may seem. You should also make sure that all ideas are heard so that those who don’t come up naturally get the floor.
  5. Insist on sharing information – It is imperative that everyone in a group lists all the information they have that relates to an issue. This is the only way to achieve the best results.
  6. promote innovation – A good leader encourages people to climb over the mental fence that can prevent a group from developing, openly discussing and adopting new ideas and solutions.

All the smaller everyday situations where we play it safe and stick to the status quo may seem harmless, but these small decisions lead to a lack of innovation and creativity.

Make challenging the status quo a constant practice by keeping curiosity alive.


[Research study cited: Bottger, P. C. (1984). Expertise and air time as bases of actual and perceived influence in problem-solving groups.]

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