Avoiding “Automatic Mode”

Bernardo Carneiro

Former CTO at OLX Brasil



Automatic mode is a natural part of your brain’s behavior. Thinking is very expensive. Your brain is a machine, and thinking is what takes more fuel than anything. Because of this, every human being may fall into this automatic mode as a way of conserving fuel.

We don’t think when we brush our teeth; we already know how to do it. The same goes for driving a car after you’ve learned how to do it fluently. The first time that we do the task is difficult, and requires a lot of thinking energy to accomplish. Now, however, it’s easy. It’s automatic.

A designer in automatic mode may skip past the fact that a device needs to have an On button in order to be used by the user. Being in the industry means stepping past this human limitation in order to really decouple and get to the essence of what your product needs in order to be successful.

Actions taken

Our brains take up a lot of energy. We want to conserve where we can so that we may think clearly. The automatic mode is one way the brain tries to conserve thinking power. Why did our species survive? We survived because we are very intelligent when working in a group. We forget about that. Leadership means figuring out how to make the best group and make the most of their brain power.

Part of the product that I handle now ran into some developmental issues. Some people just wanted features. My first question would always be, “Why would this feature make you want to use our app?”. They would start to think about it more and the intention becomes more specific. We would identify things that make us use one app exclusively over another — a feeling of instantaneousness, for example. They would start to realize they were looking in the wrong place for value.

Because of pressure about money, successful people also fall into automatic mode. They press fast-forward. They forget about the basics of what they originally promised to deliver to their intended user. We have to always think that companies that will prevail need to have a value mentality. They need to step back and to remember these basics. I try to give context whenever possible.

In the past, I’ve wanted so badly to do great. I became arrogant in some cases, all because I wanted to succeed so badly. The world gives you so much pressure sometimes. It took many years to realize that doing my best means helping others. In your company, talk openly about the future with your employees so that they may envision themselves with you. When they do that, they don’t leave.

Lessons learned

  • Automatic mode is the opposite of thinking. This is what we do when we stop thinking. Behaving in this way all of the time turns us into unthinking machines. We want to be thinking critically when possible.
  • As a leader, it’s your job to pull people out of automatic mode when you see them slipping. This gets people thinking again.
  • The safer a person feels, the easier it is for you to take them out of automatic mode. When they do, they start to think again and start generating value. When they generate value, they feel more successful, and that fuels a virtuous cycle and they become more successful. Doing this over time builds trust.
  • Taking people from automatic mode is key for innovation. In innovative companies the biggest asset is their people's brain power. So we need people to be critical thinkers and get out of the automatic mode.

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Bernardo Carneiro

Former CTO at OLX Brasil

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingPerformance ReviewsFeedback Techniques

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