Age of the right brain – article

Let Computers Compute. It’s the Age of the Right Brain.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
— Albert Einstein

I’M of two minds. As a matter of fact, so are you. And
until recently, corporate America wasn’t doing much to take
advantage of one of them. But now that we’re hip-deep in
what has been called both the “Creative Economy” and the
“Conceptual Age,” no one can afford to ignore the artist
within: the right hemisphere of the brain.

Although popularized in the 1980s by the artist Betty
Edwards in her book “Drawing on the Right Side of the
Brain,” the right-brain-left-brain dichotomy originated
with the research of the American biologist Roger W. Sperry
in the 1960s. Through studying “split brain” animals and
human patients, whose brain hemispheres had been
disconnected (in humans, this was done to prevent severe
epileptic seizures), he found that each side of the brain
plays its own role in cognition. The left side, home of the
human language center, is the outspoken logical, linear
half of the equation. The right side, home to spatial
perception and nonverbal concepts, is the nonlinear, high-
concept source of the imagination and of pleasure.

The two function cheek-by-jowl, constantly sending signals
back and forth through a bundle of 200 million to 300
million nerve fibers to help balance learning, analysis and
communication throughout the brain.

But now that computers can emulate many of the sequential
skills of the brain’s left hemisphere — the part that sees
the individual trees in a forest — the author Daniel Pink
argues that it’s time for our imaginative right brain,
which sees the entire forest all at once, to take center
stage.

“These abilities have always been part of what it means to
be human,” notes Mr. Pink, who synthesized his ideas about
the new role of right-brain thinking in his 2005 book “A
Whole New Mind.” “It’s just that after a few generations in
the Information Age, many of our high-concept, high-touch
muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back
into shape.”

Why bother? Because much of the left-brain-centric work
that the Information Age workers of America once did —
computer programming, financial accounting, routing calls —
is now done more cheaply in Asia or more efficiently by
computers. If it can be outsourced or automated, it
probably has been.

Now the master of fine arts, or M.F.A., Mr. Pink says, “is
the new M.B.A.”

He’s not the only one saying it. When General Motors hired
Robert A. Lutz in 2001 to whip its product development into
shape, he told The New York Times about his new approach.
“It’s more right brain. It’s more creative,” he said.

“I see us as being in the art business,” he said, “art,
entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally,
also happens to provide transportation.”

When a car company like G.M. is in the art business, every
company in any other industry is, too.

So it makes sense that business executives are turning to
the original pop culture icon of right-brain thinking,
“Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” for guidance into
their right minds. Ms. Edwards retired in 1998, but her
son, Brian Bomeisler, teaches scores of corporate and
public workshops each year.

The list of companies Mr. Bomeisler has worked with is a
Who’s Who of the Fortune 500. “That corny phrase ‘thinking
outside the box,’ that’s what I do for corporations,” he
says. “In teaching them how to draw, I’m teaching them an
entirely new way to see. They unbox their minds and absorb
what’s really there, with all of the complexity and beauty.
One of the common phrases that students use afterward is
that the world appears to be so much richer.”

During a two-day workshop with Halliburton Energy Services,
Mr. Bomeisler watched as a team’s drawings slowly revealed
an obvious solution to a longstanding problem. Team members
realized from drawing that they had been enjoying their
special status as a task force and had become so fascinated
with the problem before them that they were in no hurry to
solve it. This was resolved after management set a strict
deadline and promised the group equally intriguing problems
in the future.

By JANET RAE-DUPREE
Published: April 6, 2008