Balanced thinking

Recently a colleague gave me an article to read from a glossy management journal, the sort of journal I wouldn't normally read. The opening was promising, it talked about how many MBA students were business graduates. In the past students would have come from industry or they were graduates. It implied that this would make them worse leaders as there would be less depth of experience. The solution apparently lies in literature, if you know where to look. It ended up being more of an advert for a book. Not that leaders and philosophers through the ages have not faced the same problems. Something is getting lost here in the tradition of education, academia, I was taught once was often learning for learning's sake. Higher education can be as much about the learning environment than the course you’re on, and learning how to lead no more lies in a book than it does in the rest of the world. Don't get me wrong, I do think you can learn things from literature, but looking to a play for a leadership to make a choice would first mean you have to choose the right play.

When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.--- Albert Einstein

Literature and philosophy is valuable, though not in a decision-by-decision basis. For instance Plato in Plato's Republic argues that the ideal king is the philosopher king. We've learnt a lot since the third century BC, but one element still remains--- to rule or lead well some wisdom is required. To gain wisdom you need more than a good collection of literature. Despite saying all this, the best leaders aren’t those who try and learn leadership as a skill. Surely to be a good ruler it is best to learn how to make good decisions, deal with people and principles. Trying to learn how to lead might be missing the point.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.--- Aristotle

I’m sure there is a certain amount that is almost instinctive about making good decisions, that this cannot be learnt. I first read the article because I liked the subtext: to master something isn't just about using your head and reasoning it through. Even in the most scientific subjects there is an elements of artistry. Business is, if the acronym MBA means anything, an art form. This would tend to mean there are supposed to be fewer rules. What I would think is of more value is recent research in the role of the subconscious in decision making. The subject area has recently been popularised by Malcom Gladwell in his book Blink!. This is a good introduction into how tackling complex problems can be better solved in the subconscious. The research is ongoing. But one thing is clear over analysing difficult situations can only make the problem more difficult. Doesn’t this mean, ultimately, that a balanced judgement is needed. In 1981 Sperry won a half the Nobel Prize for medicine. He showed that the two hemispheres of the mind play two different roles in thinking. This has lead to the understanding that the dominant left-hemisphere can often dominate decision-making, and has implications for development of thinking. Over analysing a problem may be only using half your head.

If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."--- Vincent van Gogh

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up."---
Pablo Picasso

Betty Edwards uses this model in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and practically shows how non-artists can learn how to draw. In this book when children are young their thought is dominated by their perceptions, but as children develop they develop the ability to think abstractly and by the age of 11 or 12 they are able to manipulate ideas.
Part of this development is the formation of the symbol system Edwards shows that this system is what many non-drawers need to overcome. This has other uses however for thinking well, as abstract thinking— of which the symbol system is part— is key to the development of Concepts and Categorisation. It reduces the environment to objects and events. Categories though can become too rigid and be over-simplified, preventing clear thinking. Anecdotally this might be called seeing things as black-or-white. Drawing for an abstract thinker is useful to maintain the ability to see things, as they are, not how they think they are. To think in a balanced way.


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