Let Computers Compute. It’s the Age of the Right Brain.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
— Albert Einstein
I’M of two minds. As a matter of fact, so are you. And until recently, corporate America wasn’t doing much to take advantage of one of them. But now that we’re hip-deep in what has been called both the “Creative Economy” and the “Conceptual Age,” no one can afford to ignore the artist within: the right hemisphere of the brain.
Although popularized in the 1980s by the artist Betty Edwards in her book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” the right-brain-left-brain dichotomy originated with the research of the American biologist Roger W. Sperry in the 1960s. Through studying “split brain” animals and human patients, whose brain hemispheres had been disconnected (in humans, this was done to prevent severe epileptic seizures), he found that each side of the brain plays its own role in cognition. The left side, home of the human language center, is the outspoken logical, linear half of the equation. The right side, home to spatial perception and nonverbal concepts, is the nonlinear, high-concept source of the imagination and of pleasure.
The two function cheek-by-jowl, constantly sending signals back and forth through a bundle of 200 million to 300 million nerve fibers to help balance learning, analysis and communication throughout the brain.
But now that computers can emulate many of the sequential skills of the brain’s left hemisphere — the part that sees the individual trees in a forest — the author Daniel Pink argues that it’s time for our imaginative right brain, which sees the entire forest all at once, to take center stage.
“These abilities have always been part of what it means to be human,” notes Mr. Pink, who synthesized his ideas about the new role of right-brain thinking in his 2005 book “A Whole New Mind.” “It’s just that after a few generations in the Information Age, many of our high-concept, high-touch muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape.”
Why bother? Because much of the left-brain-centric work that the Information Age workers of America once did — computer programming, financial accounting, routing calls — is now done more cheaply in Asia or more efficiently by computers. If it can be outsourced or automated, it probably has been.
Now the master of fine arts, or M.F.A., Mr. Pink says, “is the new M.B.A.”
He’s not the only one saying it. When General Motors hired Robert A. Lutz in 2001 to whip its product development into shape, he told The New York Times about his new approach. “It’s more right brain. It’s more creative,” he said.
“I see us as being in the art business,” he said, “art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation.”
When a car company like G.M. is in the art business, every company in any other industry is, too.
So it makes sense that business executives are turning to the original pop culture icon of right-brain thinking, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” for guidance into their right minds. Ms. Edwards retired in 1998, but her son, Brian Bomeisler, teaches scores of corporate and public workshops each year.
The list of companies Mr. Bomeisler has worked with is a Who’s Who of the Fortune 500. “That corny phrase ‘thinking outside the box,’ that’s what I do for corporations,” he says. “In teaching them how to draw, I’m teaching them an entirely new way to see. They unbox their minds and absorb what’s really there, with all of the complexity and beauty. One of the common phrases that students use afterward is that the world appears to be so much richer.”
During a two-day workshop with Halliburton Energy Services, Mr. Bomeisler watched as a team’s drawings slowly revealed an obvious solution to a longstanding problem. Team members realized from drawing that they had been enjoying their special status as a task force and had become so fascinated with the problem before them that they were in no hurry to solve it. This was resolved after management set a strict deadline and promised the group equally intriguing problems in the future.
By JANET RAE-DUPREE
Published: April 6, 2008