Left, right or the best of both?
Posted on 29th June 2016 at 07:45
As we’ve mentioned several times before, ideas for our weekly post come from many different sources. This week we have both clients, friends and family to thank; who all raised the same subject in quick succession. And have also shown us what a can of worms this subject can be.
So what are we talking about? Intelligence. What makes a person intelligent.
And that, as they say, is where the fun really starts (!).
While many learned people have grappled with this question over the centuries, the thing that immediately becomes apparent is that there’s no simple answer to this question. Or, dare we suggest it, an objective one either.
As the picture so beautifully illustrates and Einstein so eloquently said:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The sad thing about this modern world of ours – particularly here in the West – is that the emphasis is firmly on one type of thinking and intelligence. So called “left brain” intelligence. You’ve probably heard all about it before, but here’s a quick reminder.
The left brain is all about logic and analysis. Hard facts and figures. And this means verifiable. Looking at the individual pieces of the puzzle before fitting them together into a larger picture. Strong verbal skills.
By contrast the right brain is all about creativity and intuition. Pictures rather than words. Visualisation and leaps of imagination. Looking at the whole picture first and then the details.
To see how different these two approaches are, here are a couple of great examples.
Let’s start with giving someone directions – and we love the directions some clients give us (!).
Left brained directions would be very detailed and precise. “From here, turn left at the end of the road. Go 3.2 miles and then turn right into High Street.” If you think of sat nav directions, you get the idea (!).
By contrast a right brained approach would be much more descriptive. “From here, go past the Church (pointing in the direction the Church) and turn left at the bottom of the road. Go past the School and the playing fields (pointing again) and at the traffic lights turn right into High Street, past the Hairdressers.”
Or how about describing your favourite song?
A left brained description would focus on the words. A right brained one on the music, probably tapping out the rhythm as they hummed the tune to you.
Now we know that this isn’t an “either or” matter. Very few people are at one extreme or the other but a mix of the two, albeit to different degrees. However by seeing the two extremes it makes it easier to see the traits of each.
Here in the West the emphasis on left brain intelligence and thinking starts early; from the first days at school – or playgroup – and continues throughout our lives. If you’re in any doubt, look at the modern school syllabus with the emphasis on sitting still and learning hard verifiable facts and figures. Active and creative activities such as arts, crafts, sports and playing are increasingly side lined.
The end result is that our natural way of learning – by doing it, making mistakes, learning from them and then doing it again in a slightly different way – are ignored.
Instead the emphasis is on WHAT to think – lots of facts and figures – rather than nurturing the creative process of learning HOW to think. By the time adulthood is reached, many people’s natural creativity has been completely quashed (and you need only to talk to employers to see what this means for all concerned in the longer term).
What is particularly sad – and this brings us back to the various conversations we’ve had recently with those of all ages – is that those people who are more right brained find it much more difficult to thrive in this left brained world. Whether consciously – or unconsciously – they start to feel stupid or slow. And while we tend to focus on children, these effects are felt throughout life.
As so often is the case, there is an ironic twist to this story. And that is to make any progress – or do anything truly novel or new – the creative, intuitive right brain is required. Left brain thinking can never come up with any truly novel ideas or leaps of progress. As Henry Ford once said:
“If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."
So isn’t it about time to redress the balance? To put the focus back on more integrated thinking, which utilises both types of brain activity and thinking. Make spending time playing and being creative part of your day – regardless of the end result – to help restore the balance and tune up the right brain.
Not only do right brain activities come with a “feel good” factor but the benefits can be felt in the rest of your life too. Oh and this approach works for all ages, not just children.
You never know, it may even lead to new ideas that help us all.
As always, the choice is yours.
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