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The Rules of Hamster Thinking

When you’re the older brother, growing up with an unspeakably pretty kid sister is a recipe for stress. You invest in karate lessons and basic firearms training. You start early with the Prozac.

With a twelve-year age gap between us, I had already moved out of the house when I received the inevitable call from my parents, explaining, “…We all knew this day had to come. Lauren’s brought home the first one. We’d like you to come around and meet him, but a word of warning: He’s surly, has a bad attitude, and his hygiene is…questionable!”

This, of course, was Lauren’s very first hamster.

So I arrived to meet the new addition, and there he was in his tiny cage.

As I leaned over him, the hamster got a fright, and tried to make a break for it. But he started by jumping into his running wheel. When his frantic efforts finally fizzled, he got out of the wheel and turned to see if I was still there. I was. Hot on his heels. So he jumped back into the wheel and ran like a hamster-possessed all over again.

I watched him repeat this fascinating display over and over. Somewhere in the hypnotic episode, I came up with a new philosophy on life. (Some people have epiphanies at monasteries, some on mountain tops – what’s wrong with having one in the presence of a fluff-ball named ‘Chuckles’?). I called it: “The Rules of Hamster Thinking.”

THE RULES OF HAMSTER THINKING ARE:

1. Hamsters make up rule that work against them

2. Hamsters do things the way they’ve always been done; and

3. Hamsters do what all other hamsters would do.

…And Hamster Thinking is not limited to fluffy pet vermin. It’s all over the corporate corridors too. 98% of corporate employees are firmly entrenched hamsters. The other two per cent have an odd habit of moving the world forward.

So, what’s the difference between them? The reasonable and the unreasonable? The hamster-ridden and the hamster-free? Grasp that distinction and not only can you begin your own hamster-exorcism ritual, but it might change the way you approach your business.

CAN I HAVE A VOLUNTEER?

In my keynote address on Hamster Thinking, I carry out an experiment. It tells me a great deal about the way people think and it works like this: A member of the audience joins me on stage. Without giving any instructions, I place a piece of string in front of their feet and a tennis ball in their hand. I walk to the far side of the stage and place a bowl on the ground. Then I issue my instructions: “Your mission is to get the ball in the bowl. Three… two… one… GO!”

Most people try to throw the ball across the stage into the bowl. Why? Because they are assuming they have to stand behind the piece of string. They have made up a rule that is working against them. And even if they lobbed that sphere with Glenn McGrath-like accuracy, it would simply bounce out, or knock the bowl over.

The hamster-free individual would simply walk over to the bowl and set the ball down gently within it.

THE STRING INSIDE YOUR MIND:

I’ve experienced this phenomenon many times myself, in the course of initiating big projects. It’s all too easy to waver emotionally in front of a perceived piece of string. It’s easy to make up reasons why it won’t work. And yet, on the occasions when we take the risk, we often surprise ourselves with remarkable results.

THE PIECE OF STRING AT THE RADIO STATION DOOR:

I can recount three separate occasions on which I wanted to present for different radio stations. Each time I felt the fear of the perceived piece of string. Each time, I reminded myself of the Rules of Hamster Thinking, and opted to step over the string, walk through the front door of the station, and try. And each time, to my surprise, I got to see the person I needed to see and ended up presenting on that station.

More often than we realise, the string exists only in our minds.

Don’t waste time thinking about how everyone else does it. Instead, think ‘end results.’ You’ll be surprised how this little Copernican Revolution jump-starts the creative part of your brain. Crystallize the goal and your creative mind can find the means. And the chances are that the means will not be conventional, because the results of convention are almost always ‘average.’

Yet who wants to be average? Escaping your own hamster wheel begins with overcoming the first rule of hamster thinking: Don’t make up rules that work against you.

After all, what’s holding you back?…a piece of string?

 

See Douglas Kruger in action and read about his speech topics. Visit www.douglaskruger.co.za