Whole brain thinking isn’t news. It’s now common knowledge that we can achieve phenomenal results when we apply more of the brain’s skills to what we’re doing. So why are so many business leaders still unwilling to use it for ‘hard’ business tasks like analysis? Or complex problem solving? Here’s my take on how you can analyse and solve problems – whole brain style!
We’ve all heard the theory about the human brain being split into two parts. You’ve got the left side, which exhibits rational and logical skills, and the right side, which is emotional, holistic and intuitive. Left brain skills include things like words, numbers, language and lists, while right brain skills deal with images, colour, shape and imagination.
This whole idea that the left and right sides of the brain have different thinking patterns is nothing new. Actually, it’s been given a huge amount of public attention over the last few years with people coming to the realisation that both sides of the brain are of equal value. Despite this, it’s only just starting to find its place in the business world. Most leaders, managers and professionals still believe that the logical left brain skills are far more useful in the business environment – for analysing, for making decisions, for solving issues and challenges. Right brain skills like imagination, daydreaming and the like are still seen as having no place in business – a waste of time even.
What leaders in business really need, however, is effective right brain/left brain crossover and collaboration. Without this they drastically limit their power to make optimal decisions – decisions which are balanced, rational and which ‘feel’ right.
Left and Right Brains Unite!
OK so we’re looking at how using both left and right brain skills can be beneficial in your business pursuits, and particularly for problem solving. This isn’t as simple as saying you should just use right brain skills to generate ideas to solve your problem and then switch to left brain skills to analyse the usefulness of those ideas.
Most decisions and problems benefit from the initial generation of lots of ideas. But this isn’t a random process. Think about it – when you want to produce really creative ideas, how effective is it just to daydream randomly or to spring a brainstorming session onto your team? In my experience it’s not very effective at all – it merely leads to half-brained ideas! As with any other task, to generate high quality ideas you need:
- Purpose – Define the problem/goal
- Planning/organisation – Follow clear ‘principles’ for brainstorming
- Strategy – Use individual/group idea generation in the correct order and structure
…i.e, you need left brain skills!
Likewise when it’s time to analyse all the multiple options and perspectives that you’ve come up with, don’t just apply your logical left skills. You need to test each solution against your heart (how does it feel in your gut?) as well as your head (does it make sense logically?) Good decision making doesn’t ignore or deny emotions – it sees them as a valuable input, helping to screen and sort ideas through another lens. It’s impossible to ‘leave emotions out of it’ during analysis because they’re a part of everything we do as humans. We can’t just turn them off!
What’s more, every problem situation can benefit from a right brain ‘big picture’ view of the data, facts and possible solutions. Leaders who use only their left brain and work with details (facts, data) and logic without taking account of the whole picture or their emotions are losing out on vital ingredients that could help them ‘cook up’ something special.
Mind Map your way to a solution
It’s very easy for me to say that you need to begin consciously using your whole brain when what you really need to know is how to go about doing it. Well, a good place to start is with a Mind Map. When you Mind Map, you’re using your entire range of cortical skills, as it’s both a logical and creative activity. A Mind Map has structure and is an effective note-taking method, but it also uses vibrant colours, striking images and curving lines to draw on those right brain skills. And even during analysis, as you branch outwards from the centre of your map you can continue to be generative and open up new connections, while still converging towards a single solution.
This idea of divergent thinking and convergent thinking in one process might sound paradoxical, but the truth is they don’t have to be distinct strategies. In fact, using them at the same time can better engage the left and right brain processes to help you build practical meaning and output from your ideas. This is why Mind Maps are an ideal method for analysing and evaluating your ideas. They show you the whole view, from the big picture right down to the smaller details and facts – both the forest and the trees!
In my business I like to use an approach I devised called the 3S Analysis System (Sort, Screen, Select) to evaluate ideas and come to a decision. During the screening phase, I use a Mind Map to assess the more promising ideas based on:
1) Head VS Heart – Is it logical and practical? (Head). What does my intuition tell me? (Heart).
2) Greens VS Reds – What are the positives/strengths of the idea? (Greens). What are the negatives/weaknesses of the idea? (Reds)
I find that this is a great way to discover the ‘deal-breakers’ and ‘deal-makers’ of each idea and get an all-round perspective. It’s also remarkable because you’re using divergent thinking to stretch your mind to explore all the features of every possibility, while at the same time gradually converging to a solution. Which means – that’s right! – you’re using your whole brain.
For more information on whole brain thinking for problem solving, Mind Maps and the 3S Analysis System, look up my latest book GRASP the Solution: How to find the best answers to everyday challenges.
Please share your stories and experiences. How have YOU used whole brain thinking to successfully solve a problem?
Chris Griffiths is the CEO of ThinkBuzan, the organisation behind Mind Mapping and iMindMap software. He lectures to audiences worldwide on creativity and innovation, and is the author of Amazon bestsellers ‘GRASP The Solution’ and ‘Mind Maps for Business’.