I’ve long argued the best sales people are the best problem solvers. They bring an amazing creativity to solving problems. Great sales people identify unique, out of the box solutions to; getting deals unstuck, prospecting, getting to decision makers or solving product challenges. Great sales people are great problem solvers.
It turns out problem solving is a skill. It’s a skill that can be identified. It’s something some people are better at than others. Those good at problem solving hold more information in their prefrontal cortex and hold on to it longer.
When confronted with a problem, the brain looks to the prefrontal cortex for information. It attempts to access all the information it can to sort through the problem in order to focus the mind on the specific challenge. The less information available to the brain, the more difficult it is for the brain to solve the problem. In essence, the myriad of seemingly useless information we acquire overtime is a critical resource in solving problems. The more information the brain has, the more creative the solutions.
It works like this. The prefrontal cortex has an amazing ability to exercise authority over the decision making process. This “control” is known as executive control. Like that of a leader or CEO, the prefrontal cortex works from the top down. The prefrontal cortex lets us attack a problem from any angle, responding to the facts that can best solve the problem, not just the obvious facts or emotionally generated facts, which may be useless in coming up with the right solution. Executive control is how we look at problems creatively and solve them in a new way.
The prefrontal cortex is also the only part of the brain that can take an abstract principle and apply it in a completely unique and unfamiliar environment to derive at a completely original solution.
To accomplish this amazing feat the prefrontal cortex leverages a unique type of memory called working memory. Working memory keeps information in short-term storage in order to massage it, analyze it, assess it, and work it with all the additional information rushing in from other cortical regions. By managing the information in this way, the brain can make creative associations of what appears, on the surface, to be unrelated information and sensations. This “overlap” of information is referred to as the restructuring phase, as relevant information, yet seemingly unrelated is mashed together in new ways to arrive at the aha! moment. This aha! moment , from the brains point of view isn’t a “new” idea, but a bunch of old thoughts all occurring at the exact same time.
To be a better be a problem solver means being able to hold more information in your prefrontal cortex and being able to keep it there. When we can do this, brain cells are better able to establish more useful associations, which is the key to coming up with creative solutions to our problems.
Think about that for a second. If you have more information stored in your prefrontal cortex (the front part of your brain) you make better decisions. To solve problems our brains use mostly OLD information, not new. It relies less on new stimuli and much more heavily on information it has gathered over the years. With this being the case, the old adage of, “feed the brain” takes on entirely new importance.
The best sales people are the best at solving problems. They are great at solving complex and difficult problems. Solving problems is heavily dependent on what you put in your head. To be a great problem solver, and therefore a great sales person, you need to put more information in your noggin.
If you’ve ever wondered why that guy who always wins at Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit is great at solving problems, now you know. Knowing the history of manufacturing in America or how Attila the Hun rose to power could help you make quota. Apparently unnecessary tidbits of information turn out to be VERY valuable when it comes to solving problems.
Source: Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide