Thinking in Images

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Most people think in words. When asked to imagine a traffic accident they come up with not very detailed descriptions, in comparison with people who are thinking in pictures. It became even worse if the words are becoming more and more abstract. Words as society, market, law, inflation etc. stay for them just words; they are unable to convert the words into images. Picture thinkers don’t have to translate, they think in pictures.

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As school systems are mainly auditory-sequential oriented, it is not surprising that mainly visual-spatial thinkers will have problems at school. Usually, they encounter learning difficulties. But not only at school. Most picture thinkers don’t fit well in traditional companies and institutions. They do things in other ways than expected or “normal”, due to “weaknesses” in thinking.

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Picture thinkers are also called right-brainers, as some popularisations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.

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We have also committed to this theoretical sloppiness with left/right brain generalisations, although, a handy mini theory to generate creative ideas as we have demonstrated in Blocking the Left Brain Functions.

As we wrote in left brain/right brain thinking, the debate regarding about what goes on in our left and right brain hemispheres seems like a never-ending story. You will find support for the idea that creative people use the right hemisphere while people who are good at organising things are using their left hemisphere. But we can also find support for the idea that creative and non-creative thinking are not two different things but are more reinforcing each other.

The idea that the brain has different specialised functions that can be used to improve memory, learning and thinking are also the part of the foundation behind mind mapping.

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A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, a book by Daniel H. Pink, posits that the future of global business belongs to the right-brainers. He outlines six essential senses:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.

Daniel Pink is one of an increasing number of writers on the importance of the Conceptual Economy, as a follow-up of the Information and Knowledge Age. Conceptual economy is a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context. Other contributors to our understanding of the conceptual economy include Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, explaining the role of assets such as empathy, storytelling, individual experiences and stimulating work environments in fostering creative ideas.

The discussion about the necessity to escape from dominant linear-sequential thinking was earlier argued by Howard Gardner. He developed The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind:

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In one of our next blog posts, we will give hints and tricks together with some useful resources to become “picture smart”. An essential skill to use mind mapping to the fullest of its advantages.

Art and Innovation

What can innovators learn from art?

Observation skills, questioning, and experimentation are  vital parts of innovation. Observing everyday activities can lead to new insights where things can be improved on. It can also lead to break-through ideas.

The innovation psychologist  Leon Segal said:

“Innovation begins with an eye.”

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By Johann Zoffany

Innovators carefully watch the world around them and the observations help them gain ideas for new ways of doing things. Observation skills are also at the core of art. Art students are often told to draw what they actually look at, rather than the way they think something should look. Copying someone’s ideas will not in itself lead to a person developing creative thinking skills. A painter needs to learn to think in colours, an artist working with sculptures need to think in 3D, and a songwriter needs to learn to think in lyrics.

Art is sometimes used to help medical students to develop their observations skills. Looking at art can help people understand ambiguities in a painting and also to look closely at something without “rushing to assign meaning to what we see.” Many of us are ready to immediately interpret what we see, yet looking at art can help a person to slow down and really observe things without immediately interpreting things. These skills can also help an  innovator to explore aspects and to help step out of the common way of interpreting things. Quick thinking is good sometimes but certain things are good to slowly digest.

Even if looking at art can help a person to develop observation skills the observation in itself is not enough. Making connections, questioning, visualising, and searching for patterns are also important aspects of art. Art can help a person to make connections between things. innovators often have a passion for questioning things. The importance  of question asking is a topic that has been previously explored in this blog. Valuing questions and being curious can lead to a search for new ways of doing things. Rather than focusing on quick answers, the innovative process thrives on asking questions to provoke new insights, possibilities and connections.

The book The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction is a wonderful collection of Neil Gaiman’s essays, and meditations on life, literature, and the life and love of literature. An inspiring essay in the book explores the ideas and ideals at the heart of Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451. This book is a great reminder of how important it is to explore one’s values. Neil suggests that speculative fiction gives  us a “liberation of vision”. Yet in order for this to happen, we must acknowledge that each story has a multiplicity of meanings.

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Authors can offer an imagined but nevertheless persuasive alternative reality where the readers are offered a way to escape from the usual traditional way of thinking. New possibilities can be examined. It is easy to think that the way we live now is somehow the only way that the world can be organised.

Three questions can help an author to imagine possible worlds:

  • What if …?  This question provides a way to escape from the world. What if I could fold up my car?
  • If only … Allows us explore something exciting as well as the terrifying  about the future. If only there were no cars.
  • If this goes on … What would happen if that thing became bigger, became all-pervasive? Does not try to predict the future rather explores possible scenarios. If this way of parking cars goes on there will be no green spaces left in the cities.

Innovators are examining and trying out new ideas. Testing hypothesis and visiting new places and worlds. Imagining different futures is a fundamental aspect of the innovative process and reading books about the future can provide valuable insights. It can also help us develop skills to examine possible futures. A world that does not yet exist!

To think.

To imagine.

To change.

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Photo: Kevin Krejci

 

Storytelling, Information and Wisdom – Thinkibility Nibble

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Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, talks about the importance of interpretation and context in a world where there is an abundance of information.

“A great storyteller is the kindly captain who sails her ship with tremendous wisdom and boundless courage; who points its nose in the direction of horizons and worlds chosen with unflinching idealism and integrity; who brings us somewhat closer to the answer, to our particular answer, to that grand question: Why are we here?”

She wrote this animated essay as part of 2014 Future of Storytelling.

 

Storytelling and Möbius Strip

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“Stories are just as integral to the human experience as design.”

Daniel PinkA Whole New Mind

Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, says that storytelling is the most powerful way of communicating. Throughout history, storytelling has glued families, tribes and cultures together. Today, storytelling has moved into the business world and several values of a good story has been identified, for example, a good story sells more products, it makes the product more unique and easy to identify  with. Facts and figures do not moves us.  But the words ” Once upon a time. . . ” emotionally engagesus. Story telling is also important in science and many scientists use stories to explain their results to a wider audience (it is a debated question regarding how this approach should be used in scientific reports).

But stories may also helps us to see the world from a different perspective. It is easier to show someone the value of an idea by telling a story than to get them to change their opinion by presenting facts. The more emotionally connected we are, the more the story changes and influences us.

Yet we rarely think about how we tell a story. Can we use different objects to tell it?  Below is a different approach to story telling.

Vi Hart has made two videos using  Möbius strip.  The first 7+minute video took two months to make and watching it is visual joy. And a very direct experience – it feels like you are telling the story.

The satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions was written in 1884 by Edward Abbott and he used a fictional two-dimensional world to explore the social hierarchy of Victorian society. Vi Hart uses hand-drawn illusions that constantly changes as the story is told on the Möbius strip, which is a closed curve. If an ants walks along the length on this strip, the ant would return to the starting point, and the ant would have gone on both sides of the paper without ever having crossed an edge.


What other objects can be used in storytelling?

Image: Mighty Optical Illusions