When was the last time you browsed the magazine shelves looking at really cool design magazines, or walked a labyrinth, or attended a laughing club? Odd questions, you may muse, but not according to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.
Mr Pink’s main argument is that our socialisation, education and training has prepared us well for the world we used to live in, which required high doses of sequential, left-brain thinking; or in overly simplistic terms, planning, analysis, writing and arithmetic. But it isn’t doing such a good job at preparing us for the future which, I might add, has actually already arrived.
This future — which he calls the Conceptual Age — requires a different type of thinking, a whole new mind altogether. But in the process of developing this whole new mind, we have to cultivate and unleash the contextual right side of our brain, largely responsible for conceptual thinking, dreaming, recognition of faces, emotion and creativity — which, sadly, tends to be neglected after our early childhood years.
There was a study conducted a number of years ago called Break Point and Beyond, which tracked 1,600 children over time to see what happened with their ability to think divergently, a predominantly right brain function. Between the ages of three and five, 98 per cent scored in the creative genius category; five years later, this had reduced to 32 per cent and five years after that, by the time they were in their mid-teens, it had dropped to 10 per cent.
The same tests were given to 200,000 adults, where 2 per cent tested in the creative genius category. Quite scary results, and what one might call an invisible disability.
Given the results of studies such as this, it is of no surprise that by the time we enter the workforce, a lot of the creative capacities that we were born with have, through our socialisation, upbringing and education, largely disappeared. And yet, it is in the workforce that we are in desperate need of fresh thinking, not only to remain competitive, effective or productive, but to solve some of the most complex problems our world faces today.
I facilitate many creativity and innovation workshops in Asia and Europe, and one of the first questions I ask is, how many people consider themselves creative? I may get one or two hands raised in a group of 20 or more participants.
Some are relieved to know, as we start to delve into the complexities of how we think, that the brain is far more pliable than we have been led to believe and, with the growing awareness of neuroplasticity — literally, the ability of the brain to change itself — we can, in fact, mould our minds, even if it takes a lot of effort.
By the end of our time together, participants are not only relieved but surprised when they realise, given the right tools, stimulus and environment, they can create some quite unique and novel ideas. Which, of course, they need good doses of left-brain thinking to bring to fruition.
But of course, being trained in creative thinking or attending workshops can only go so far in developing our right brain. Developing a whole new mind takes a lot of effort: Not only are we having to do things we may have never done before, which can feel strange and unfamiliar, we are also rewiring the way we think.
TAP THE SUBCONSCIOUS
Professor Gemma Calvert, a good friend and leading neuroscientist at the Nanyang Technological University, takes the debate even further than right-brain/left-brain dichotomies. She says: “A much more salient distinction is between conscious and subconscious processes; the latter plays a far greater role in determining and shaping our behaviour, learning and choices than we had ever realised.
“It so turns out that a lot of right hemispheric specialisation happens also to be subconscious, because of the nature of the tasks that it specialises in, which require very fast processing; for example, facial recognition and emotion. The discussion is shifting from left verses right hemispheric processing, to a distinction between conscious verses subconscious processes, irrespective of hemispheres.”
So where, and how, do we start to tap into the powers of our subconscious minds to help improve the way we create and therefore innovate? For those of us who love practical “how-to”, as well as brain science and convincing arguments for why a whole new mind is important in the first place, Mr Pink’s book gives tips and suggestions. He outlines six senses that we need to cultivate: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning, with detailed “portfolios” on how to develop each one.
Maybe, along with the familiar early morning yoga, qigong and tai chi practices in the parks, we will start to hear the raucous laughter of people belly laughing in newly formed laughing clubs, or watch people silently and meditatively walking labyrinth pathways — both practices that will help to stimulate a whole new mind.
This article was written by Natalie Turner and originally published in Today Online on August 21st, 2013