Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.
- Neil Postman
Imagine having a shiny, red Ferrari in your driveway and not knowing how to operate it. Instead, you drive your Ford Pickup Truck to work each day.
This is the way many of us treat creativity--we act as though we’ve lost the keys to the creative side of our mind. We have two options when it comes to work. We can stay locked into our left-brain habits, or break free from learned traditions that constrain us, and learn how to drive the right side of our brains.
I believe that music is key--playing music. For playing a piano, for example, quiets the left side of your brain and readies it to receive answers and insights. What's more, playing piano enhances your ability to solve future problems by expanding your brain’s capabilities.
While attending graduate school, one of my professors told us that many of the great mathematicians--the ones who crafted the earliest theories of mathematics--played the piano. Perhaps they intuitively understood that playing the piano, in concert with their math research, would produce breakthrough results.
Armed with this knowledge, I decided to play my guitar when confronted with computer science problems. What I found was surprising and delightful. While coworkers struggled with problems and relied on brute force, I’d spend a pleasant 30 to 45 minutes playing guitar. And then, like magic, a flood of creative ideas would make my job a breeze. Not scientific proof, but real enough for me.
This week, I chanced upon music research by Dr. Frances Rauscher. In an article about how to think like a genius, Men’s Health magazine refers to 1993 research at the University of California in Irvine, led by Frances Rauscher, Ph. D. In this study, a group of students listened to Mozart’s Piano Sonata K 448. The magazine states: "Immediately afterwards, the students who had listened to the work of Salzbury’s favorite son demonstrated an increase in spatial learning that resulted in eight to nine-point increase in their IQ scores."
Using a little curiosity and a little search engine named Google, I discovered the real story behind Rauscher’s research. What the magazine fails to tell you is that this effect is temporary. Sorry guys! There’s no coach-potato-to-genius methodology. Thinking like a genius, even through music, requires active participation.
Fran Rauscher: The first big finding was the effects of listening to a Mozart piano sonata. We had a group of 36 college students listening to 10 minutes of Mozart, recorded relaxation instructions and silence. After each exercise, we had each do spatial-temporal and other tasks. On average, students scored about 8 to 9 spatial IQ points higher after listening to Mozart. But only their spatial-temporal scores were affected, and the effect was only temporary. Within 15 minutes, the effects dissipated. This suggests the sonata temporarily "primed" neural pathways of the brain that are also used for spatial reasoning.
The findings that are more important are the findings that show improved spatial learning abilities in children who study music...My favorite part of the interview?Fran Rauscher: I have a beautiful quote on my door. "In speaking about his renowned theory of relativity, Einstein said, 'It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.'" Einstein played the violin, and the quote tells of a relationship between Einstein's love of science and love of music.
In Leading the Revolution, business strategist Gary Hamel writes, "In a nonlinear world, only nonlinear ideas will create new wealth." This statement raises several interesting musical questions.
Could companies use music to help develop their intuition and create remarkable products? Several Sundays ago, I watched a morning TV program that profiled Google. The only thing I recall from the show is the white piano that sits in one of Google's offices. Perhaps Google is already using music in business.
I've listened to howling and yowling from executives after they've learned about money wasted on baseless training or bizarre team-building exercises. You've got to wonder, in our nonlinear world, what benefits could music training bring to business? Could musical perception be a driving force in new product development? Is music the key that starts your imagination?
With so many questions, what is certain? We need to escape linear thinking, and see ourselves riding a beam of light to new, imaginative business ideas.