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EXECUTIVE THINKINGFrom Brightness to Brilliance
By MORRIS A. GRAHAM KEVIN BAIZE
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Morris A. Graham, PhD, and Kevin Baize, OD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIncreasing Our Capacity to Think
We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein Today's revolutionary advances in neuroscience will rival the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. Paul Churchland
Life is about how much we think. Thinking is about how much capacity we have to process information. Capacity, in addition to our abilities and consciousness, is about how much we can simultaneously process combinations of verbal, quantitative, and spatial dimensions with decisiveness, direction, and speed.
Brilliance is about how much we can increase our capacity to think.
"Life" said Emerson, "consists in what a man is thinking all day." No matter where we go or what we do, we take our thinking with us. To a great extent we are what we think about. What we think about molds our aspirations and attitudes and what we will accomplish during our lives. Our lives are influenced more by our own thoughts than anything else.
How could a person possibly become what he is not thinking? Nor is any thought, where persistently entertained, too small to have its effect. The divinity that shapes our ends is indeed in our self. Spencer W. Kimball
Contrary to established dogma, our thinking capacity is not locked into an IQ score or set in genetic immutability. IQ scores cannot possibly tell the whole story about thinking capacity—not even close. Our capacity to think is uniquely dynamic, plastic, and changeable. None of us need be dead-bolted into a closed-door belief in a predetermined, fixed level of intelligence, and a limited life. We are today where our thinking has brought us, and we will be tomorrow where our thinking will take us. The dilemma for most of us is that we also filter our thoughts through the lens of limitations, fears, anxieties, and irrationality.
A widespread, oversimplified myth is that only a handful of us are capable of making inventive contributions to our lives. This bellcurve thinking is not supported by a new era of neuroscience research. Brilliant thinking can be observed in almost all intellectual activity. We discovered, after our extensive executive research on spatial ability/ capacity, why the engine of inspiration and inventiveness seems always to be in high gear in some leaders while others struggle. High scholastic aptitude is not the crucial ingredient here, because it is not the only criterion determining a leader's capacity for brilliance. Language is a marvelous tool for communication, but it is greatly overrated as a standalone tool for thought. Scholastic intelligence tests primarily involve verbal (language) and numerical thinking, whereas more brilliant leaders will measure high in spatial thinking with a good grasp of concepts. They are able to free themselves from conventional thought streams; instead, distant areas of their brains converse simultaneously and more robustly than is normal. Their creative abilities play out with a hyperconnectivity of normally disconnected thoughts, memories, feelings, and ideas. Brilliant leaders are able to mentally visualize and process in such a way that they can proceed from different starting points, change direction as needed, and spontaneously generate many unusual, probable solutions or distantly associated answers—each of which could be correct, useful, relevant, or effective and doable.
Some of us are privileged in life to gain more light and knowledge than others. Some are discouraged with life and/or do not continue to stimulate our minds with mental pursuits. Some attend school for a dozen or so years and then find employment only to provide an income until retirement. Our living patterns usually move toward routines and slowing down until we quietly fade away. Many of us assume that we were born with a certain number of brain cells and thereby have a genetically predetermined intellectual cap (somewhat false); that our brains start to slow down fairly early in life (somewhat true); and that there is little we can do about changing this pattern (false). We can't change the fact that we're older, but we can compensate for the cognitive changes that happen as a consequence (true). Although scientists still believe (for the most part) that we cannot grow new neurons, they now believe that the brain can grow new dendrites—the connections between neurons that create memory and learning (Koob, 2009). In other words, the human brain is like plastic. It is molded, at least in part, by its environment (true). We are not hostages of fate, but only hostages of our own thoughts (true). We are what we are because of our capacity to think (true). And the way we think, the way we take on our challenges, will influence our whole lives (true).
