Innovation isn’t just a right brain activity!

Science says: innovation isn’t just a right brain activity!
From this, we can learn about innovating in coaching, leadership and other endeavours

MYTH: “The left-brain is more analytical and logical while the right-brain is more creative.”

Neuroscientists have been telling us this may not really be true for some time and now there’s a study that supports their doubts.

I find the results fascinating and a bit unexpected – with some good insight on how we innovate.

Briefly, in this study, the scientists were looking at what part of the brain generates new and creative output. They observed jazz guitarists and measured their brain activity as they were improvising music.

What they found: When less experienced musicians were innovating (improvising jazz), they tapped into their right brain. More experienced musicians tapped into their left brain while improvising. This simply tells us that the source of innovation isn’t always right or left hemisphere.

In addition, the experienced musicians’ music was rated as more creative than the music from the less experienced musicians. The source of this, they concluded, was that there are well-honed routines stored in the left brain that experienced musicians are tapping into – and it creates better results.

My first takeaway: I’ll stop using the “left-brain”, “right-brain” labels because they aren’t accurate. And, really, who likes labels anyway?

But I have a second takeaway that I find far more interesting. This article is telling us that people who create high-quality output, tap into expertise that has been stored and is available for use in different situations. And there is some ease around innovation when using this well-honed expertise.

Novices can innovate, but there’s more effort and control as they try to consciously follow some rules or guidelines that they’ve learned but which haven’t been embedded deeply. They do tend to be better at addressing a completely unknown situation (they don’t have to unlearn anything).

So, when we are competent at something, it’s as if we have those packets of competence stored away for easy access; which happens to be in the left hemisphere.

Great lessons for facilitators of learning

There are some great lessons here for those of us who support learning, that is coaches, trainers, leaders and teachers: practise and repetition are essential and the quality of what is practised is also essential. When helping people learn, help them be rigorous. It doesn’t mean you have to be rigorous for ever – au contraire! The rigour and precision practised during a learning phase, will contribute to a higher-quality output when using those practised pieces to innovate. When it’s time to improvise, it’s the experience that’s tapped into, not the rules. So, don’t be sloppy with practise that only gives you sloppy elements to create from later.

Lessons for leaders

Leaders and other users of people skills: Remember that people skills are still skills. Take the time to practise: use conscious repetition sticking to structures, whether that’s listening skills, coaching skills, feedback or stakeholder management approaches. It will take some work along the way, but once those skills are stored, you don’t have to worry about how the skills work and you won’t have to work so hard to access them. But it all depends on what you practise.

Check out the study:

Lori on LinkedIn