#66: 11 barriers to thinking big

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Many leaders have asked me this question:

How can we have more ambitious goals, because often we’re thinking small?

Although there are probably many different ways to answer this question, I will do so with my experience as a CEO and the research I have done on the subject.

I have identified 11 barriers that will prevent you from thinking big.

1. Don’t jump at every opportunity

Many leaders think that in order to think big, you have to jump at every opportunity and do the best you can with every one of them. The truth is, that that doesn’t work. Not only will you not be able to deliver well on every opportunity, but you and your team will become overwhelmed by all the work. This way of working is waaaay too hectic and doesn’t leave space to reinvent ourselves and come up with new and interesting ideas. Instead, what you can do, is focus!

Focus on a couple of big projects you can put your time and energy into so that you have enough space on the side to improve on the problems or bumps you might encounter in those bigger projects.

2. Spending too much time in meetings

The second barrier that prevents people from thinking big, is spending too much time in meetings. If you spend too much time in meetings, you won’t have enough time left to think big or be creative. There are two things you can do to prevent this issue. The first thing you can do is increase empowerment so that your team is more independent and doesn’t have to rely on other teams so much. Another thing you can do is to reorganize your organization into cross-functional teams so that these teams are -again- not so dependent on each other.

3. Not taking the time to stop

The third barrier I see a ton is that people aren’t stopping anymore. They believe that, in order to achieve big goals and think big, you have to work hard and be busy all the time. But the truth is, research shows that the creative side of the brain starts working when your neocortex -your rational brain- stops. And creativity is very important when you want to think big and be ambitious!

4. Not allowing risks or mistakes

Dreaming big means daring. Daring means that you do things that might not work out. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, daring in this context doesn’t mean that you can be reckless. But if you want your team to think big, you need to create a safe environment that allows people to come up with ideas and share them with the rest. Maybe these ideas are stupid, but maybe they are the next big break you were waiting for.

5. Heavy internal procedures

I see this in a lot of large organizations. Every time you’d like to try something new or have an idea, you have to fill in reports, financial tables, and lots of other boring administration. Just that fact discourages a lot of people, including myself in the past. In that way, you are preventing your company from thinking big. Instead, I believe we should replace heavy internal procedures with strong values and trust so that you aren’t discouraged to have innovative ideas.

6. Stress and tiredness

This is a barrier I have talked about plenty of times. When people are stressed and tired, they aren’t able to cope with new challenges, which causes them to fall back into their conditioned behaviors and stay in their comfort zone. This is of course not an outcome you want as a leader or organization. When people feel energized and stress-free, they are able to get out of their comfort zone, learn new skills, and improve as a leader and people! That’s why managing your energy level must be your number one priority!

7. Having no meaningful purpose

Reaching financial goals to satisfy shareholders or bosses really isn’t a meaningful purpose. As humans, we need something bigger than ourselves to think big. We need a great purpose and great goals that move people!

8. Translating big dreams into budgets

Having big ambitions is amazing, with the right motivation and purpose, you achieve big things. But I remember my shareholders tried to turn these ambitions I had into budgets. And that created a lot of stress for me and discouraged me to deliver. We like to be good at our job. And if you constantly have to deliver ambitious goals translated into the budget, you will get demotivated. That’s why I believe in a realistic budget. That’s why I believe in underpromising and overdelivering. If you don’t have that budget weight over your head, you will feel safe and probably deliver more than was expected of you!

9. Losing your cool under pressure

If you want to dream big, as I said before, you have to create a safe environment. That also means that as a leader, you have to remain calm and empathic even when things don’t go as planned. Instead of getting angry or dominant, you should pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and body language and analyze why you feel this way, so that you can respond correctly to the situation instead of reacting to it in a bad way.

10. Not having enough diversity in your team

Research shows that great ideas come when you put a team of experts together with people from different areas. Innovation is often about applying one creative idea from one domain and implementing it in another. And for that, you need diversity: different people who think in different ways but ultimately have the same end goal in mind.

11. Not having input from other areas or networking

Like I said in the third barrier, you need to take time to stop sometimes so that your mind can wander and stumble upon ideas you weren’t able to see before. But sometimes, stopping isn’t enough. In order to fully activate the creative processes in your mind, you have to follow your passions and pleasures and discover them, even if they (seemingly) don’t have a connection to what you do for work. Because like I said before, you need different inputs from different areas to create valuable ideas! So don’t hesitate to go to events to nourish your brain and soul so that you can bring that passion into thinking big!

That was it! If you know other barriers that prevent leaders and teams from thinking big, I’m very interested to know them! So don’t hesitate to put them in the comments! If you think this podcast episode can help your team or colleague, feel free to share it with them! I will see you in the next episode!

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