Bricolage: Where Pink meets Pinstripes

September 26, 2010

Opposites not only attract they can actually cohabit: constructively.

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.

Wall Street Journal - 9/25/10

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


R-side Migration: What would whole-mindedness look like?

September 23, 2010

A Whole New Mind

In a recent post, we referred to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World. This seminal 2005 work has proven to be amazingly prophetic and many of the author’s unbelievable predictions are proving to be more likely true than to have missed the mark.  Pink’s chapter on “Abundance, Asia and Automation” is particularly prescient.  He speaks of the dominance of left brain thinking which is leading to its own demise.

The left hemisphere of the human brain is strongest in its capacity to perform analytic, sequential and time based thought.  In contrast, the human brain’s right hemisphere’s strength is its ability to provide context, engage in synthesis of competing ideas and emotional expression.  For the duration of the Age of Reason, the Industrial Age and the Western Enlightenment, the left brain traits have been revered. The right brain’s strengths have been devalued.

U.S. educational pedagogy has specialized in mechanistic, linear thinking. The Industrial Revolution created a demand for engineers, accountants, lawyers and other left brain supermen. The SAT-ocracy (Pink’s term for the standardized tests bearing acronyms like ACT, MAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT etc.) assesses educational aptitude in the sequential, analytic and time based exercises of the left brain.  Our system of finding, admitting, training and rewarding left brain dominance has produced a culture of success measured by analytic characteristics prominently on display.  The same culture has minimized the value of right brain mental processes which are relational, contextual and emotionally connected.

Pink posits that the phenomenal success of promoting left brain thought in our culture, economy and educational settings has ironically insured its death.  The incredible productivity of the Western engine of commerce has created phenomenal abundance, lowered costs and made vast product options available to the masses.  This abundance leads to significant choice in the market.  Pink claims, “Our left brains have made us rich”.  (page 34).

Abundance leads to choice which lessens the need to produce more and allows us to enjoy more.  Thus, aesthetics, beauty and purpose take on a higher value.  Ironically, the powerful success of the left brain culture has allowed us to increase the appreciation of right brain processes.  The relational, the artistic and the transcendent assume greater prominence in a culture rich with options.

The amazing capacity of Asian economies and the power of technological automation only accelerate this global shift to right brain values. Our culture’s search for meaning in a materialistically rich environment hastens the enhancement of right brain mental processing.  Yoga, mediation and spiritually have enjoyed an increase in popularity “because we can”.

As knowledge work (such as technological services, accounting, law and financial processing) migrates to countries whose economies provide quality service at significantly less costs, the migration of this white collar employment to outsourced (offshore) locations increases and the ability to retain these high paying jobs in the US declines rapidly.  In fact, in one industry alone (the law), India has enjoyed a rich influx of opportunity exactly at a time when US legal services are shrinking.  In 2008, over $200 million in legal services were provided in India by Indian lawyers being supervised by US lawyers performing legal services for US clients.  This revenue doubled to over $400 million in 2009 and is projected to rise to $1.2 billion by 2012.  Pink cites a research project by the Forrester group which predicts that by 2015 $135 billion in knowledge work will have left our shores for more economically efficient climates world wide.  Where socks, shoes and textiles went, financial services, accounting and legal services are sure to follow.

What does all this have to do with conflict management?  Everything!  The power of right brain thinking is collaborative (not competitive), relational (not self-serving) and value creating (not value claiming).  The global migration to right brain thinking creates significant opportunities for those skilled in helping others search for meaning, purpose and transcendent value in the midst of conflict.  Competitive negotiators only know how to split the pie.

Buckle your seat belts, “right-brainers” may not “rule the future” (note the ironic oxymoron?).  However, when we become “whole brain” practitioners using the complete mental capabilities of both hemispheres of the human mind, what achievements might be accomplished?  The time has come for us to begin to find out.

Revenge: A Subhuman Instinct

September 20, 2010

Beautiful isn’t he? 500 pounds of feline power and grace.

Amur ("Siberian") Tiger - John Goodrich (WCS)

The Amur Tiger can leap 25 feet horizontally . . ten feet straight up!  Ten feet long from tail to nose, these endangered animals live in a unique swath of land in Russia east of China and west of the Pacific Ocean (not Siberia). Protected by stringent laws and enforcement agencies, the Amur Tiger is the largest living specimen of the cat family.  Illegally hunted by ruthless poachers, an Amur Tiger, dead or alive, can bring tens of thousands of dollars in bounty.

One such poacher was Vladimir Markov.  In 1997 he met a violent end by the very tiger he had previously shot and wounded, but had not killed.  That outcome doesn’t sound so unusual.  Poaching in this primeval section of Russia is dangerous and the prey is vicious.  However, Markov’s death was remarkable because of the unexpected behavior of the tiger.

The Tiger: A True Tale of Vengeance and Survival

Markov’s aim was off, but the tiger’s was not.  The tiger escaped Markov’s rifle, but found his way to Markov’s home, many miles away.  There the tiger destroyed anything with Markov’s scent and waited patiently for Markov’s return.  For up to 48 hours he waited, until Markov returned home unaware the hunter had become the hunted.  The Tiger made short work of Markov, killed him, carried him off and ate him.  Some would say Markov met a well-deserved end.  Perhaps he did.  It was horrible nonetheless.  The true story of Markov and the hunt for the spiteful tiger is told by John Valliant in The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.

