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Business survival means "Putting on your Creativity Head"

We can thank Nobel Prize Winning neurologist Roger Sperry's 1960's split brain experiments, for our fascination in labelling people "left" or "right" brained. It is only a metaphor, but one that generates lots of debate, especially since we now know that the brain's hemispheres complement each other as we think creatively or logically.

In my creative thinking workshops I use a simple metaphor to differentiate two types of thinking. At work, we put on our Business Heads for smooth operational efficiency in planning, decision making, legislation, recruitment and employee relations, whilst putting on our Creativity Head provides those ideas that we need to tackle deeper problems that may affect long term survival of the business. We have to be able to switch between our two heads.

Here are a few of the differences between Business Head thinking and Creativity Head thinking which are used in my Business Creativity Training workshops. If you'd like a pdf copy of 'D and his thinking heads' drop me an email.

Status Quo Thinking

Business Heads avoid Change. Creativity heads seek Change.

As the world changes, so business needs to change. But, why is mentally 'staying put' easier than changing our thinking.

In the same way as our bodies are regulated to stay within certain physical parameters (homeostasis), the brain uses a mechanism to manage our thoughts. It keeps its neural landscape within limits by looking for differences between the expected and the actual. Since Change is about difference from the norm, this regulatory system goes into overdrive. This mechanism is also closely connected with our amygdala, the brain's fear centre, so we experience actual physiological discomfort and mental energy is diverted away from our intellectual thinking centres. It's no wonder that we avoid Change.

When the transistor replaced the vacuum tube in the mid-1950's, the six top producers discounted the importance of the new development and held aloof from solid-state technology, None of them exists in today's semi-conductor industry.

The Business Head often rationalises this by sticking with a philosophy of 'if it isn't broken then don't fix it'. But, the downside is that it stops us thinking about possible alternatives until it's too late. The demise of many companies owes much to their 'blindness' to a changing business environment.   Since 1984, 69% of companies in the UK's FTSE 100 have been taken over, gone bust or slipped into the second rank. (source: Telegraph Nov 2006)

The Creativity Head actively seeks Change and uses strategies to fool the brains defence systems. One approach to enable Change is telling vivid stories which create emotional impact. Harvard Business School professor, John Kotter, supports this approach, concluding after detailed studies, that behaviour change works best by tapping into people's emotions.

Emotions sit within an older, part of the brain called the limbic system (including the fear centre), beneath the newer neo-cortex where intellectual thinking occurs. The 'lower' entry point of persuasion seems to reduce the effects of the brains defences and help change happen. Business Heads find the softer skills of emotional persuasion difficult and stick with logic.

Creativity Heads re-evaluate their thinking on a regular basis, constantly asking dumb question that organisational new comers are grudgingly allowed to ask. They look into the future with scenario planning and also harness the regulatory system's negative self talk through techniques such as reverse brainstorming.

Negative Thinking

Business Heads are negative, Creativity Heads are Positive

Try this short exercise. Jot down as many words as you can in two minutes that express emotion. Read no further just get those words down.

Now, divide them up according to whether you think they are: Positive, neutral or negative. Robert Schrauf, professor of applied linguistics at Penn State University found the outcome was: 50 percent negative, 30 percent positive and 20 percent neutral. How did you do?

Why is it, that it seems easier to be negative than positive? Psychologists think it's a consequence of evolution. When we lived in Caves we had to be prepared for actions like fight or flight. (Fredrickson 2000). Our default mental state was the narrow and focused, negative emotion of fear or anger which we needed for survival. As we developed and turned to creating and building resources, our thinking 'broadened' allowing the more positive emotions to develop. (Gazzaniga 1988).

This default negative mental state still dominates our Business Head today. But the Creativity Head only works when people seek broadness rather than narrowness and are positive rather than negative. That's why we have to contract to consciously suspend judgment before we start generating ideas. Otherwise ideas all get shot down before they see the light of day.

On the same note, our Business Head loves to talk in negatives. Present an idea to your boss and he might say, "Not bad." We seem to have been conditioned to speak in deficit by describing what is missing, what is excluded, what's wrong, what is not there. We often describe things, good or bad, in terms of what the experiences are not. All this negative language 'primes' us subliminally into a negative state.

"The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution" Albert Einstein


Business Heads think Fast, Creativity Heads think Slow

Perception is about making sense of what's out there. But our perceptual system goes beyond the information given; it has to 'invent' things. The 19th century German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz called these automated "unconscious inferences". They are the reason why we are fooled by optical illusions. However those same rules also interfere with the way we think about problems.

Business Heads believe in the speedy assessment of issues with an impatient dash for immediate solutions. Business Heads don't realise the tricks their perceptive system can play on their understanding of an issue. Unconsciously we make things up and miss things out using hidden 'hard-wired' mental rules. But, if the issue is incorrectly stated then all the solutions will solve the wrong problem.

Creativity Heads proceed more slowly. They spent time rephrasing the issue. Simply flipping the words of the problem statement around and changing them helps to overcome the limitations of perception.

Perception is also bundled up in Frames - a sort of mental structure that shapes the way we sense problems. Changing the words of a problem statement alters the Frame of the problem. Instead of saying "How can we reduce staff turnover", say "how can we employ staff who don't want to leave" which creates a new perspective for different solutions.


Business Heads take things for granted, Creativity Heads doubt

Business Heads use assumptions for rapid thinking. They reduce the amount of information that you need to consider when you tackle problems. Without assumptions your Business Head would be totally clogged up.

But, as with perception, your Creativity Head is doubtful and knows the wrong assumption can lead you around a mental pathway that misses the fresh solution to your problem. Once the assumption is uncovered and broken, it produces the 'Ah Ha' eureka moment when a solution just pops out.

Uncovering assumptions is time consuming because the assumption making process is, like perception, well embedded in our thinking software. Put on your Creativity Head and spend time listing assumptions and breaking them to see what it brings. Never take anything for granted.


Business Heads Complicate, Creativity Heads Simplify

Business Heads are seduced by complicated language and concepts. Professor Alex Bavelas found in a study, that "wrong" complex explanations were rated more convincing than simpler "correct" ones. It seems that "smart talk", (Professors Sutton and Pfeffer - Stanford University) is more favoured than simplicity.

The problem is that our Business Head can't generally cope with the complexity that it creates, often using layers of metaphors piled high on one another.

"The organisations culture is like a can of worms" is not a good starting statement for solving organisational issues. When issues are "big" and messy, the Business Head freezes up and it can go around in circles never finding the myriad of problems within. Creativity Heads untangle complex issues into their separate parts before looking for solutions.

They create simplicity using the two simple phrases, "Why?" and "What's stopping us?" systematically breaking challenges down into a hierarchy of interrelated issues. before looking for solutions.

To find out more about these first five fundamentals and many more ways to put on your Creativity Head check the Business Creativity Training workshops.