In the Right Mind

Business - January 23rd, 2009

by Ian de Stains OBE

For quite some time now, in various talks I’ve been invited to give, I’ve chosen as my central theme the need for new ways of thinking. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the old ways no longer work. The ideas that drove the Bretton Woods agreements after the end of WW2 are no longer appropriate to today’s world situation; the world is not now what it was then. The recent financial meltdown and the inadequacy of the IMF and the World Bank to deal with it (better yet, prevent it in the first place) is simply the most glaring example; the knee-jerk reaction of the notoriously inefficient Detroit carmakers is another. Consider, though, the environment, climate change, peacekeeping, staggering numbers of refugees—the list goes on and conventional thinking in each area has failed to address the issues with anything like the impact that is needed.

This is not to suggest that these issues are being completely ignored: far from it. There are many concerned and engaged individuals who care deeply and strive to make a difference. The problem is, for the most part, the organizations for which they work (either on staff or as volunteers) adhere to structures and belief systems that were established sometimes decades ago so that even the most forward-looking find it hard to accept that there is a need for a dynamic shift in thinking. We don’t, when it comes down to it, think about thinking. In most of our schools and universities, we are still teaching solutions designed to answer yesterday’s problems. Little wonder that they are not sufficient for today. And where will that leave us tomorrow?

In part, of course, the difficulty is that we do not know for sure what tomorrow’s problems will be. We can make a fairly good guess at some of them (global warming, renewable energy, and so on) but just as the twentieth century heralded previously unthinkable issues (Nuclear weapons, IIIV/AIDS, and more) so the 21st will undoubtedly catch us by surprise. We need visionary thinking; a CSR-savvy version of Disney’s “imagineers.”

Writers such as Daniel Pink (A Whole new Mind) and Howard Gardner (Five Minds for the Future) offer some exciting and inspiring thoughts and both books should be required reading for anyone aspiring to leadership in whatever context—social, political, or economic. The fact that both are such a pleasure to read is an added bonus and both are readily available from Amazon and accessible to all.

One of the areas that I find most intriguing is the idea of using right brain thinking to address problems more usually approached by the left brain. At least one leading US industrialist is on record as saying he would prefer to recruit people with MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees as opposed to MBAs. As a predominantly right brain type, I heartily concur!

Incidentally, if you are interested in knowing more about how you can learn to use the right side of your brain more effectively, contact Right Brain Research in Tokyo:

Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of ihe British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and Convenor of its Japan Chapter.