However, the fact that a tiger could behave in human fashion with calculated, pre-meditated  and deliberate revenge seems to defy reason.  Can animals formulate a strategic plan and carry out a fatal pay back scheme holding that plan in mind for 2 days? Apparently so.

Perhaps the better question might be whether humans act with higher level thinking when we exact revenge on someone who has violated our expectations.  Neuroscience tells us that vengeance and retaliation are physiological responses rather than thoughtful expressions of self-preservation.  Amazingly, revenge generates a neuro-chemical which is far more physiologically satisfying than reconciliation. Revenge is more akin to animal instinct, than human reason. It is literally against our biological nature to work toward peace.

If we fancy ourselves superior to animals because of our capacity to reason, giving in to “getting even” reveals our most basic animal behavior.  Further, neuroscience informs us that in stressful situations our thought processes are less than two per cent rational.  Instead, in conflict we seldom act as thinking human beings.  We rely on instinct and learned behaviors (many of which are less than mature) in conflict settings. We may not be able to leap 25 feet, but we certainly can carry out our revenge motivations with a flair similar to the ruthless Amur tiger.

If our behaviors in conflict are largely subconscious (and they are), perhaps we can relearn our conflict responses and bring them into the conscious mind to achieve better results.  After all, the tiger that got his vengeance on Markov was himself hunted down and killed.  Living by the sword (or claws and fangs) indeed leads to death by similar means.

The Passion Gap: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

September 14, 2010

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke

To some this woman represents the ultimate in feminine beauty. In Cape Town, South Africa many women and men intentionally have their four front upper teeth removed because they believe “the passion gap” makes them more sexually attractive.  Seems dysfunctional to me. It is unclear if this is a male fetish and the women are unwilling participants in it  Or, it could be that the women  of Cape Town mistakenly believe their beauty enhancement techniques have made them irresistible and the men just go along with this madness. Another possibility is that both men and women “drank the Kool-Aid” and jointly subscribe to this self-mutilation as a cultural norm of female pulchritude.

Regardless, human dignity and respect for life and health suggest that this practice  along with many other forms of harmful mutilation would better discontinued than perpetuated. Female circumcision of adolescent girls is another troubling practice enhanced by cultural norms which seem questionably inhuman.  One might argue that adults should be permitted do to themselves whatever they desire as long as it doesn’t injure another. Whether any of these practices are truly voluntary if culturally imposed is open to serious debate.

Public policy adherents use similar language to describe the voter apathy that leads to undesired political developments.  In 1968, a time of extreme political unrest, Eugene McCarthy attributed his failed presidential campaign to the “passion gap” that kept concerned citizens from the polls in support of his political initiatives.  1968 was certainly not a period in U.S. history noted for its passionless civic response to perceived inequities.  However, the streets rather than the voting booth was the chosen venue for many protesters.  In 2010, the Democrats are citing a “passion gap” as a possible cause for what may prove to be a seismic shift in political power in this year’s mid-term elections.

This seems to be a question all cultures should be asking.  Do “passion gap” tolerances for undesired behaviors serve us well when societal injury results?  It could be argued that unethical corporate conduct can be ignored because it will “all come out in the wash”.  That argument won’t satisfy many whose personal or retirement investments were in Madoff funds or Enron securities.

If we believe that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to remain silent, why is it so easy to say nothing when others do serious damage to themselves, the organizations they lead or the relationships they damage by dysfunctional behavior?

Of course, fear is a factor.  “What will happen to me if I act?” is a legitimate question. An infant toddling toward an open sewer is not a risk about which many of us would accept as worth remaining silent. The “passion gap” is not so great that we could tolerate apathetic acquiescence as a morally defensible option.  Risk to self would be insufficient to justify inaction.  When risk to others is great and immediate, cowardice is difficult to sanction.

Another factor (perhaps the most predominate one) is competence.  Do we even know how to address behavior in others that seems unhelpful, inappropriate or damaging?  As posted here last (Confronting Erroreous Thinking: A Lost Art), the skill of correcting mistaken thinking promptly, respectfully and authentically can immediately influence others in their choices.

Passive apathy in the face of behavior which is less than beneficial for the actor and others is a “passion gap” we can ill afford.  How much better will our society become if we can acquire the skills of respectful confrontation?  If I decide to remove my front teeth for aesthetic beauty, please ask me if I fully understand the consequence of such a decision.  Please don’t let me be a victim of your passion gap.

Confronting Erroreous Thinking: A Lost Art

September 12, 2010

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you
know for sure that just ain’t so.” -Mark Twain

The snail at left has no business ascending or descending a tall tree.  But there he is.  How did he get there?  If he’s climbing, it is a one way trip to disaster.  If he’s coming back to the ground on which he belongs, he took a wrong turn unlike any other in snail-dom travels.  One can only imagine how desperately wrong he had to have been to find himself in this predicament. How long did it take for him to realize he was headed in the wrong direction?  Did no one warn him?  Did he not heed the warning?