Think back ... way back! What happened when you first learned how to walk? Almost half of your brain's cortex spent a lot of spatial-processing time trying to figure out how to prevent you from falling. But once you got the hang of it, you no longer thought about it at all. Now, when you walk into a board room, you don't think about which foot to move next or which muscles need to be told how to react in order to do so. You are thinking about what's on the agenda, what you might contribute, how you might avoid failure and embarrassment, and generally of more important things. As executives, we are all learning experience by experience, but also precept by precept. Subsequent experiences confirm and reconfirm what we already know intellectually. However, unless our insight sustains ongoing spatial expansiveness (connectivity among distant brain regions) and changeability, we will not survive the erosion that naturally will occur with the passage of time.
Brilliance is about creating more connectivity and plasticity.
The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking. Albert Einstein
All of us have remarkable powers of changing (plasticity) our own thinking (creative connections between ideas) and functions through simultaneously processing, thinking, and acting. Recent neuroscience research confirms that neural plasticity, or cortical re-mapping—the capacity to be consciously remolded—exists from the cradle to the grave (Stein, 2008). Likewise, radical improvements in cognitive functioning—how we learn, think, perceive, and remember—are possible throughout life (Osberg, 2010). The science and practice of information processing, under the right conditions, has possibly changed hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells of individuals. Our brains have the ability to integrate pieces of disparate data in novel ways. There is a lot of brain potential to be realized!
We can change the way we process information. Our brain selectively refines its processing capabilities to fit each task at hand. Think about what you are doing right now—reading this book. You most likely have become unaware that you are sitting in a chair or that there are objects around this book that are in your peripheral vision. You are screening out information that has been shown by experience to be less important from the welter of data that streams into your head each moment through your sensory system. Your screened data, unavailable to your thought process, take up none of your capacity, lessening the burden on your neurons.
Our brains do not simply screen out and learn selectively, though they are enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. They are always "learning how to learn." The brain has a processor in which thoughts, experiences, and emotions can be simultaneously processed in height, width, depth, and space. Insightful learning should engage most of our mental machinery and consciousness and involve both focused attention and peripheral perception. When learning occurs in a way consistent with the laws that govern brain plasticity, the mental machinery of the brain can be improved so that we learn and perceive with greater insight, precision, speed, and retention.
Furthermore, our brains are not inanimate vessels that we fill; rather they are more like a living creature with an appetite—one that can grow and change itself with proper nourishment and exercise. Our brain's processing ability can change as we do more mental work—it can regenerate itself throughout our life span. Processing can be appropriate or faulty. Briefly, simultaneous processing can serve to stimulate the faculty we possess to integrate bits and pieces provided by our senses that are needed for reasoning. Our reasoning serves to establish abstractions from abstractions and so forth, in an ever-widening sphere of thinking and conceptualizing. Exercising our brains keeps them young and fit!
Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
No matter where we go or what we do, we live our entire lives within the confines of our minds. Everything we hear, feel, see, and think is processed by our brain. It allows us to cope masterfully with our everyday environment and is capable of producing breathtaking athletic feats, sublime works of art, profound scientific insights, and innovations in business and life. But its most amazing achievement may simply be thinking.
Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try. Dr. Seuss
Thinking is the process of thought—to consider, judge, or believe. It is the process of exercising the mind to put together creative connections in order to construct or deconstruct, to make the mental choice between options and make a decision. Our capacity to think, reason, and decide makes us unique. Since reality is what it is and not some indiscernible haze, we can attempt to understand it, and this allows us to change, adapt, or improvise the things that make up a reality for our own survival. Through the faculty of reason, we can exploit a reality around our desires and dreams. We can make it an extraordinary world, where we make greater contributions, and enjoy greater well-being, health, and life—and where we can apply our productive capacities to achieve our noblest dreams.
Yet, few of us are taught in our early years how to exploit our mental capacity or usable potential (e.g., greater height, breadth, and depth of judgment and character to deal with ambiguous and ethical complexities in life). Inevitably, most of us develop limited, inept thinking that does not and will not serve us well. Life with limited thinking capacity, as we now have, need not be our handicap in the game of life. Only in the last few years has there been sufficient research to create a neuroscience that promotes visual-spatial processing technology for increasing mental capacity or usable potential.
Brilliance is about processing and thinking in multiple dimensions.
