Surfing on Both Sides of the Brain.

October 30, 2021

Surfing on Both Sides of the Brain.

May 29, 2023

For those who want to draw better, the 1979 published book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain helped generations of art students and the rest of us learn techniques to draw better. (Hint: tips to help get our brain out of the way so that we can “see” the image in a manner that makes it easier to draw).

What about those who want to learn how to surf? Is there an app for that? Turns out that’s the question Chip Conley, my friend and colleague was interested in tackling during a recent Podcast. We devoted a chunk of our time together to getting suggestions from the right side of the brain in an Ideation session. The whole interview is worth a listen as Chip offers up many pearls of wisdom from his accomplished career and lived experience. Chip and I were introduced nearly 10 years ago and share the same editor at publisher Simon & Schuster.

At our first meet up Chip was introduced to my process as my book, Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius was being published in 2013. Since I’m a fan of his work (read all his books), I was excited to put both sides of his brain through this unorthodox, but proven process. The derivation is the Nobel prize awarded to Dr. Roger Sperry in 1981 for his breakthrough discovery about hemispheric division in the brain. I was curious if this process could help him think through tough problems in a helpful manner. I believe it’s fair to say it worked as well for him as it had for me.

You’re likely wondering what this has to do with surfing? Fast forward to present day when after interviewing Chip for my Podcast about his many and varied successes over his career, including his learnings as a “Mentern” as Chief Strategist at Airbnb, followed by his founding of the Modern Elder Academy. I posed the question, “What problem do you want to solve today?” Chip responded “I want to learn how to surf. I’m having a tough time learning how to surf.”

My response was to guide him through the familiar Ideation process we had taken a number of times before through the years. I asked him to write down how he could solve the problem. This simple step is often helpful as it stops the problem from swirling around in our brains without the tangibility of a written response.

Although some find this step useful in the Ideation process, it pales in comparison to the next step which involves activating the “other” brain, the right hemisphere. This step is possible due to Sperry’s discovery, specifically, the hemispheres are not just separate, but can function independently from one another.

In practical terms, it's what makes it possible to ask the exact same question and get a different answer in response. And, if it were just “different” it would not necessarily be helpful in solving the problem. The answer has to also be either a better answer or useful in getting to a better solution. Fortunately, the proof is always in the eyes of the beholder. This proved to be the case for Chip, as you’ll learn in the Podcast (at the 32:22 minute mark).

Spoiler alert: Chip’s right brain did indeed pay off with an idea he believed would boost his surfing ability.

If you want to learn more about this groundbreaking work, you can check out my TEDx Talk, my book, Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius, or contact me to learn more.

I teach this process at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California in the form of a personal development workshop titled, “Meet Your Better Half”, occurring the weekend of December 10-12. (they sell out fast). The corporate version of this methodology are Ideation sessions I lead for teams that need to solve a problem (usually one they’ve not solved any other way). It’s a disruptive, powerful, fast and effective way to solve problems. Plus, it’s also been proven over the past ten years with clients including Walt Disney Studios, Hitachi, Anheuser-Busch, and Kawasaki, so it’s no longer bleeding edge, but still a cutting edge methodology.

William A. Donius, former banker and CEO, teaches his creative method of problem solving to a wide range of corporations and employees and also is an active investor in a number of start-up accelerators.

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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