The latest neuroscience is refining our concepts of left-brain and right-brain functionality. Not very long ago, scientists thought that the right-brain did predominantly creative kinds of thinking. The left-brain, it was thought, did the logical thinking. Today, the understanding is that things are much more integrated, and the two halves of our brain are both creative and logical. The subtlety is that the right-brain tends to process things at the “big picture” level while the left-brain gets into the details and isn’t so concerned with the big picture stuff.
Our bicameral mind communicates through a large bundle of commissural fibers connecting the two chambers of the brain. This bundle is called the Corpus Callosum. It provides the pathway for sharing information between the hemispheres.
I view the Corpus Callosum as the catalyst that allows me to go from the academic or theoretical to the practical. From high-level to deep detail level. “To know is not enough,” said Goethe, “We must do.”
I find this model of the brain an apt analogy for our corporate lives. Our organizations must have two personalities. We must be creative, innovative, and disruptive. At the same time, we must be able to take the theoretical or academic and translate that to detailed action. We need the left-brain and right-brain to be successful and navigate our changing external — and internal — worlds.
The equivalent of the Corpus Callosum in this analogy is the organizational culture we create that allows a safe environment for people to exchange ideas, try new procedures, and fail without reprisal.
Our brain records many of our experiences that raised some level of emotion when they occurred. We tend not to remember things that aren’t associated with strong emotions. Each time we recall those remembered experiences, we modify them with new information and store them away again. Our subconscious minds may work on an issue we’re struggling with and will often knit together different experiences to find unique and creative solutions that bubble-up to our consciousness.
Likewise, at work, we have the opportunity for a breakthrough idea when we have a group of people from diverse experiences and from different disciplines working to solve a challenge our company is facing.
The New Education
Coincidentally, I am reading a book about how some universities are trying to figure out how to change the outdated model we have for preparing our students for the 21st century. Instead of the usual classroom and lecture format, some forward-thinking universities are giving students “wicked problems” to solve. The students are advised to work as a team, use all the resources the university has to offer (including professors, staff, other students, information systems, etc.), and to collaborate fully using each student’s unique skills.
Collaboration and “no box” thinking is what we need in our businesses. Not just thinking outside the box but be convinced there is no box! The wicked problems assigned to the students often seem insurmountable. They find amazing ways of addressing the issue.
I like the idea of using the model of how the human mind is organized and integrated to demonstrate how our businesses and our new education should also be organized. The integration of the big picture (creative) and logical (detailed) information can and should be integrated through our organizational culture.
I think this analogy works on several levels. First, since our organizations comprise human beings, having them organized in a way that mirrors how human brains work should make many folks feel comfortable. I hypothesize that the same is true concerning the new education. If we expose young people to collaborative problem solving rather than simply learning to pass a test, they will be better prepared for an unknowable job market.
Second, we need to take advantage of our creative and logical minds (our organizational resources) to be resilient in the face of our fast-changing economy. I cannot think of any skills, other than critical thinking, curiosity, and collaboration that will prepare people for what is coming.
We have no clue what jobs will be available or for how long. When someone tells me they believe that coding, for instance, is a skill that everyone should be taught, I wonder why — we already have machine learning. What will I be programming?
I leave you with this quotation from The New Education by Cathy N. Davidson. The Red House (at Georgetown University) is where students, faculty, and administrators gather to plot what comes next for higher education.
“The topics taken up by the students at The Red House don’t fit comfortably into conventional majors and minors. They don’t look like vocational skills training. Isn’t this a problem for the future of the students involved?
Apparently not. Whether turning their research project at The Red House into a for-profit or nonprofit company (as different graduates have done) or going to work for nongovernmental organizations or corporations from Peru to Silicon Valley, graduates leave confident in their abilities and employers have responded enthusiastically. There is no formula for what they do or where. There is no one-size-fits-all, no single “skill” that makes them “workforce ready,” but they are prepared for a full range of future occupations. These young people are succeeding now, and they will continue finding success if their job disappears out from under them, or if they simply wake up one morning and realize they have chosen the wrong career path and need to find something better suited to their needs, their desires, or their mission in life.”
“Don’t you wish we could find a way for every student to experience something like The Red House as part of their college education?” I ask.
“Now that’s a wicked problem!” Ann Pendleton-Jullian laughs.