Spaces, Points and the Brain

I was speaking with a project manager the other day who complained that his boss was always telling him to just get to the point. Translating complex issues down to a single point proved difficult for this person and the situation frustrated both the boss and the project manager. What makes one person comfortable focusing on points and another inclined to focus on the relationships between those points? Is there something fundamentally different in how these two people think?

The human brain has a bi-cameral structure, with right side and left side. These two sides can vary in dominance. For instance, because of this variation we find some people are left-hand dominant and some people are right-hand dominant. These variations are not limited to handedness, they exist in all parts of the brain including the process of memory.

A search in Wikipedia on “working memory” yielded this gem:

A review of numerous studies shows areas of activation during working memory tasks scattered over a large part of the cortex. There is a tendency for spatial tasks to recruit more right-hemisphere areas, and for verbal and object working memory to recruit more left-hemisphere areas.

What does this mean? A friend who has studied the brain related this to me in terms of music. The left cortex is inclined to remember music by the notes. The right cortex is inclined to remember music by the relationships between all the sounds. I can just imagine a conversation between a lefty and a righty regarding a piece of music:

Lefty: What note is being played?
Righty: Well, they are all playing different notes, the guitar, keyboard, bass and vocals. Some are playing notes and some are playing chords. And the guitar is out of tune on one of the strings so it is hard to say what “note” that is.
Lefty: Just tell me the note!
Righty: Well, they are playing in the key of C and at that point in the piece they are on the dominant harmonic tone.
Lefty: Fine, C. That is what I wanted to know.
Righty: Well, actually the dominant in the key of C is G, but there are lots of notes that go into that.
Lefty: Fine, then G. That is all I wanted to know.
Righty thinking: Lefty just doesn’t understand.
Lefty thinking: Why does this have to be so difficult?

Have you ever witnessed this type of conversation between co-workers, or have you been involved in one yourself? It appears that some of us may have a strong inclination for object-oriented processing and some of us may have an inclination towards spatial processing. Even in the roles we play at work, some roles lean more heavily on object-oriented thinking and some on spatial thinking. Certainly we even see this inclination at a cultural level, in particular between Eastern and Western cultures. We need to be sensitive to these inclinations and understand the perspectives of others in order to build rapport and to better communicate with one another.


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