The Whole Brain Thinking Approach

Daniel Pink, in his book “A Whole New Mind”, points out that

“the curtain is rising on the Conceptual Age. If the Industrial Age was built on people’s backs, and the Information Age on people’s left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people’s right hemispheres. We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.”

Pink’s idea is endorsed across the world, by thinkers and doers alike. As the world seeks new meaning and moves towards greater understanding and awareness, satisfaction bars are constantly getting raised, of what we want from our world. Not content with a phone, we reach out for Steve Jobs’ masterpieces, where worlds of communication, creativity, information and imagination converge. And yet appeals to our sense of beauty and design.

Even at the venerable GM, the then Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz commented that,

“We are in the arts and entertainment business, and we’re putting a huge emphasis on world-class design… Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation.”

As the Harvard Business Review pointed out in its February 2004 best-selling article ‘MFA is the new MBA!’:

“Businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked, materially abundant marketplace is to make their offerings transcendent – physically beautiful and emotionally compelling.”

This is resonating across the world today, as colleges to corporations are look at fostering innovation, inspiring creativity, and allowing students and employees dive deeper and explore their artistic side.

It all begins…at the beginning!

Educators at medical schools that offer art classes have similar goals. Nana Aqua Judah, who graduated from Harvard in June and is now an obstetrics and gynecology resident in Toronto, said the art class taught her to look more carefully at patients for clues. For example, if a young mother looks run down, it might indicate she’s too stressed to take a medication that requires five doses a day, leading Judah to prescribe a once- or twice-a-day drug. Besides, said Judah, who was taking six or seven classes at the time, “to me it seemed like a relief. We were going to an art gallery for a class.”

Weill Medical College of Cornell University has offered a noncredit art course in collaboration with the Frick Collection in New York City for eight years, while Yale Medical School runs an art observation course for medical students that is now a required class. Students in the Harvard class study a wide range of original art, including oil paintings by Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and John Singer Sargent, and sculptures from Iran and India…But the course primarily trains students to look at what they’re seeing more carefully. (Boston Globe, July 2008)

Across the Atlantic, INSEAD Business School introduced the exchange with the Art Center College of Design in California in 2005 to bring together MBA and design students to learn and experience the process of developing new products and services. Each year, 10 design students from the Art Center College of Design spend four months at INSEAD in MBA elective courses related to innovation and 20 INSEAD MBA students take a one-week field trip to southern California to learn about design thinking.

The field trips in California this year explored the design studios of major corporations including General Motors Advanced Design, Disney Consumer Products and the studios at Paramount Pictures to see how design and business is managed in the real world, from a concept through to the production line. Other B-Schools, including IMD in Lausanne, Babson College, the University of Glasgow and others have also inducted such cross-over courses, to expose students to sources of artistic creativity, inspire thinking and creative dialogue, and develop the ability to look beyond the formula.

Art-based Learnings in the Corporate Training Room

“To understand the process of creative genius, it is valid for business people to look at the model of the artist. The business of the artist is to create, navigate opportunity, explore possibility, and master creative breakthrough. We need to restore art, the creation of opportunity, to business.” – Brandweek (1998)

Beyond progressive education, the dawn of the new century is seeing more and more companies gravitate towards using Art-Based Training Initiatives (ABTIs), to develop people. Organizations as diverse as 3M to Coca Cola to Mattel to the World Bank use ABTIs very effectively to inspire creative thinking, to develop a whole-brain approach.

As Terry McGraw, chairman and CEO of The McGraw Hill Companies put it in 2005,

“Creativity is essential because it is at the heart of innovation, and innovation is a growth driver and, therefore, a business imperative. That is why, for several years, The McGraw-Hill companies has been using arts-based learning as a training tool in several key leadership initiatives, the arts have served as a complementary vehicle to more traditional learning approaches. They have helped to change attitudes by letting employees confront their assumptions in a nontraditional and non-intimidating environment.The results of using arts-based learning and training have been very positive for The McGraw-Hill Companies. Arts-based training is part of an overall strategy and commitment of the corporation to help ‘surface’ creativity.”

In India too, as well as across the Middle East and South East Asia, the winds of change are sweeping across, and our clients across Asia are looking at using ABTIs effectively, to develop a competitive, creative and sensitive workforce at par with the best in the world.