I approached the class of twenty-four MBA students as though they had hired me as their creativity coach. I knew that to succeed in the course each student must develop a final presentation that demonstrates their ability to go beyond linear (left brain dominant thinking) to perceive the world in new ways (artistic right brain) to find hidden patterns, make connections with seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Quite a tall order for one semester.
My assumption with this group, as with all people I meet is that everyone is creative. And the ability to access that creativity, that artistic right brain is within each of us. It's a question of how to access it when and where we need it. I began with a few questions to consider - Do you enjoy dancing? Do you feel comfortable singing? How about telling stories?
In a roomful of 4 year olds, every hand would go up. "Pick me. Pick me." But in a roomful of adults, not so much. Growing up in western culture has meant losing touch with these simple ways to connect with our inner resources. In limiting the way our bodies behave physically, we restrict our thinking, hamstring our right brains, and lose the energetic joy and creativity our ancestors took for granted in their individual and communal lives.
Our Brains and Creativity
It's somewhat simplistic to talk about right brain/left brain because the whole body is involved in accessing our brains and our creativity. Everything is Physical is a basic principle of InterPlay - the improvisational art form that I teach. When you move a part of your body, it stimulates the motor cortex and surrounding areas in your brain. Try taking a deep breath. Let it out with an audible sound. Notice how much more awake and alive you feel from just that simple action.
The Coordination Patterns
Physical education research in the 1930s identified four coordination patterns that the brain and the body use to talk to one another. People tend to have a preferred movement pattern, one that takes the least amount of effort for them, and a secondary one, but everyone has the capacity for all four patterns. Practicing these patterns can make them feel more graceful.
Further research with these patterns has identified their connection to personality styles, leadership qualities, and patterns in business. And here's the little know fact - expanding one's movement vocabulary can increase ones access to innovative thinking and behaving. Spending an evening with the business students gave me the opportunity to share with them some of what I've learned from a dancer friend, Betsy Wetzig who has continued the coordination pattern research and written a book with business professor, Ginny Whitelaw.
Demonstrating one of the principles of innovation, that new ideas often come when people from different fields or disciplines collaborate, their book, Move To Greatness: Focusing the Four Essential Energies for a Whole and Balanced Leader, is a fabulous resource for understanding and exploring how beginning with physical movement can take us to new and creative places in our lives. Here's a description of the four patterns with their movement descriptions and their business world names and examples.
Swing - Collaborator - This pattern is above all, playful, and as Martin Buber reminds us, Play is the exultation of the possible.
Try the movement - Let your arm lift and drop, lift and drop, like swinging on a swing, like waltzing, the hula, or the twist. Swings music is reggae, salsa or big band swing and if it were a location it would be a cruise ship or a carnival. One of the companies that most exemplifies this pattern, according to Whitelaw and Wetzig is Southwest Airlines, that aims for the LUV experience.
If you don't have enough of the collaborator energy, you risk being brittle, humorless and a loner. Too much and you're unreliable and flakey.
Thrust - Driver - This pattern is the accelerator pedal, making things happen. It's definitive as Donald Trump's "You're fired!"
Try the movement - With palms open, cut the palm of one hand with the edge of the other one, think karate, kick boxing, racquetball. Thrusters music is percussive, punk rock, has a pounding beat, its location - a city of tall skyscrapers like Manhattan. The company example is Dell Computers, a company that makes a practice of setting their goals extremely high.
Too much Driver? You're impatient or too aggressive. Not enough? You lack a sense of focus and urgency.
Hang - Visionary - This pattern opens to new possibilities, promotes harmony as it pulls together disparate things. The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. William James.
Try the movement - With one arm raised overhead, imagine you are hanging from a skyhook and allow your body to sink into your chair or the floor. Experiment with changing the point of connection to the hook as you float like a balloon, think scuba diving, snorkeling, hang gliding. Visionary music is Enya, fusion, New Age, its location, a vista overlooking a vast natural landscape. The innovative company example is Apple and its founder, Steve Jobs.
Too much hanger and you're unfocused and drifting off or impulsive and jumping around. Not enough, you lack flexibility and openness
Shape- Organizer - Getting into stillness, you are stepping into the organizer pattern. "The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step." Lao-tzu
Try the movement -Create a shape with one hand and then experience stillness in that shape. Then move to create another shape and repeat the experience of stillness in that shape. Like kayaking slow and easy, or synchronized swimming, shaper has precise form and dances with exact footwork. The music is chanting, marching band, or repetitive folk songs. A shaper location would be a small town with numbered streets and a village square in the center. A company example is NASA.
Too much shaper/organizer? You are caught up in details and perfectionistic, not enough - you risk being disorganized and inconsistent.
For more access to your creativity and innovative thinking, practice the movements, listen to the music, and try the sports activities that relate to what you feel you need. I'd love to hear what you notice in the process.
Sheila K. Collins © 2011