Make Your Team Smarter, Happier and More Productive Without Spending a Dime

It's simply not true that intelligence is static. If you want your team to work smarter and better, try these three strategies.

learn more about Debra Kaye

By Debra Kaye • Sep 9, 2013 Originally published Sep 9, 2013

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The idea that intelligence is static -- you're either born smart or you aren't -- is simply not true. By cultivating "thinking habits," you strengthen your brain and enable yourself to grow and adapt throughout life. And the same goes for your business team. Encouraging your employees to increase their brainpower will make them better at solving problems and developing profitable new ideas.

You can increase the productivity of your colleagues with these three simple and virtually cost-free strategies:

1. Tell employees they can get smarter and they will. Give employees a newsletter or brief white paper on how to grow intelligence. You will not motivate or encourage your team by putting them down. In What the Best College Students Do, Ken Bain from University of the District of Columbia, conducted a study that found the most creative, successful people have the conviction that their intelligence is expandable. Because they believe they can grow their brains, if you will, his subjects demonstrated more curiosity and open mindedness, took more professional and intellectual risks and as a result, were very successful.

There's more research to back this up. Psychologists from Columbia and Stanford looked at about 100 seventh graders who were struggling in math for eight weeks. Most of the students held the belief that intelligence was something that was set for life. The students were given tips on how to use study time effectively, then divided into two groups. The first group read an article entitled "You Can Grow Your Intelligence," about how nerve cells in the brain make stronger connections after we learn something new, while the other group read an article about new ways to remember new information. The first group actually shifted their views, believed they could grow their intelligence and demonstrated greater motivation to do well in math class weeks and even months after the study had ended. Giving your staff something similar to read, like this article on intelligence, certainly seems worth trying

2. Make employees step outside their comfort zones. Showing people they can accomplish tasks they may feel are beyond their abilities is not only a confidence boost, it actually helps fire up brain cells. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's 1978 study of 10-year-old children also demonstrated that if you think you can, you often can. She gave kids a series of 12 puzzles to complete. The first eight matched the skills of the average 10-year-old. The next four were beyond the capabilities of anyone in the age group.

One group of students said things like, "I can't solve these problems. I'm not smart enough" and essentially gave in to defeat. The children in the other group kept telling themselves that they could solve the difficult problems if they just put in more effort. Dweck found both groups of children had similar natural abilities and some children in the "helpless" group seemed to actually have more natural abilities than those in the more positive group. It was their view of intelligence as being either fixed or fluid that made the difference in outcomes. Those who saw themselves as being able to solve the problem did so more frequently and not just because they did not give up – but because they thought about things longer and were willing to keep trying out various solutions until they found one that worked. Neurologically, this effort actually expands brain cells and makes you better at solving problems.

3. Allow for free discovery time. Opening your mind to subjects and experiences that take you off the predictability of a normal workday shakes up the brain and makes it work harder -- building up its "muscle." For example, 3M offers employees "15 percent time" -- a program that lets employees use a portion of paid time to tinker with their own ideas. The policy has paid off by producing many of the company's best-selling products, including Post-It Notes.

Google also takes the power of exploration to heart with its well known Innovation Time Off, a program that allows employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on projects that interest them. Some of Google's newest and most successful services bubbled up from this time including Gmail and Google News.

This is an experiment that is well worth conducting. Start by encouraging employees to take mid-morning or mid-day walks, or allow them to spend half a day reading and researching projects and ideas that captivate them. There is nothing to lose, but the potential for gain is great.

Debra Kaye

Brand Strategist and Partner at Lucule

Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

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