Focus on Tomorrow without Sacrificing Today

Did you ever wonder why managers and salespeople always seem to be caught up with the here-and-now demands of today (the current hot topics QM and QRM come to mind) and rarely spend enough time thinking about issues critical to future success like how to create demand in prospects who have to be sold that taking out a mortgage is a good decision? In Andy Rooney’ familiar words, “It does make a person wonder!”

When consulting, I see it all the time: the urgent takes precedence over the important. Why is that? Finally I know the answer. In the just published book, Long Fuse, Big Bang, neuroscientist Eric Haseltine explains that the tyranny of the “urgent” is an ancient script that our brains are wired to make fast, unconscious decisions because the prehistoric environment was filled with immediate perils. Daily survival wasn’t a guarantee.

Haseltine contends that a person’s brain will forever forsake important pursuits in order to handle more urgent ones. So, are we doomed to always be putting out fires in exchange for establishing transformative change? Haseltine says, “No!”

The first step in moving beyond these ancient survival scripts is to recognize the pattern and know that it is possible to work around the hard-wired short fuse and to light longer fuses that can lead to breakthroughs. Here are some of Haseltine’s important insights that can be applied to managing in mortgage banking:

• One of the most important scripts is to expend as little energy as possible. This script biases us when presented with alternative choices to take the path of least resistance. Solution: long fuses need to be divided into many small easy steps.

• To set off big bangs, you don’t have to change what you do every day, just the way you do it. The secret to changing individual behaviors is to co-opt and work with natural tendencies instead of fighting those tendencies.

• Because our brains have blind spots in perception, we are not only blind to unexpected and unwanted possibilities, but we are unaware of the blindness. As a result, all we have to do is accept that we have perceptual blind spots; then force ourselves to look into them. This means that we don’t actually have to look very hard for big, new opportunities.

• When selling new big ideas, it is better when the person selling is able to stimulate our senses of sight, sound and touch. As an executive at Disney states “showing is better than telling, but experience is better than showing”.

• In persuading our here-and-now brains to embrace risky, there-and-then ideas, it’s necessary to evoke strong positive emotions such as hope and compassion that replace our unconscious fears about the future with conscious passions for it.

The most important point that Haseltine makes is that a brain will change its behavior when confronted with two simple contingencies: behaviors that are consistently rewarded will be repeated and behaviors that are consistently punished will not.