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The Mental Shortcut That Dumbs Down Your Mind

02/04/2015 10:45 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2015

The human mind loves certainty. Left to its own devices, when faced with a challenging situation, your brain will create a dichotomy, a this or that polarizing choice that simplifies complex situations.

It's not your brain's fault. The human mind is incredibly complex; every day it has to keep you breathing, find your car keys, and solve a myriad of challenging problems. Given all its responsibilities, your brain is a model of efficiency. But sometimes, your brain's tendency towards efficiency short-circuits your own intelligence.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

When faced with a challenge, your brain's default is to create a false dichotomy. For example, imagine you're trying to put on a fabulous play or show, and you want to rig up a super cool high wire where the star of the show comes swooping in from the rafters. Part of your mind would be screaming, "Safety first, you can't do that." Imagine that the star is your child; clearly catapulting in on a skinny little wire is a horrible idea. But now put on your producer hat; the star sliding onto center stage via an invisible wire sounds like the coolest thing ever.

Clearly you have a choice, is it going to be safety or show? Your brain prefers for you to default to one or the other. But creating a false dichotomy is what keeps most organizations from creating a Tinkerbell.

The above debate is not fictitious; it's real. Disney doesn't succumb to false dichotomies. They slide Tinkerbell in on an invisible high wire every night, and they have incredibly high standards for safety. The difference between the greatness of Disney, and the limits of your own mind is that Disney has the benefit of assigning different groups to different tasks. One group is responsible for safety, and another team is the creative show.

Yet you can create the same level of collaboration within your own brain. The key is being able to tolerate uncertainty. When the two Disney teams (safety and show) come together, they don't assume that one side is going to win over the other. They know that together, they must achieve both objectives.

When you reframe your own internal conversations, when you decide that you can live with the uncertainty of not knowing how you will do it, you too have the opportunity to create greatness.

The world is filled with dichotomies -- men versus women, right versus left, freedom versus responsibility, nurture versus nature, strategic versus tactical. When pitted against each other these can cause conflict, yet when harnessed together they create great results.

Our brain's inclination is to try to rid ourselves of these dualities; we create false dichotomies that enable us make quick decisions. But true greatness stems from embracing a both/and mindset.

The ability to embrace both/and has been the invisible underpinning behind most of our great advances, be they public or private.

We see it in successful businesses like Apple, Roche, and Flight Centre who combine Noble Purpose with their profit objectives. It was in the genius of Einstein whose reverence for God inspired a lifetime scientific discovery. It's present in successful families, when both partners embrace, but aren't limited by, the inherent differences between sexes and personalities.

Next time you're faced with a challenge, don't default to an either/or mindset. Your brain may prefer a false dichotomy, but your spirit and the universe prefer the Power of AND.

Lisa McLeod is the creator of the popular business concept Noble Purpose and author of the bestseller, Selling with Noble Purpose. She is a sales leadership consultant and keynote speaker. Organizations like Genentech, Google, and Kaiser hire her to help them grow revenue.