Create transformative innovation

The secret to cognitive success with Charles Duhigg

  • Productive people form habits or cognitive routines to strengthen their innovative thinking, focus and motivation.
  • Preventing yourself from lapsing into “tunnel vision” is as simple as changing the story inside your head.
  • Developing daily rituals that give you greater control over your life can help increase your motivation.  

How can you create a more productive, motivated and inspired workforce? Bestselling author Charles Duhigg says the secret lies in the power of cognitive routine.

The world’s most well-known CEOs have long shared their tips and tricks for success. From early starts and meditation to goal-setting and keeping up with management trends, the most successful professionals maintain habits that optimise their productivity levels.

woman's face through a window

Although we usually associate “busyness” with productivity, this assumption is incorrect, we learned from former New York Times Reporter and Best-Selling Author Charles Duhigg at Telstra Vantage™ 2017. Duhigg has cracked the code for how the world’s most successful people approach their work.

“You might be busy enough that you have to check your phone within the first five minutes of the morning, but that does not mean this is the best use of your time,” he says.

Instead, Duhigg encourages professionals to start thinking more deeply – and the best way to do this is through “cognitive routines” that develop your ability to solve problems and approach your day-to-day tasks most effectively.

Here are three techniques you can use to increase your innovation, sharpen your focus and boost your motivation. 

Cultivate innovation    

Duhigg warns people against falling into applying a stereotypical approach to inspiring creativity. 

“When we talk about a cognitive routine or we talk about coming up with new ideas, most of us think about taking a walk in the park. But that’s not what the most creative people do,” Duhigg says. 

“Innovation is not about some artist waiting for a brainstorm – rather, innovation tends to be the product of someone who sees creativity as an import/export business.” 

According to Duhigg, thinking creatively isn’t necessarily about aiming for what’s never been seen or done before. The most creative and innovative ideas are not always the newest. 

“Rather, they [come from] people who take old ideas and mix them together in new ways,” he says. Duhigg refers to these people as “innovation brokers”. 

“Not only are they in the habit of exposing themselves to new ideas, they are also in the habit of forcing themselves somehow to make sense of those ideas.”

Charles Duhigg on business success and The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, Best-Selling Author of The Power of Habit discusses the cognitive routines which empower leaders to succeed.

“You can train willpower and motivation. You can make it into a habit.” 

Charles Duhigg, Journalist and Author.

Find your focus

 The ability to focus effectively is a crucial strength of any leader. For most people, however, it can be all too easy to fall into a “cognitive tunnel” – in other words, to develop tunnel vision – by focusing too heavily on the tasks immediately at hand. 

Although keeping focused on the solution while competing priorities surround you can be difficult, Duhigg explains how establishing habits can help to streamline thought. 

“The people who are most successful in work settings tend to tell themselves stories of what they expect to unfold, which somehow tends to prime our brains to pay attention and, most importantly, ignore distractions.” 

Duhigg explains that self-talk and mentally envisaging how events could pan out can sharpen your focus and help you overcome stressful situations. 

“[Focused people] seem trained to visualise what should happen and to encourage ways to challenge the story inside their head,” Duhigg says.

“The best ones not only had these stories inside their head, the best ones often would verbalise what they plan on doing and they would sort of goad their colleagues into challenging the plans they had laid.”

Motivate yourself and others 

The path to success can be long and winding with obstacles along the way. This is why the ability to motivate yourself, as well as your team, is of the utmost importance. 

Duhigg says developing habits that allow you to have greater control over your life can help develop willpower. 

“Thousands of studies have looked at willpower and motivation and what they found is it has the single greatest correlation with future success. If you could give your kids or your employees anything, giving them willpower would be better than giving them money or IQ,” Duhigg says. 

“You can train willpower and motivation. You can make it into a habit.”


Name: Charles Duhigg

Title: Journalist and Author

What are the habits that seem to distinguish people who are uniquely productive or companies that are uniquely productive?

The things that in retrospect we think are most creative or most innovative they are not the newest things.

Rather, they are people who take old ideas and mix them together in new ways.

Or put differently, innovation is not about some artist waiting for a brainstorm.

Rather, innovation tends to be the product of someone who sees creativity as an import/export business.

This is what we know about innovation brokers.

Is that not only are they in the habit of exposing themselves to new ideas they are also in the habit of forcing themselves somehow to make sense of those ideas.

And as researchers have looked at productivity and why some people are more productive than others, particularly why some people seem to be more innovative than others what they found is that the ones who are the most innovative they tend to have some type of habit that they rely on that forces them to think about the ideas they're being exposed to that feels like work.

How then do we remain focused on what's most important?

Because there’s enormous numbers of distractions in this world.

The people who are most successful in work settings, they tend to tell themselves stories about what they expect to unfold which somehow seems to prime our brains and our attention to pay attention to what matters and most importantly ignore distractions.

The best ones not only had these stories inside their head, the best ones oftentimes would verbalise what they plan on doing and they would sort of goad their colleagues into challenging the plans that they had laid.

You can train willpower and motivation.

You can make it into a habit.

This is what we know about the third part of the cognitive routines that the most productive people and companies tend to engage in. 

They tend to find daily habits that make people feel like they're in control of their own lives.

Cause what we know is that motivation expands when we feel in control.

We understand that some people are more productive than others because they take something like innovation and they make it into work.

They take the stories that we all tell ourselves every single day, and all of you do this.

No-one is successful without telling them stories about themselves, they take those stories and they find people to challenge them about them.

They go out and they find ways to make themselves feel in control, even when we're in an economy or a world that seems out of control all the time.

And it's easy to feel terrified and anxious and all of us do.

And that actually means that we're on top of things.

But we also know now how to build the patterns, the cognitive routines, the habits into our lives that put us back in control.

And hopefully this is something that you can go home and talk to your family about or your employees because the more that we feel like we're telling the stories to ourselves that matter the more we end up doing amazing things and making the world an amazing place.

Telstra Consulting can help you cut through today’s technology options to make the right choice for your business. We have deep, proven experience in scoping and delivering projects on time and on budget.

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