« Right Brain Workouts

Intelligent Memory

By Peter Lloyd

Back when I named these essays Right Brain Workouts, creative people called themselves right-brainers. They called the knuckleheads who gave them any guff left-brainers. After all, Roger Sperry had just grabbed a Nobel Prize for giving us his split-brain model. It was clearly us vs. them.

Uh-oh! Here’s another theory, also associated with a Nobel Prize, called intelligent memory. It attempts to explain how the brains of creative people come up with creative breakthroughs. And anyone can do it. No more right-brainers vs. left-brainers!

William Duggan at the Columbia Business School describes intelligent memory as “analysis and intuition” working together and using “all modes of thought.” He goes on to warn readers that intelligent memory makes obsolete not only the right-brain/left-brain model but also its love-child, brainstorming.

Brainstorming, he says, gives no quarter to a quiet, contemplative stage called presence of mind, which must precede a creative flash of insight. Other work, including that of Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th-century military scholar, helps define four steps of the intelligent memory process: examples from history, presence of mind, flash of insight, resolution.

You can learn all about these steps and the theory from the references provided below. I’m not going to belabor them here. After coming to what I consider a basic understand of intelligent memory, I asked myself, how is this different from Arthur Koestler’s bisociation and how long before it suffers the fate of Sperry’s nomenclature?

And should I change the name of my Workouts? No, for the same reason I still say “bless you” when somebody sneezes, still talk about Moby Dick as if he actually plied the sea and sunk the Pequod, and still sing “Jack Frost nipping at your nose...” around Christmas time.

Furthermore I know brainstorming works. I also know that it’s messy, hard work that leaves its participants brain dead. But I agree with Duggan that it does not allow for a very important part of the creative process. Call it presence of mind or incubation, but focusing on nothing (or something other than the problem you’re trying to solve), absolutely generates great Aha! insights. But so does brainstorming, without quiet time.

Neverthless my colleague Stephen R. Grossman has adjusted his idea-generating process accordingly. He eliminates the loud and messy brainstorming part, convenes his groups to understand the problem, and sends them away to come back with one really good idea. When they reconvene, he uses the group’s together-time to select and perfect the best idea. While off on their own, thinking (and not thinking) about coming back with their one big idea, each participant has plenty of opportunity to reach presence of mind and enjoy a flash of insight.

Likewise brainlining (once gratefully described to me as brainstorming minus body ordor) also allows for presence of mind. In addition it bypasses meetings, scheduling, and travel. That’s before you even start to think about the mess, noise, ego wrangling, food service, easels, markers, and hotshots who out-idea you ten to one. Online, asynchronous idea generation also allows you to enlist anyone from anywhere in the world, which magnifies the first intelligent-memory ingredient, examples from history.

Keep the theories coming! Each teaches us something new. Each reframes the same old way in a new way. The ways that work, work because they work.

See also:
Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen R. Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.

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