by Jeremy Nulik
It happens when you are rushing around town to get the dry cleaning or meeting with your accountant. You know it happens because you feel it more than you think it. It is that new idea. It’s that answer that was there all the time, and you just couldn’t see it. You fumble around in your car, trying to find a place to write it down. Sometimes you record it, and other times you try to convince yourself that what you thought up was not that insightful.
Call it what you will – intuition, poetic muse, innovative thinking or creativity – most entrepreneurs regard it as a tricky or almost magical thing. As the business owner, you know that the vision for your company and your ability to think differently are related to your company’s performance, but, like lightning, there is no telling when inspiration will strike.
Waiting around for that lightning strike is not good enough for Bill Donius. Twelve years ago, he learned a technique for short-circuiting his creative or intuitive thinking. Since then, he has been able to tap into what he refers to as his inner genius. He no longer waits for inspiration to strike him. Instead, he accesses that part of his intuitive thinking intentionally.
Twelve years ago, Donius was the third-generation CEO of Pulaski Bank. Under his leadership, the bank exploded. It grew eightfold and by 400 people. It went public and expanded into the Kansas City market.
“I loved the bank, but things just kept getting bigger and bigger, and by the end it was out of control,” says Donius. “All of my success had come at the expense of my personal life. I had seen too many of my colleagues drop dead from heart attacks in their 50s and 60s, and my life was very unbalanced.”
In 2008, at age 50, Donius retired from the bank and started on a personal journey to find himself. This included a road trip à la Jack Kerouac across the United States. It was during this journey that Donius found what his next mission in life was to be. He decided to write a book about his process for innovative thinking. Released in March, “Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius” is a guide for creativity that Donius says is a perfect fit for CEOs and business owners.
“My intention was to create a how-to book that was a short read like Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved My Cheese?,’” says Donius. “Books like that were game changers for me when I was a CEO. So I wanted to write something as short, clear and specific that people could read on a weekend and understand. This book is written for an individual that is ready for a completely new perspective.”
Writing with the right brain
“The power of this process is that the answers you get with your nondominant hand may feel foreign to you, but they came from your mind and not from some life coach or outside source,” says Donius. “No one else is telling you what you should do. These answers are coming from your own mind. They have been in there in some form or another all along.”
The process is backed by 50-year-old brain research. It turns out that the left hemisphere of the brain is analytical and linear. The right brain is intuitive and creative. Research has shown that the two hemispheres operate independently from one another. One hemisphere does not communicate with the other. The dominant hand is connected to the left hemisphere, while the nondominant hand is connected via neural pathways to the right hemisphere.
“We live in a left-hemisphere world,” says Donius. “That analytical side has served us well for many years. It certainly served me well. But there is another side to the mind that we miss out on. And we have shut ourselves off from more creative thinking,”
Some people Donius coached before his book was published have mistaken the process for nothing more than learning to write with your nondominant hand. However, Donius says there is much more to it than that.
“It is not a handwriting exercise,” he says. “Some think that if they just train themselves to write with their nondominant hand that a bunch of answers will appear. But that misses most of the point. What we are doing is disengaging the conventional thought process. You have to follow the steps to get the result. It is more complicated than penmanship.”
What does it look like?
“The real creative bankers are in jail right now,” he says. “I mean, creativity is not one of the four C’s of credit.”
However, Donius does recall one time when he used what he calls “right-brain writing” when faced with a difficult decision as a CEO. Pulaski was looking to expand into the Kansas City market. The night before a crucial meeting, Donius was still on the fence about what to do. He had made pro/con lists. He had done the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and made a weighted matrix. Everything from his left brain told him the time was right.
“It seemed like a logical choice to move forward,” says Donius. “But then, when I asked myself, ‘Should we expand into Kansas City?,’ I wrote a big ‘NO’ on the page with my nondominant hand. So I asked for clarification: ‘Why not now?’ And with my nondominant hand, I wrote, ‘Too many risks.’ I was disappointed. But I knew I had to trust my intuition.”
Donius told his executive vice president to cancel the meeting. They were not going to expand. It turns out the choice was a good one. About nine months after that night, many other factors that mitigated the risks fell into place. And, after again consulting with his nondominant hand, Donius expanded the bank into Kansas City. The expansion was much more successful than it would have been if Pulaski had just moved forward initially.
Milford didn’t like this response. She said to Donius: “I am 47 years old, and I have three daughters in college. This isn’t right.” So Donius asked her to do the process again and ask for clarity. With her nondominant hand, she wrote, “You have the ability and talent to nurse and care for other authors in writing their books.” Donius says that as soon as Milford wrote that answer, her face lit up. Milford started a new business, Book Nurse. She already has several clients and is working on growing in a completely new direction based on a one-word answer from her right brain.
“Often the answers you get with your nondominant hand are more poetic or metaphorical,” says Donius. “You don’t know what it initially means. Some people draw pictures, and others have single words. But the greatest part about it is that it is your idea. Not someone else’s.”
Think differently or die
“We need businesses to look more like Steve Jobs and less like General Motors,” says Donius. “This writing process is a simple way to tap into your creative inner genius, and every business owner has one, no matter how left-brain they think they are. You really couldn’t have gotten more left-brain than me, so if it can help me, it can help any businessperson. Business owners can pick questions like ‘What is one thing I can do to improve my bottom line this year?,’ and they are going to get answers that you would never be able to get with a conventional thought process.”
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