Home // 2014 // June

Left Brain, Right Brain

I cannot recall the last time, if there ever was a last time, I gained so much insight or experienced such an incredible multiplicity of revelation from witnessing a single presentation. I may have attended a sermon or two that came close to having its impact, but I doubt that any experience has ever educed from deep within so much insight about the human condition. The following video will take up about 18 minutes of your life. It may change the way you look at the rest of it.

I’ve heard and read much about left-brain vs. right-brain thinking processes and how they may relate to individual learning processes. Jill’s talk made me realize far more clearly how human communication is a primarily left-brain affair. It now appears to me that, in fact, the human condition results from how much clarity people might find behind the veil brought down upon reality by left-brain noise. Jill makes it clear, at least for me, that people must get to know their right-brains a whole lot better; perhaps I can help some people do this.

As a communications professional, I’ve long been aware that in certain magic moments we are somehow, almost accidentally, able to find the right combinations of words that inspire the right mental images in our audiences that allow us to reach into and connect with their right-brains, cutting through the noise made by their linear, left-brain thoughts, to give our listeners and readers the gift of in-the-moment, timeless experiences. Some call these moments magic. Some call them spiritual. I call them vital to human communication, progress and understanding.

Such moments are too rare. Last fall, I was awoken at 3 a.m. by an idea that demanded my immediate attention. Rather than just jot down a couple of notes, as I sometimes would, I ended up getting up and sketching out some broader rough ideas. Three pages of notes I composed that night have occupied much of my thinking and time ever since.

Some weeks before my inspired insomnia, I had challenged myself to come up with a new way of visually organizing thought processes. I had learned my share of varous communications and presentation systems, gimmicks and trade secrets. While I recognized that all of them have value, I thought that the information age required something new. In challenging myself, I had tasked my subconscious mind with finding that something.

For quite some time, I’d been tinkering around with some of the concepts first expressed by Tony Buzan through his mind mapping concepts. I had downloaded and played with some popular mind mapping software and found it to be useful. But for me there were problems with using it as an effective communications tool.

The biggest benefit in it, I thought, was that mind mapping helps people overcome limitations inherent in rigidly organizing thoughts in a left-brained linear, outlined or bullet-pointed manner. The biggest downside of it, I thought, was that mind maps went too far in the other direction. Most of the mind map examples I had found on the Internet were too freeform and too jumbled precisely because they lacked consistent structure. If I revisit some of my older mind mapping attempts, I cannot fully understand points I was trying to make that were absolutely clear to me at the time.

Experience taught me that that standard mind maps might be useful to individuals or groups as brainstorming tools, but they’re not all that useful for communicating ideas and concepts to wide audiences. I concluded that basing communications processes too much on the way our right-brains work goes too far.

There had to be a happy medium, I thought. This happy medium is what got me out of bed that night. And so, my idea came out clearly, well, at least clearly to me so far: I understand it well, but expressing what it is, what it does and how it works with enough simplicity to be both practical and broadly useful is proving to be a challenge. In my minds eye I envision a simple, visual communications planning system that applies the free form freedom of mind maps to a set of pre-defined and consistent but flexible structures.

One example is how we think about food and how some people are slim while others are obese. Is it the right or left side of the brain that controls this situation? Some people spend a lot of money on gym classes, dieting e-books or pills, but they have a hard time getting fit and slim all their life no matter what they do. Others are effortlessly good looking and with a great silhouette. All that is controlled in our brain.

The big obstacle for me is to come up with the best way for people to use my system. I’m designing a single-page visual tool for turning a brainstorm into a clear stream of ideas with a purpose. Maybe I needed a better understanding of the left-right brain relationship. Maybe it was this need that made me stumble upon Jill’s presentation. I sense that her video has helped me a lot, but I haven’t yet figured out what it means to the application of my new ideas.