Hands are an Information Highway to the Brain

“On average it is estimated that our hands are connected to 70%-80% of our brain cells.” (From the training for certification in LEGO® Serious Play® facilitation)

I’m fascinated by this statistic. I realize it’s imprecise and I can’t give you studies to back it up. But I know that people experience this connection all the time. Artists start creating without knowing where they are going. Musicians train their fingers and then let them play, without consciously controlling each movement. And during the LEGO® Serious Play® training my hands found some surprising insights. I didn’t always know what to build, and my controlling brain wanted to know before I started. But my hands knew what was interesting to hold and click to something else, and a model would grow before I knew exactly how I would talk about it or what it represented.

Even when my brain knew exactly what I wanted to build, using both hands accessed parts of my brain that I didn’t normally use for analysis, so when it was time to talk about it, I often came up with some additional insights. We all write, and talk, and even sometimes sketch diagrams to help us solve problems. But how often do we sculpt, or play, or dance, or use some other part of ourselves to help out? LEGO® bricks are especially useful since they are both logical and creative, so they can capture both sides of our brains and channel it all to something larger. There is so much of our brain that we can’t access consciously, finding a way to tap into some of our innate knowledge and bring it to consciousness is enormously helpful.

In fact our conscious minds can only hold on to about seven things at a time. By investing artifacts with information, our brains can let go of these pieces of info and be ready to find or develop something new. It’s like post-it notes or to-do lists, but with symbolic and metaphoric images which can help push information into long-term memory. Suddenly we can have complex conversations about a lot more than the seven things we can hold in our minds because we have this rich symbolic landscape we can manipulate and discuss.

In case you can’t tell, I’m super excited about this LEGO® Serious Play® facilitation method, and I can’t wait to start sharing it with people. There is so much richness in people I can help tap and share! And there are so many ways this method can be applied – team building, strategic analysis, understanding and strengthening a brand, business development, the list is long and growing. If this sounds exciting to you too, please comment and we can talk more about it!

Creativity Is Not Either/Or

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” Monty Python comedian Jon Cleese

My mom thinks she isn’t creative, but she thinks I am. In fact, lots of people think a person either is, or isn’t, creative. I say poppycock! (Isn’t that a fun word to say?) Creativity can be cultivated, practiced, and enjoyed by everyone.

OK, I’ll grant you that some people are more logical in their approaches to life, and some people are more intuitive. It’s easier and more organic to some people to be creative than others. But there is no such thing as a person devoid of creativity.

I do think that creativity needs to be practiced. And that practicing creativity is great fun! I poked around online to see what sort of creativity building tools there are out there, and ran across this site: http://creativitygames.net/

This site showed me the power of random words. For example: Take four random words. Decide that one of these things is not like the others – which one, and why? No two people will come up with the same answer, because there is no right answer. Or: select two random words from this list of five and put them together to make a new thing or idea.

I saw the power of random words in action with my six year old son. We were waiting for something and he was bored. I asked him to tell me a story and he said no and whined some more about being bored. I asked him to tell me a story about a bicycle, a snake, and a frying pan, and he brightened up and told me a great story. Then I told him one. Then he asked for three more words. We had fun for as long as we were waiting and all the way home.

I think this has to do with the “abyss of freedom” as my father calls it. It is a lot easier to be creative within boundaries. I find that true at Halloween every year. When I can show up to a costume party wearing anything, I end up something generic – a gypsy, a witch, a pencil. But when there is a theme to the party, I end up with something memorable. The year the theme was Deities and Demigods I dressed as the parking goddess, with an asphalt grey robe with a dotted yellow line and a parking meter staff. My husband dressed as an ancient Egyptian cheerleader (three cheers for the Sun God, Ra! Ra! Ra!) The year the theme was superheroes, I dressed as XeroXena, copier princess, and my outfit was entirely made out of office supplies.

Giving ourselves these arbitrary restraints can really spark our imagination. Great poets wrote sonnets because they had to fit into a strict structure. Great musicians have their own limits within which they have to work. So it seems likely that business should provide a great framework in which to be creative. There are clearly limits to what a business can do, or to the problem a work group is facing. So why is it so hard to come up with creative solutions?

One problem is that either/or false dichotomy. People think they are not creative. (Not having an atmosphere that supports creativity is also a big deal, but I talk about that in other posts.) People are out of practice with being creative, too. When’s the last time you piled blocks on each other just to see what you could make? Or changed the words to a song but still kept the rhyme structure? Games with random words can help get those creaky wheels moving, to spark new ideas and find new relationships between existing constraints and make everyone’s creativity bloom.

I’d love to hear in the comments which of these things is not like the others, and why! Or tell me a story about these four things.