By William A. Donius
Is it possible that the once and familiar business technique of brainstorming has gone stale? Could brainstorming itself be in need of an innovative makeover? Interestingly, ninety-two per cent of Americans are right handed, and consequently are primarily controlled by the left brain. So it’s no surprise that brainstorming exercises have gradually morphed into a more linear, mathematical, analytical process, proven traits of the left hemisphere of the brain. Is it any wonder why innovation, creativity and ideation are slow in coming?
Daniel Pink first sounded a wake-up call to the business world for more right-brain thinking in his 2005 bestseller, “A Whole New Mind.” Pink’s thesis is that conventional thinking needs to change dramatically in today’s conceptual age. Left- brain skills served us well through the agrarian, industrial and even information ages. No longer do they suffice, however, as breakthrough ideas are bursting through and changing the global landscape. CEO surveys list “transformative change” as the number one issue organizations face today. Yet, the same tools continue to be deployed in the hopes of producing fresh solutions. For instance, long favored “SWOT,” used for evaluating a product or strategy, was invented over fifty years ago at Stanford University. It’s now become the box that keeps management trapped into thinking “inside the box.”
The newer, “open space” concept for creating more stimulating meetings is over twenty years old. General Motors, Dell Inc. and other corporations serve as examples of legacy companies that run aground because of focus on small, incremental “don’t rock the boat” management thinking.
Innovation is still alive and well in the United States. Look no further than the familiar names of Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook and Amazon.com, Inc. Apple didn’t even exist before 1977 and is today one of the world’s most valuable companies. The others have created amazing value in even shorter time periods. It’s all about innovation, ideation, creativity and the relentless pursuit of “getting it right.”
What can CEOs learn from the above? Based on their own wording, it’s clear that “Transformative Change” is needed. Pink eloquently makes the case for “Why” right-brain thinking may be the answer. But CEOs, anxious for results, may wonder how they get to this “transformative change.”
Unfortunately, the business world is forty years behind the art world and thirty years behind the psychological community’s seminal book in both fields applying Dr. Roger Sperry’s groundbreaking work at California Institute of Technology on split brain research in the 1950s. Sperry ultimately won a Nobel Prize in 1981 for his discovery of the independence of brain function between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Betty Edwards taught generations of art students to draw better by learning how to “see” an image differently in her book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” first published in 1970. Dr. Lucia Capacchione taught legions of therapists and patients how to tap into the right brain to resolve psychological trauma in her book, “Recovery of Your Inner Child,” first published in 1981.
The trail stops cold, however, at the front door of the business world. With several famous notable exceptions already mentioned, not integrating the right brain into the fabric of our problem-solving and strategic-thinking processes has resulted in business doing a lot more planning than thinking. Management has thereby missed creativity, innovation and the important insights from the right brain needed to keep an organization agile and dynamic.
It’s a sobering thought to believe the whole mind is being used in the art and psychological worlds more effectively than in the business world. Worse still, CEOs tend to hire management with similar ideas, resulting in the executive ranks filled with individuals who think and act in like manner.
The CEO of a publicly traded company can learn how to tap into the right brain. The transformative experience becomes the tool necessary to provide a second opinion, offer fresh insights and produce those “aha” moments. Importantly, all this experience is now available “on demand.” Following the protocol of neuroscientists and earlier implementers, it turns out literally to be possible to get beyond the box by tapping into the right hemisphere of the brain.
Small as well as large Fortune 500 companies across multiple industries are turning to a more innovative form of brainstorming or ideation to solve the same problems addressed in earlier years. They are getting different and more comprehensive answers from employees’ whole minds to the same problems they historically faced.
Tips for the next problem solving or brainstorming session based on experienced gleaned over the past four years include invoking the right brains of the participants. Otherwise the left brains will dominate the session and the results will be predictable. Invite participants from different perspectives. Include those who can bring the voice of the customer and the employee too. Balance out the grey hairs with some of the young shining stars. (Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg each did their most important work in their twenties.)
If conducted properly, CEOs will experience one of the most productive, engaging, insightful meetings of their careers. It may also provide the transformative underpinnings to jolt the company in a new direction.
Bill Donius is a Strategist with Houston-based Endeavor Management and author of “Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius.” Bill is the former Chairman & CEO of Pulaski Bank and served a two-year term on the U.S. Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.
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