Innovation has become more respected as a concept within the scope of business. “Business as usual” is no longer supporting competitive advantage. We are now looking for ways to change the status quo. This is quite a change from the recent past—at least on the surface. We say we want innovation but our behavior does not align with this. The “way we think” changes very slowly, historically. The tendency is to reject what does not fit into our current worldview of “the way things are.” So, unwittingly, we continue to re-create the same behaviors that typically dominate our daily lives, including “business as usual.” Why is this?

The bottom line is that we do not understand how to most effectively operate our magnificent mind and brain, and hence we keep reproducing suboptimal results. We get stuck. You see, behavior, products, and delivery of services ultimately boil down to how we think—and feel. These times of change are causing us to deal with what we have for far too long avoided—our self. Our relationship with our self is of primary importance to everything we do. Also, when we reconnect with our values and align with our purpose, change is more likely to have the energy of joy and passion attached to it instead of fear due to lack of clarity. It’s time to become better acquainted with our very self and start to develop our true potential from the inside out. Now this would be innovation.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~Leo Tolstoy

To do this would be truly visionary leadership and would foster deeper levels of innovative capacity. We need to change our brain and mind to do this by changing our thinking. In fact, this is no insignificant metaphor; this is scientifically based research. It has been demonstrated quite clearly that thinking, and thinking alone, changes the microscopic neuro-architecture of the brain (a.k.a., it changes the brain structurally). This statement is a bit misleading though, as feelings also play a very powerful role in wiring our brain. In fact, they’re the glue that makes memory stick.

Research confirms that vividly imagining an activity can change the brain in the same ways that actually doing an activity can. This is effective enough to even treat illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression without medication. It can even raise your happiness set point. I really have experienced this happiness issue, considering what a pessimist I used to be years ago. I’ll take happiness any day. I can also say that when we better understand how our brain either supports or sabotages our creativity, we can improve our ability to see new ideas and raise our performance. Olympic athletes have known this for a long time now. I even used it to develop my eye surgery skills a long time ago. It works amazingly well.

One way that I apply mental rehearsal (visualization)—and, by the way, I was doing this before the research substantiated it—is to quiet my busy mind, reflect, and ask questions in regard to the problem I need to solve. If we want new answers, we need to better acquaint ourselves with how our own brains operate. We need to ask new questions, expect new answers, and engage our brain with more self-awareness. We need to open our mind in order to expand the vision for our business and life. We don’t need to understand complicated neuroanatomy; we just need to understand how to retrain our brain.

While I have formal training in neuroanatomy, I didn’t need to use it when sharing with my employees how to change their thinking, because I had actually done it myself. Metaphor, examples, and anecdotes work best. It is not theory for me. I’m sure they were happy not to have to sit through a science lecture. A visionary leader is one who makes time to get clear about the “what” and “why,” reflects on the “how,” and then takes inspired action. If we just defer to our old ways of thinking and behaving when going about the “how,” don’t expect innovation. It is not rocket science.

Yet, until you make up your mind to muster up the courage to retrain your mind/brain—on purpose—don’t expect to master the power of your brain to create innovative products, services, and inspire healthy organizational culture. An organization consists of individuals and is only as strong as its individuals. You will only reach your true potential and significantly improve organizational performance by learning new ways to think and feel about your business and life. This begins with improving brain awareness and by setting a heartfelt intention to do so.

After all, change is at the heart of innovation. What do you think? Can we retrain our brain to become more effective leaders? (Hint: it’s too late to tell me we can’t. Experience trumps theory.)

Author's Bio: 

Valencia Ray, M.D. teaches business owners and corporate leaders how their amazing brain can actually hijack personal power -- not in the abstract, but in the context of integrating business and personal life. Dr. Ray, a board-certified eye surgeon and medical business owner for over 20 years before selling her practice, shares her own life changing process. By sharing her story, she helps others to expand their vision and learn that by living with purpose and confidence, it is possible to have a more integrated, healthier lifestyle – with less struggle, more inner peace and more abundance.

For more information and to contact her regarding dynamic, inspirational keynotes, trainings in collaborative leadership and team building, entrepreneurship and coaching programs, visit her website at