Whole Brain Thinking
Reprinted with permission from The Fertile Unknown by Michelle James
In today’s rapidly changing business environment, leaders and entrepreneurs are required to be more adaptive, responsive, and innovative than ever before. Assessing situations quickly, developing novel solutions and flexible strategies have become a requirement (or invitation–depending on how you see it) for all of us.
If you approach a new situation with the your habitual thinking, it’s impossible to generate new ideas, visions or solutions. Your thought patterns will travel down the same neural pathways in your brain the same way they always do–and the outcome will be the same ideas you typically have. Thinking in novel ways requires new connections within the brain. New thinking requires pattern breaking. Research shows that by actively engaging the brain’s capacities from both hemispheres, you have a larger “playing field” from which to create – there is more cross fertilization between neural synapses which leads to original ideas and “A-ha” moments.
The “left brain” organizes what already exists and thinks linearly. There is a sequential, analytical process toward a specific outcome. The “right brain” imagines what can be and thinks in nonlinear interconnections. It has immediate access to insights and novel connections. Cultivating the use of both sides leads to breakthrough leaps and the ability to think on your feet under pressure.
I developed a simple Whole Brain Dimensions chart of the generally accepted differences. You can use it to get a glimpse into your dominant thinking approach. The words in the left hand column are typically associated with the “left brain thinking,” and the words in the right hand column are typically associated with “right brain thinking.” These are simple generalizations, designed to get you thinking about your habitual thinking patterns. The more integrated your brain hemispheres are – accessing and using the elements associated with both sides of this list – the more effective you will be at generating elegant solutions and developing new, generative visions. Most individuals and most organizational cultures lean more toward one side or the other. Which are you? Which is your organization? Which are valued in your work culture? Which are invisible, repressed or even criticized?
Whole Brain Thinking: Dimensions Dominance Chart ©
Quickly scan the list for the words that apply to you.
Don’t think about it – go by initial instinct even if you are unsure about what something means. Answer intutively. Keep track of how many words in each column describe you. You don’t have to choose between the 2 columns – just check off each word that speaks to you as part of your own process, even if they seem opposite. For example, you may find you already use both detailed and big picture thinking in your work. If so, check both.
Add up the totals on each side to become aware of your dominant thinking approach.
What are your natural gifts, trained skills, habits or growing edges?
Whole Brain Integration Techniques
The flowing are some quick and simple exercises you can use anytime to begin to integrate the hemispheres and strengthen your less dominant side.
1. Opposite functions
Spend some time doing everything with your non-dominant hand. Every time you break a dominance habit, you create new neural pathways and give the brain more options. It become easier to think in new ways throughout your day, and easier to adapt, respond and create in high pressure environments.
2. Color and No Lines
Instead of using lined legal paper and a pen in meetings, brainstorming sessions or any other work related functions, try use unlined paper and colored markers. Lines have a subconscious effect on us which keep the brain locked in habitual thought patterns. By removing the lines, the brain is more free to think visually and instead of just in words. Using colored markers has a stimulating effect on the brain because the right brain thinks in color.
3. Sensory Immersion
Engage all of your senses in your ideation process instead of coming to a situation from analytical thinking alone:
The more senses you use simultaneously, the more the brain sides work in harmony and the information you receive. Immerse yourself in right-brain touch, taste, smell, imagery, movement, sounds and music while focused on your project and you can unfold more insights, awareness’ and novel connections.
Become the project, problem, vision, product and act from its point of view. New ideas will flood your mind. This is easy to prove. First, try imagining new features to add to any product in a certain time period, i.e., 5 minutes. You will come up with a number of features. Then, pretend you actually are the product – become the product -and start talking as the product, again for 5 minutes. You will learn exponentially more about what additional features it “needs.” The act of becoming a product or concept will give you new insights and awareness’ into the product, and therefore, potential new features, that you cannot get from just thinking about it.
About the Author
Michelle James, Creativity & Emergence Catalyst, Consultant and Coach, is CEO/Chief Emergence Officer at The Center for Creative Emergence, which offers consulting services, workshops, programs, train-the-trainer, retreats, coaching, presentations, and events on all aspects of business, personal and organizational creativity–from individual emergence coaching and team co-creativity to organizational culture development.