Our most recent post asked, “What might whole-mindedness look like?” All my left brain friends and lawyers whispered under their breath, “He’s lost it. He’s gone to the dark side. Next thing you know he will be driving a Jeep and wearing Birkenstocks.” They were partially right. I do drive a Jeep Wrangler and love it. See: The Wrangler Community. But Birkenstocks hurt my feet.
The conversation was inspired by Daniel Pink’s 2005 classic, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink’s chapter on Abundance, Asia and Automation made a compelling case that the Left-Brain powers of analysis, reason, detail and linear thinking fueled the Industrial Revolution. Incredible success resulted and has generated such abundance of products, goods and services that the world now craves the power the Right-Brain offers in aesthetics, relational and big picture thinking.
However, perhaps the two halves make a complete mind and whole-brain thinking is not “either/or”, but “both/and”. The best outcomes in problem solving might derive from these opposing thought processes equally well developed and functioning on all cylinders. An eight cylinder engine will not run on only the four positioned on either side of the engine block. Likewise, a mind relying on either L-side or R-side processes is less than half functional.
Pink’s next chapter addresses “High Concept – High Touch” which makes the case that effective design work in the new era is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. A chair that sells well, both works to support a sitting person and offers style which is pleasing to the eye and the human sense of beauty. The Conceptual Age succeeds the Industrial Age and requires the right brain traits of synthesis and relational assessment which promotes purpose and meaning. High Tech is no longer enough. Transcendence trumps tactical advantage in the Conceptual Age. IQ (a left brain trait) only accounts for 4 to 10% of a person’s career success. EQ (Emotional Quotient – a right brain trait) accounts for far more of a person’s long term success. When these two hemispheres work in tandem, Effective design work according to Pink consists of both functionality (left brain) and purpose (right brain) in the Conceptual Age we have now entered.
Imagine my surprise to pick up today’s Wall Street Journal to discover that Pink’s hypothesis wears pinstripes. Stephen Johnson’s essay, The Genius of the Tinkerer, makes a similar claim. Great ideas are merely assimilations and synthesis of ideas already in existence. That’s bricolage: “something created from a variety of available things”. Innovation comes from the power to take what is and create something new which better meets the needs than what was. This is L-Side and R-Side thinking working in combination to great effect. Johnson points out that the Apollo 13 disaster was averted by quick thinking scientists at the NASA Space Center throwing all the parts of the air filtration system on the Apollo 13 craft on a table and creating a new application “on the fly”. Lives were saved and a space calamity was avoided by synthesis, not the creation of something new out of “whole cloth”.
Johnson’s new book (Where Good Ideas Come From) will release on October 5 and develops the age old notion that there is nothing new under the sun. (I believe Solomon said it first). Innovation results from sharing ideas and “open sourcing” potential solutions. Johnson reports that Nike has made public over 400 patents for sustainable manufacturing practices in order to stimulate new thought out of existing proprietary inventions. Rather than living in a world of scarcity, creative whole brain thinkers share their ideas believing that abundance creates more abundance. People concerned about others who “might steal my stuff” are neither contributing to nor benefiting from the power of the Conceptual Age and its whole brain approach to creative problem solving.
Again, what does this have to do with conflict management? You will probably be surprised to hear me say, “Everything!” When we learn how to take opposing thoughts and hold them in tension long enough, great solutions can be found to solve difficult problems. The work of the conflict manager is to do exactly that. Opposing positions can be shaped into new solutions when whole brain assessment is brought to bear. Neither L-Side nor R-Side thinking is enough in itself. The power of “both/and” looms larger every day.
How do we do that? Stay tuned. Next: Polarity Management: The Creative Power of the Conceptual Age