A more creative brain – Helping others innovate more – Solving problems more rapidly. We need these for personal and organizational improvement. Many will tell you that skill in Design Thinking, Creative Problem Solving, Agile, Lean, or some other creative process methodology is the key to innovation success.

It is not.

Our Gator Brain Can Stifle Innovation

New & Improved has been teaching these and other creative process skills for 30 years. NONE of them work without the one big thing that so many naively overlook:

Noticing, assessing and choosing the right kind of thoughts.

Yes, you read correctly. No amount of innovation process skills training will work without also improving an individual’s ability to manage what we call the “Gator Brain”. Skip this, and your innovation skills improvement effort is sure to fail. Fortunately, it is within our human capacity to steadily improve our ability to manage our Gator Brain.

What’s the Gator Brain?

So, what’s the Gator Brain? This is a group of neural structures and functions that have evolved to prevent you from foolishly trying new things. Which can be a good thing when it comes to preventing you from jumping off a cliff to find out what happens. The fact is: the human species has been successful. You are successful. And you would be wise to repeat some of the patterns that have made you and others successful in the past. But! You also need to find ways to improve and continue your success. Undoubtedly, this will require you to make changes, take risks, and try new things.

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that in this moment, no one is currently trying to kill you. And you have access to food and shelter. In this moment, you are safe. But, because the gator lives only for this moment, the structures of the Gator Brain work in subtle ways to prevent you from taking risk or making changes. Disruption is unpredictable. Innovation attempts might fail. Creativity can put you in danger of social sanction. You need to go along to get along with the rest of your clan.

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3 Keys to Managing Our Gator Brain

Fortunately, it is possible to manage the Gator Brain thinking patterns that inhibit a human’s full creative potential. There are three sequential requirements:

  1.     Acceptance and humble self-awareness that your Gator Brain drives more of your thinking than you typically are aware.
  2.     Vigilance for the Gator-Brain thinking pattern so you catch yourself more frequently.
  3.     Substitution of a different thinking pattern to displace the Gator Brain, at least temporarily.


The Gator Brain reaction to newness is to immediately look for any potential “danger” in that newness. When we hear or see a new idea, we tend to first notice its weaknesses, limitations, and potential pitfalls. We all do this. Some of us more than others, some less. And here’s the tricky thing that we do to feel OK about ourselves when we see this Gator activity: we find someone who obviously is more controlled by their Gator Brain than we are. “At least I’m not as bad as (insert name).” Yet, there is a wiser move available to you!

There is no such thing as a grown-up. Just grow-ing-ups and stuck people. That’s it.

The wiser move is to find folks in your social milieu who seem to do a better job of managing their Gator Brain than you do. Watch people who have a better knack for deferring judgement. Observe folks who seem to be able to make novel connections in their minds (and speak them aloud to others) more readily than you do. Study and emulate these people instead of excusing yourself by focusing on a jerk. Cultivate humility.


Start using the language of “Gator Brain” in your day to day conversations with others. Not in a judgment-of-others statement but as a diagnosis of your own self-limiting thoughts and behaviors. Invite others to help you notice when you are defaulting to the all-to-common creativity-inhibiting thought and speaking patterns. Lead by example. Explore the “Innovator’s Values” and ask others to be your “integrinators”, helping you live up to those values. Make it your long-term goal to be the kind of person others wish to emulate to improve their own innovation fluency. Invite feedback.


We cannot tell our brain what not to think. We have to tell it what to think instead.

Don’t think about an alligator.

Just reading that last sentence causes an alligator oriented thought to pop into your mind. That’s normal for us all. But you can imagine that alligator morphing into something else. You can change the gator. Go ahead right now. Have a moment of mental fantasy where you visualize a gator, but then it changes into something-not-a-gator.

So, when you notice judgmental, defensive or critical thinking patterns, temporarily substitute something different through force of will. Decide that, for a little while, you’re going to look for what might be all of the good aspects of the new concept? What benefits might arise from it? Only after you’ve done that should you allow yourself to be critical. But even then, you’ll substitute the normal critical declarative statement with a creativity energizing question: Instead of “That idea is weak for these reasons:” you’ll ask “What might be all the ways to overcome the weakness I see?” There is a mastery level substitution technique that wise innovators typically use called POINt. Learn more about it here. Change the Gator.

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Manage Your Gator Brain and You’ll Be More Creative

If you make a commitment to doing the above, you will become more creative, more inventive, more innovative and more liked by others. You’ll cause more creativity to happen in and around you, and you’ll foster more innovation. Without ever learning about a “creative process”. Then, if you do get some training in one or more of the creative methodologies, you’ll use it to its full design potential. And that’s a good thing for us all. We will continue to do everything we can to help you.

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