Nov 06, 2012 @ 09:37 AM
A flash of inspiration can burst out anywhere. For Archimedes, it came in the bathtub and for Isaac Newton beneath an apple tree. But for Alastair Pilkington, it came one misty October evening while he was washing the dinner dishes. Staring at the soap and grease floating in the dishwater, he suddenly conceived of float glass—a way of making glass more cheaply by floating it in an oven on a bath of molten tin.
—1964 Newsweek magazine article Op cit., Herrmann, 139
Many people in knowledge-based organizations, especially those working in analytical or technical positions, believe that right-brain, creative processes are irrelevant to their line of work. They tend to favor more left-brain, linear, hierarchical thinking processes. However, evidence shows that the best way to solve complex analytical problems is to access the whole brain.
The Human Brain
The structure and processing of the human brain play an important role in creative thinking and problem solving. Basically, the brain is a highly adaptable complex system with no chief executive. It thrives on billions of connections, feedback loops, and interactions. When presented with stimulation, the only region of the brain that activates is the one needed. Meanwhile, other areas sit idle. Research suggests that people relate differently to situations based on the way their brains are wired.
Left-Brain/Right-Brain Theory of Organization
To understand the mechanics of the creative process, it is useful to have a deeper understanding of the structure of the brain. Most people are familiar with the fact that the brain has a left and a right hemisphere. Within the two hemispheres are the neocortex and limbic system. Also important are the connectors that connect these four areas and send signals to one another. Within these four areas, there are two patterns of brain functioning, situational functioning and iterative functioning. These are the components of the left-brain/right-brain theory of organization.
Roughly 80 percent of the brain is in the neocortex. It is anatomically divided into two halves, called cerebral hemispheres. The neocortex manages “processes concerning vision, hearing, body, sensations, intentional motor control, reasoning, cerebra thinking and decision making, purposeful behavior, language and non-verbal ideation.”
The two halves of the limbic system are nestled into each of the two cerebral hemispheres and make up most of the rest of the thinking cortex. The limbic system has one of the richest blood supplies in the body; it “regulates eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, body temperature, chemical balances such as blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, punishment, hunger, thirst, aggression, and rage.”
The limbic system is responsible for producing emotions. It is connected to both the brain stem and the cerebral hemispheres through vast and highly developed connections. Therefore, it is in a position to mediate brain activity between the brain stem and the cerebral hemispheres. In other words, it has the power to overwhelm logical thinking with emotional energy.
Connections within the Brain
The connections within the brain fall into two categories, those within each hemisphere and those between the hemispheres and the two halves of the limbic system. The most famous of these, the corpus callosum, connects the two cerebral hemispheres. It is believed to have between 200 and 300 million fibers. Research suggests that, on average, female brains have an advantage over male brains in size, speed, and maturity rate – the rate at which the brain matures. This may explain some of the differences in male and female aptitudes and behaviors.
Situational versus Iterative Functioning
To improve efficiency, the brain determines which part to activate based on the particular situation. For example, if people are listening, their language center will activate while their calculation center sits idle.
Iterative functioning, in contrast, “is a back-and-forth movement of signals among the brain’s specialized centers that take place to advance work on a task.” Depending on the complexity of the task, it can be a single iteration or multiple iterations between or within hemispheres.
Another area of the brain plays a big role in the ability to survive amid complexity as it relates to fear. The amygdalae sit at the base of the brain and serve as processors for emotions, especially fear. One of the oldest parts of the brain, their characteristics can be the most deep-seated and hard to explain. When dealing with transformation and moving in new directions, people’s level of fear plays a prominent role in their ability and willingness to move forward.
The latest research on the cerebellum suggests that it is a powerful mechanism with more nerve cells than the rest of the brain combined. It quickly processes information from all other parts of the brain, such as motor areas, cognitive areas, language areas, and areas involving emotional functions. Its computer-like circuitry allows it to send information back out to various parts of the brain. Its connections to the cerebral cortex resemble segregated bundles, which allow it to communicate complex information. Current theories under investigation suggest that the cerebellum is involved not only in skilled motor performance but in skilled mental performance as well as “various sensory functions including sensory acquisition, discrimination, tracking and prediction.” Experimental evidence shows that it may also be responsible for automating repetitive processes, thereby freeing the brain for other mental activities.