How snail-like are we when our thinking is erroneous?  How easy is it correct erroneous conclusions?  When someone is clearly headed in the wrong direction, can we prevent the lost time, embarrassment or mere inconvenience her error has caused her.

As a culture we are amazingly resistant to being corrected.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”  Even more amazingly, we are even less adept at correcting someone’s mistaken impressions.  When the emperor is not wearing clothes, we simply won’t tell her.  And when the court counselor has his hat on inside out before going to advise the emperor, we are far more likely to let him fail than save him from embarrassment, or worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  A fascinating study recently published by University of Michigan (“Go Blue”) health policy professor Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State University assistant professor of politics Jason Reifler has far reaching implications for conflict management and public policy. (When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions)  Using a series of controlled studies, Nyhan and Reifler illustrate how easy it is to alter a person’s misinformed thinking by confronting it promptly and directly.  In other words, the emperor will get dressed if we let him know it is in his best interests to do so.

However, if a misperception has matured into belief, confronting the error in thought will actually backfire and further entrench the erroneous thinking.  If the emperor believes she looks great in her royal robes, telling her she’s naked will only result in an insistence that she display her new wardrobe more defiantly and more publicly.

If we are to restore our society to rational thought, we need to learn how to promptly, directly and respectfully confront thinking that can lead to unfortunate outcomes.  If we are concerned about the wrong turns people take conceptually, we owe it to them to tell them.  Remaining silent doesn’t merely perpetuate ignorance, it promotes it.

However, our failure to exercise this caring skill will encourage people to believe what should not be trusted.  Once they do so, telling them they took a wrong turn will only make them move further up the tree and away from safety.

What does this tell us about political discourse?  Partisanship only feeds more partisanship and less reasonable dialog.  Those who hold extreme positions demonize those who hold opposing views.  Reason has nothing to do with it.

Let’s learn how to respectfully tell the emperor he’s nude, before he comes to believe he looks ravishing in his nakedness.

The End of Coercive Power: Really?

September 2, 2010

In our last post, we shared the view of the Wall Street Journal that the death of management has been pronounced. According to the WSJ article, “mass collaboration” will replace the culture of bosses, managers and autocratic workplaces. (See ICM Post dated August 21, 2010.) The WSJ authors argue the time has come for mutual and enlightened self-interest to generate innovation and creativity that the bureaucracy of corporate culture can neither tolerate nor withstand.

The Future of Faith, Harvey Cox

Shortly thereafter I discovered and devoured The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox, a Harvard theologian who predicts the world wide death of religious fundamentalism.  From Cox I learned that hierarchy means “the rule of the holy”.  In other words, the autocrat, the coercive leader who stands on status and leads out of power does so according to perceived divine sanction.  In contrast, Cox argues that institutional religion is rapidly being supplanted by “liberation theology”, particularly in the “Global South”.  In cultures traditionally antagonistic to non-institutional faith such as Brazil, Indonesia, China and Sub-Saharan Africa, autonomous Christian faith (devoid of religion) is breaking out like wildfire.  In some locations, this independent and authentic faith has posed such a threat to the religious hierarchy (literally the “rule of the holy”) priests and adherents in this Age of the Spirit have been murdered. Nonetheless, despite the dangers inherent in challenging the established authority (ask Christ about that), the freedom of experiential faith liberated from creed and compliance has an appeal that can be irresistible.

Not to be left alone to struggle with these counter-cultural concepts, this week I encountered the July/August 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly and it’s cover story proclaiming “The End of Men”.  Citing statistics reflecting that 2010 saw the first era when women are outnumbering men in the U.S. workforce, when younger women are earning more than their male peers and when planned parenting is witnessing a two to one preference for female children over males.  Parents using in vitro fertilization are choosing X’s over Y’s when they have the choice.  All in all, the Marlboro Man is literally dying and a new collaborative culture of work, community and public policy is emerging.  This culture favors the traits women bring to leadership, commerce and politics. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development developed the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries.  Since its inception in 2006, virtually every national economy dominated by women in positions of power has proven to be more profitable, more stable and more sustainable than those with male dominance.  75% of the jobs lost in the recent Great Recession were held by men.  60% of the new B.A. degrees awarded this year will be conferred on women.  Even in our Western culture, male dominance is rapidly declining.

The authors write:

“The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

What does all this “death, decline and end time” language really mean?  Are men obsolete?  Is coercive power evaporating?  Are hierarchical structures traditionally viewed as the domain of male strength and size an endangered species?  Undoubtedly not.

Instead, these undeniable trends need to be appreciated from a better perspective than our limiting dualistic and binary world view.  Why must it be either/or?  Why can’t we hold these opposing forces in a yin and yang tension that improves the outcome of both male and female traits and strengths?  Our culture, our communities and our commerce can gain a great deal by embracing female leadership traits without jettisoning those that are more male in character.

As we often say at ICM, sometimes the best technique to positively influence others in conflict can be to play an “X card in Y clothing”.  The power of that choice is beginning to display a wisdom supported by increasing quantities of data and anecdotal evidence.