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The Back Burner

Our working lives are primarily focused on implementing plans, driving results, managing performance and getting things “on track” because we are incentivized, recognized, motivated and rewarded by what we do, rather than who we are. It’s unsurprising, then, that we’re susceptible to becoming addicted to action rather than thought when solving problems.

Identifying the challenge, evaluating options and rapidly implementing the “best” solution may seem effective in the short-term, but in the long-term, an action-based approach results in temporary and transactional answers which fail to resolve the deeper, underlying issues. Within a brief time frame, we’ll probably revisit the same problems. It’s stressful, unproductive and exhausting.

Antithetical to our quick-turn, microwaved world, “The Back Burner” is a slow-cooked approach to problem-solving that yields creative, innovative, comprehensive and sustainable results by tapping into a hidden yet powerful capacity in our brains called the subconscious. We’re all familiar with those insightful a-ha moments that happen when we’re driving or sitting on a plane, perhaps showering or out on a long walk. These represent the subconscious brain at work.

By using The Back Burner, you can create the conditions for these seemingly random, infrequent and unpredictable moments to happen on demand. Here’s how:

STEP 1: Determine a timeframe for resolution.

– 72 hours is ideal.

– Get the world to step back when we are under pressure—sometimes that’s self-imposed—to resolve issues. Usually, we have more time than we think.

– Without being general or generic, clearly identify the problem you want to resolve.

STEP 2: Intentionally enter the inputs into your mind.

– Approach the challenge as if you were reporting out or bringing resolution to it.

– Resist the temptation to arrive at a conclusion. Instead, simply access the relevant data.

– Put away the folder/file/document. Focus on something else.

STEP 3: Set aside quiet “pockets of space.”

– Within the 72-hour timeframe, engage in activities where the brain can drift such as driving, walking, exercising or doing a puzzle.

– Limit distractions.

– Trust that the process is good, and that the answer will come. The more you practice, the easier this is.

– John Steinbeck claimed that problems which seem difficult at night can be resolved by the morning if the “committee of sleep” has worked on them. So, let your brain do the heavy lifting by leveraging the “committee of sleep.”

STEP 4: Capture the a-ha moment and conduct a final analysis of pros and cons.

– Be prepared to record the thought. Text yourself, create a voice memo, write a phone note, use pen and paper—as soon as the insight appears. One client opted for a waterproof iPad because their inspiration frequently occurred in the shower!

– Confirm that both the insight and consequent action are robust.

Silence is where the magic happens, especially when it relates to problem-solving. Yes, The Back Burner can assist with daily management. Yet, by giving the subconscious brain space for clarity, this approach can develop our creative, innovative capabilities as strategic leaders where the dual engines of action AND reflection are paramount. Better decisions. Less stress. Sustainable and significant outcomes.

Twenty years ago my first boss taught me about The Back Burner. This problem-solving method became both a differentiator and a competitive advantage for me as I progressed through my early career. It helped me to turn an underperforming business into a world-class, highly-profitable, award-winning company and consequently, to become a Chief Executive by my early 30s. In fact, I still use this secret weapon today as a leadership coach and business advisor, both for myself and my clients.

So, when you feel ready to tap into your subconscious capabilities, follow the steps and let the magic happen. Prepare yourself for amazing outcomes!

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Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting ( A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.

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