ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — February 2004

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In the Spotlight
Get Your Money's Worth From Each Employee
Moving the Elephant
Dynamic Facilitation and Transformational Thinnking


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February 2004 News For A Change — Home Page

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In the Spotlight
Get Your Money's Worth From Each Employee

As the downsizing trend continues to mount in companies large and small, employers must take creative measures to get the most productivity out of each remaining employee; however, if Albert Einstein’s observation is right—that most people use less than 10% of their brains’ capabilities—getting the most from your employees can seem like a daunting task. So how can you tap into the other 90% of your employees’ mental capacity and get more for your money? One solution is to send them to boot camp … boot camp for their brains, that is.

Current research suggests that “pumping dendrites” can be every bit as beneficial for the brain as “pumping iron” is for the body. Intelligence pioneer, Dr. Win Wenger, author of The Einstein Factor, has found that certain exercises actually can raise a person’s IQ. Amazingly, the same “use it or lose it” logic that applies to muscles also applies to our brains. Another researcher, Dr. David Snowdon, author of Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives, concurs that deterioration of the brain is not necessarily inevitable as we get older.

Unfortunately, for many people, thinking has become a lost art. John Sculley, former chairman of Apple Computers agrees. He said, “In the new economy, strategic resources no longer come out of the group. The strategic resources are ideas and information that come out of our minds. The result: We have gone from being resource rich in the old economy to resource poor in the new economy almost overnight. Our public education has not successfully made the shift from teaching the memorization of facts to achieving the learning of critical thinking skills.”

This type of critical thinking is what entertainer Steve Allen encourages in his book, Dumbth. In the first half of the book, he delineates the problems, sharing specific examples of “dumbth” and divulges many hilarious and several rather alarming examples to back up his claim that the art of thinking has been lost. Then he cites the collapse of American efficiency with specific examples from the airline, hotel, and other service industries. In the second half of the book, Allen offers “101 ways to reason better and improve your mind.” Though not specifically written for business owners, you may want your employees to emulate “TV’s Renaissance Man” because his achievements—which include winning Peabody, Emmy, and Grammy awards and composing more than 8,500 songs—suggest that he successfully tapped into his other 90%.

If you want your employees to use the incredible power of their minds so they can contribute more to your organization, encourage them to perform some simple and fun mind exercises. The following sample exercises of “whole mind strategies” will help improve your employees’ mental skills, which will translate into increased productivity while they’re punching your clock.

Exercises for Engaging the Whole Brain
Sometimes during the day, employees get busy and begin to feel stressed by all the demands placed upon them. This is hardly an optimal scenario for productivity. Here are some quick solutions to get them back on track.

  • Place the index finger of your dominant hand above your lip and the middle finger below the lip. Place your other hand over your navel. Look up, and then down, taking three deep breaths as you lightly rub the points near your lips. Then reverse your hand positions. Look up and then down again and take three more deep breaths.
  • Using your thumbs and first fingers, slowly pull the edges of your ears out and backward, as if you wanted to unroll them. Start at the tops of your ears and work down to your earlobes, unrolling them three or more times.
  • Take a load off and put gravity to work. Lie flat on your back on the floor with no pillow. Rest your feet and lower legs over the seat of a chair or sofa. Make sure your legs are supported up to the knee so you don’t stress them, but not so high on the knee as to impede circulation. Loosen any tight clothes. Once you’ve settled in and are comfortable, take several deep sighs. Because the body’s natural biological clock tends to slow down in the afternoon, spending 10-15 minutes in this position is an excellent way to oxygenate your brain and increase blood flow. This will chase away the typical mid-afternoon slump and add remarkable zest to your afternoons.

These exercises will help your people become more focused, improve concentration, decrease distractibility, activate memory, increase attentiveness, relax the central nervous system, and facilitate feelings of rejuvenation. Although these exercises take very little time, they do greatly enhance employee performance.

For those times when your people feel “stuck” and are unable to come up with creative solutions to some pressing business issues, more drastic mind exercises may be necessary. Their stuck feeling is similar to writer’s block. When this occurs, encourage them to do the following mental exercises:

  • Mix up your mental patterns by taking common knowledge and configuring it in uncommon ways. For example, say the months of the year backwards, then in alphabetical order—without pen or paper!
  • Or make a chart with the alphabet on it in several rows, as shown below:


Then, stand up and read the chart, saying the alphabet out loud. As you do this, move your body to approximate the shape of the letters. For example, when you see an “R” for the letter, bend your right arm; when you see an “L,” bend your left arm; and when you see a “T,” bend both arms. Next, read the chart backwards as you do the motions with your body.

  • Add another layer of difficulty by incorporating your lower body into the exercise. So now, for every “R,” bend your right arm and lift your right knee; for every “L,” bend your left arm and lift your left knee; and for every “T,” bend both arms and both legs.

Continue to add difficulty by changing the path you follow. Zigzag through the alphabet or read it in vertical columns. By doing these exercises, you engage both hemispheres of the brain and activate multiple intelligences as you clear out the mental cobwebs that can cloud your creativity.

  • Look at 3-D stereograms. Focusing on these images causes your eyes to diverge, which opens up the visual field and widens your perspective. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering the relaxation response, which is ideal for getting the creative juices flowing again.
  • Create an IQ obstacle course. Have puzzles, brainteasers, and riddles in prominent places or in the common areas, such as the cafeteria or the employee lounge. Pipe in some classical or jazz music and encourage a learning environment. Instead of coffee breaks, encourage crossword puzzle competitions or create company-wide chess tournaments.

By creating an environment conducive for mental stimulation, your employees will learn how to think more critically and creatively. The end result is that you’ll be able to tap into the other 90% of their brains’ capacity and get the most productivity for your payroll dollars.

LINDA BARRETT specializes in business applications of brain research. She helps employers maximize their resources by teaching their employees strategies to help them compete more effectively in rapidly changing arenas. For more information on Barrett’s “Boot Camp for Your Brain,” contact her office at 504-468-8716 or visit her Web site at .

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