Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The great article from Strategy & Business linked above is talking about creativity within business environments and really speaks well to obliterate the long held generalizations about "right brain vs. left brain" thinking.

I'm a left-brain kind of guy...analytical, logical and rational. But, I'm also intuitive and like to consider myself creative. In the realm of traditional thought, I'm left brain with some right brain. But the classifications don't work. And this article and the corresponding studies around "Intelligent Memory" are, in my opinion, a much better way to create a creative, idea-seeking environment.

There are many business books talking about "strategy." Most, if not all, fail to explain to someone how to come up with the ideas to solve problems. Most explain how to define the problem, determine the criteria, gather data, list alternatives, and implement. But, how do you create an environment to determine the list of "alternatives"?

I've seen many companies go down the "brainstorming" path which, in the end, becomes a regurgitation of the ideas of the strongest voices in the room. Not that I mind because many times I'm one of those strong voices BUT this process fails to capture the essence of curiosity and of truly creative ideas!

So enters Intelligent Memory. As the article points out, this premise started its roots in 1998 with an article in the journal "Neuron". The article, "Cognitive Neuroscience and the Study of Memory" essentially stated the premise that "intelligent memory" is the idea of analysis (LEFT BRAIN) and intuition (RIGHT BRAIN) working together in all modes of thought.

THIS, I can see and believe in because, even though I really like my left-brain process and analysis capabilities, I'm a creative guy. Just ask me!

So - no left brain, no right brain. Just learning and recall. That, I believe, applies much better to how people really learn, innovate, create, design, etc.

Some other thoughts from the article:

  • Your brain takes things in, breaks them down, and puts them on shelves.
  • As new information comes in, your brain does a massive Google search to see how this information might fit in with other, previously stored information.
  • When you find a match, old memories combine with new to create a thought.
  • That process, one of breaking down and storing - is analysis.
  • Searching and combining - is intuition.
  • As familiar patterns emerge, you don't really "think about it."
  • However, as new pieces of data create new patterns you arrive at "AHA!"
So, how do companies create environments for innovation?

Google has tried to do it by tickling the right brain with lounges, bean bag chairs, dogs in the office, ping pong, etc. But, while that creates a really fun work environment, does it foster creativity??

Personally, I've brought Playdoh to meetings when I want to foster a creative environment. Is there anything better than a bunch of adults creating "stuff" from Playdoh?

So, what are the shelves of your brain stocked with? Are your shelves full or do you have unlimited storage space? How quick is your recall? How strong is your "inner-Google"?

Curious minds want to know! When is the last time you had an "Aha!" moment?


  1. Yes, you're looking for what gets called "heuristics", arts or techniques for "finding" ideas well -- rather than, as you put it, just repeating what someone already has in mind.

    Ancient and Medieval thinkers not only had interesting things to say about this from time to time (particularly those trained in Rhetoric), but their very educations (which we often wrongly think of as very rigid, doctrinaire) prepared them for seeing connections in the ways you're describing.

    One of the key things here is actually doing the "stocking" -- becoming an intellectually omnivorous and ravenous person who is constantly adding to his or her stock of ideas -- quality ideas, not just trivia, of course (and again, reading Ancient and Medieval thinkers is a great way to do this as well)

  2. Thanks Greg! And the "stocking" is what I talked about in my first post of the year...becoming the 3 year old and constantly asking WHY?!

  3. I could go on and on about this topic- it's my specialty. My goal is to get kids to have that "AHA" moment. To get them to cross over and "weave" their left brain thinking with their right brain. Naturally, most of us are strongest in one area, but just like a muscle we can work both to get stronger. I've always been facinated with the creative process itself. Like, what happens in the mind of a writer when he's writing? The painter while painting? The composer as he is developing a theme? The scientist when she evolves a new hypothesis? Currently, I think schools do not emphasize these skills enough. Kids need those higher level thinking skills for their future careers & lifestyles. If I made the rules, I would have kids do a lot of thinking about thinking= metacognition. Want to create truly great thinkers? Have them work both sides, top bottom, inside & out of their brains. Don't just split it in half- R vs L. Make it a connection roller coaster with connections being made every which way. (Is it obvious that I'm mostly a Right brained person? My brain is a big ol mess up there- maybe that's a good thing.....hmmm)Aha! Just had one!!