Capacity is like a four-wheel drive vehicle with extra gas in the tank. Each set of wheels allows us to get to more remote places. Most senior managers use their front wheel capacity (verbal and numerical power) more than they take advantage of the added boost that could come with the rear wheels (spatial and decisive power). When managers develop their executive "rear wheels" power, they subsequently increase their higher-order mental processes (overdrive velocity) to reach more remote places in terms of height, width, and depth and, with extra gas (reserve) in their tanks. They realize greater profitability, productivity, and confidence in their ability to better lead their businesses.
"Executive Thinking Capacity" is the ability to holistically and simultaneously think in height, width, and depth, and do so decisively in order to navigate with insight and velocity. It is the ability to sustain thinking in: high verbal levels (reading and writing, listening and speaking); wide quantitative levels (numbers and equations, measurements and graphs); deep spatial levels (integration of information in three-dimensions needed for break-through and invention); and global levels of decisiveness (recognize and scrutinize, visualize and prioritize) needed to speedily direct and execute informed decisions.
These four powers of thinking, we believe, differentiate brilliant executives from merely bright ones. Whether working alone or in teams, executives get more perspectives on the table, better results in less time through higher, wider, deeper, and thicker thought dimensions—all needed for informed thinking. With four full cylinders to drive our mind-vehicles we can discover a new order of higher speeds, road mastery, and freedom to travel anywhere.
No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. Voltaire
It is clear to us that the most critical priority for any organization or nation is the development of its thinking capacity so that it can tap into higher levels of thinking with key decision makers. Although many voices and vendors promote their problem solving/decision making/innovation programs, few understand the multiple connections needed to make it happen. How many different ways we can think can be more important than how much we know how to plug a problem into programs.
Never be afraid to sit awhile and think. Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
America: Where have our brilliant leaders gone?
Where have our brilliant leaders gone? Where are America's educational initiatives to develop highly capable and resilient leaders? In the quest to find and develop brilliance, one should not look for high verbal or mathematical ability as much as deep spatial ability—a prerequisite for graduate scientific and engineering education. Our top American graduate business or law schools may not be the place to look. They are locked into the premise that General Mental Ability (GMA) is more predictive of job performance and ultimate occupational level attained than any other ability, trait, or disposition, and believe it is better than job experience. However, when we select the top 3% of verbal/math talent in America, we ignore 50% of those students in the top 1% of spatial talent—future scientists, engineers, or leaders, like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Walt Disney.
Individuals like Lee Iacocca, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Andrew Grove, Jack Welch, and other great executives in recent history were not just people with good verbal skills, but also individuals with high spatial capacity. Their spatial thought processes enabled them to better access complex financial information and multiple perspectives and come up with alternative responses to vital issues. When problems arose, they could accurately discover the causes and quickly take curative action. They formulated good decisions, balancing the benefits and risks associated with their choices. And they effectively put into action their chosen course by working around insignificant problems and seizing opportunities.
We found other executives gifted with the ability to visualize the world with great accuracy. They were able to think in three-dimensional terms and could re-create an idea into a working visual model. They were also able to adapt and modify that model prior to any physical construction. Such individuals had an amazing ability to create a mental map of a new territory, providing a strong sense of spatial awareness for where they were positioned in relation to the world around them.
We need more than ever to develop leadership in ways that focus on a readiness to adapt and modify, move up and out, forget personal accomplishments, and keep figuring it out. Executives today need to be probing, interconnecting, asking the right questions, testing assumptions, and simultaneously integrating collective thinking so that they can make better business decisions, day in and day out. How then can we develop leaders of the highest caliber who have neither the time nor the wherewithal to take years off to augment their educational base with science, engineering, and an MBA? Yet the spatial intelligence to cope with complexity, amorphousness, and uncertainty at all levels of management is needed more than ever.
Excerpted from EXECUTIVE THINKING by MORRIS A. GRAHAM KEVIN BAIZE Copyright © 2011 by Morris A. Graham, PhD, and Kevin Baize, OD. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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