Neuroscience approach to innovative thinking and problem solving

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28 July 2015 | 0

Experimenting and cultivating a ‘fail fast’ culture has been hailed by many organisations as a way to foster innovative group thinking to solve business problems. But there is science behind this that works by training the brain to process and arrange data to help people get to that ‘eureka’ moment.

Enter Extrem3e Thinking, a scientifically proven technique for achieving innovative thinking and problem solving. Based on neuroscience research and study, it helps people tap into their unconscious mind and parietal cortex to get to an ‘aha! moment’ faster than just waiting for it to happen by chance.

The technique was developed by Corinne Canter from Human Synergistics and neuroscientist, Dr Trisha Stratford from Sydney’s University of Technology. Canter is project director and funded the initiative while Stratford conducted the study.

EEG
During the 21 day study, 30 senior business executives were hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG), which studied their brain waves when they were using this innovative thinking technique. This number of participants over that time period was enough to make the study scientifically valid, Canter and Dr Stratford say.

“Our unconscious mind does the bulk of our thinking, which can process about 11 million bits of information compared to the conscious mind at about 40 bits. The brain wave patterns between an active unconscious mind and a fragmented or stressed state of mind is also vastly different”

The idea for this project was borne out of a survey run by leadership consulting firm, Human Synergistics, which involved 6,500 business leaders from Australia and New Zealand. The study found that 71% of leaders were not considered visionary, and were seen as overrated, having too much authority, causing stress in others and not creating environments where people can do their best thinking.

“We decided we wanted to understand what was behind that statistic,” said Canter. “We found leaders were saying, ‘I have to do more with less, I have to process so much more information.’ So it puts them in a state of mind we call ‘fragmented mind’, and it puts them in kind of survival mode.

“When you go into survival mode you literally go into tunnel vision and so you stop being able to see possibilities, you stop being able to see possible solutions. It [the brain] just does what it always has known to do because that is the most efficient thing when you are under pressure. So as a result, you don’t get any new thinking, you don’t get any innovative ideas,” she explains.

PhD research
Dr Stratford, who has spent 12 years studying neuroscience, was doing her PhD and had analysed 180 hours of brain waves in 1 second increments. She met Canter who supported her post-doctoral research to find out how to solve this problem of business leaders not effectively creating innovative thinking in their organisations.

“It’s the unconscious that is the great untapped in the business world, in every world. We’re finding that the unconscious is built for complex problem solving. And what I showed in my PhD was that when people were having these aha! moments the part of the brain that became significantly active was the parietal [cortex].

“When [Albert] Einstein died they, took out his brain … and it was kept in a preservative for quite a few years. About four years or so ago, it was in 360 slices and they put it back together again.

“They found that where his parietal cortex was he didn’t have a corpus callosum, so he had more connectivity between his right parietal and his left parietal. That’s probably why he came up with all those aha! moments. And he always talked about imagination being more important than knowledge,” Dr Stratford said.

Unconscious bulk
Canter added that our unconscious mind does the bulk of our thinking, which can process about 11 million bits of information compared to the conscious mind at about 40 bits. The brain wave patterns between an active unconscious mind and a fragmented or stressed state of mind is also vastly different, she says.

“There’s actually a pattern in what happens around the aha! moment. What the research was telling us is it usually came after a period of frustration, where they had given up on trying to solve the problem and then all of a sudden they get a shot of positivity; they get this sense of certainty that they’ve had this breakthrough moment where they have got the answer. And this is repeated.”

For the unconscious to come up with a new idea or a solution to a problem, it first needs to knowledge load, what Canter and Dr Stratford call the ‘Try Harder Cycle’.

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