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Navigating Frameworks: Insights from Brain Science

In the world of business strategy and problem-solving, frameworks are like trusted companions. They offer structure, organisation, and a road-map to tackle complex issues. But as with any tool, there's a fine line between leveraging frameworks effectively and letting them lead us down a path of rigidity and unoriginality.


Enter Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist whose lifelong study of the brain's two hemispheres sheds light on how we can optimise our use of frameworks. It has long been known that the left hand part of the brain is the one that likes structure.  It accumulates and stores bit of data and it deals with them in an organised way, but not necessarily one that is understandable.  The right hand side of the brain is creative and can make sense of those bits stored on the left.


But, how do we do this?  How do we ensure that the frameworks don’t generate mechanical, cliched results that are unoriginal?  The answer has to be that we use frameworks with a “light hand on the tiller”.  The framework may raise questions and hopefully a variety of answers and then, crucially, we need to sleep on it. The right hand side of the brain needs time to sort out problems. It is why you can’t lock people in a room and ask them to come up with an innovation in a number of hours.  Nearly all break through innovations arise after a good deal of unconscious thinking time. The answer pops up when out walking the dog, in the bath, or when you wake in the middle of the night. This relaxed state allows our brains to wander and make novel connections between disparate pieces of information on the left of our brains, leading to sudden insights or "aha" moments. Additionally, when we are not actively trying to solve a problem, our subconscious mind continues to work on it in the background, sometimes coming up with solutions when we least expect it.


So, thinking about how we can use McGilchrist’s understanding of the brain to help better apply frameworks, here are four suggestions:


1.      Integrate analytical and holistic thinking: Rather than relying solely on analytical thinking (which is dominant in the left hemisphere), it's important to also engage in holistic thinking (which involves the right hemisphere). This means considering the big picture you are trying to solve, the relationships between different elements, and the context of the problem.


2.      Allow for periods of relaxation and reflection: As mentioned earlier, McGilchrist would suggest allowing the mind to relax and wander, as this can facilitate insight and creativity. Activities like taking walks or engaging in hobbies can help shift focus away from the problem temporarily, allowing the subconscious mind to work on it in the background.


3.      Seek diverse perspectives: McGilchrist emphasises the importance of integrating different perspectives and ways of knowing. This might involve seeking input from others with diverse backgrounds and expertise, as well as considering multiple angles or interpretations of the problem.


4.      Balance specialisation with breadth: While specialisation can be valuable for deepening an understanding in a particular field, McGilchrist would likely caution against becoming too narrowly focused. Maintaining a broad range of interests and knowledge can foster creativity and help connect seemingly unrelated ideas.


Overall, McGilchrist's perspective suggests that working with frameworks requires a balanced approach – one that integrates both analytical and holistic thinking, embraces diverse perspectives, and allows for periods of reflection and creativity.


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