It is not a bad thing for a leader to look at the world tangentially, from time to time. In a complex universe the person who can see patterns emerging ahead of anyone else has a head start in the leadership stakes. Practicing tangential thinking is also fun.
The Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Daniel Lieberman, is a man who looks at things tangentially. His life interest is in working out just why human beings – the tortoises of the animal kingdom, he says – are the way they are.
Reflecting on Olympic triumphs, he observes that Usain Bolt, who is the world's fastest human being today, can run about 10.4 meters a second, and he can do so for about ten or maybe 20 seconds. “My dog,” he says, “any goat, any sheep I can study in my lab, can run about twice as fast as Usain Bolt without any training, without any practice, any special technology, any drugs or whatever.... What we're really good at is not power, what we're really phenomenal at is endurance.”
When it comes to heads and brains, a fascinating aspect of where evolution has taken us humans is in the positioning of the face. “Our face is now underneath our brains rather than sticking in front of our brains. That's why we don't have big brow ridges, and that's why our tongues and mouths are small, which causes our larynx to be low and changes the shape of the vocal tract.”
The face and what it conveys socially seems to be profoundly important to humans, and perhaps the eyes most of all. Science writer, lecturer and broadcaster Rita Carter has an interesting take on the eyes in her wonderful picture book for grown-ups about the brain The Human Brain Book (Dorling Kindersley, 2010). If the eyes are the one bit of the brain we can see at work, and the two halves of the brain are doing very different things, and the left eye is wired into the right brain and the right eye is wired into the left brain, then taking more notice of what the eyes are ‘saying’ might give a sharper of understanding of what is really going on in a person’s brain.
Carter’s book gives three full frontal facials of Richard Nixon. In the first it is the well-known Nixon face. In the second, the right-hand side of the face – the left brain extension - has been used to construct a single whole face. In the third photograph the left hand side of the face – the right brain extension – creates the whole face.
Although when anyone, scientist or otherwise, talks or writes about ‘the brain’ we imagine a single unitary organ, the fact is that the left and right sides of the brain are so different they are almost two different organs. In essence, the left brain deals with what is known, however complex. The right side is all the time on the look-out for what is unknown and manages the emotional system as well as creative adaptive thinking.
So if looking at the right eye tells us something about the left brain, then we have some access to the way the person is thinking. Looking at the left eye and accessing the right side of the brain tells us something about the way the person is feeling. Big generalisations though those statements are, they are not bad working models in practice.
Start looking at people this way. Assess what their eyes are saying differently or in an integrated way. And if you especially want to influence someone, speak to and look at their left eye. It might give you most ready access to where change takes place – the right side of the brain.
And of course have a look at yourself – in the mirror, every morning. Is that a face you would like to meet today? Remember too that left and right are reversed in the mirror image.
That would get the brain working, first thing in the morning, even if slowly.
Read more about Daniel Lieberman: http://edge.org/conversation/-brains-plus-brawn , reported in Edge (Edge 382: Daniel Lieberman - Brain Plus Brawn).