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Bruce Holland

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Drawing On The Right Hand Side of the Brain

Research shows that most companies want be more innovative. The results of a recent Bain and Co. survey of more than 200 global senior executives showed 80% of the respondents rated "becoming more innovative" amongst their top three priorities for achieving company success. Two-thirds admitted their businesses were not close to realizing full potential and 91% of executives across all industries surveyed called increasing the company's capacity for innovation critical to creating future competitive advantage.

This Strategic Snippet is the third in a series, on how to build more innovation into your organisation. It deals with an important tool to improve innovation ... one that's available to everyone, but most people are either too scared of it or don't know about it. The right brain is an image processor. It deals with pictures and emotions, feelings and relationships. It is creative, intuitive, trusting. It is far better connected to the enormous power of the subconscious than the left brain. Compared with the subconscious, the conscious mind is very limited and yet this is where most of us try to solve our problems.

The reason I took up art in my forties was to develop this connection with my right brain and subconscious.

My first introduction to drawing was through Betty Edward's book: "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". This book has become a classic and helped many people who believed they were incapable of drawing, including me! It shows techniques so you can consciously access the right side of the brain. Basically it helps you see (and draw) what is there rather than what you think is there.

I will never forget one of the exercises in Edward's book. I was asked to draw a quite complicated outline of the face and figure of a man. The result was a disaster! Next I was asked to turn the book upside down and draw the same outline again. I could not believe what happened, instead of drawing what my brain said I should draw this exercise turned off my left brain long enough to give my right brain a chance to simply draw the shape that was in front of me.

Now, to put it simply, I literally see differently. It's hard to explain but before I looked and did not see. Now I see. Seeing is an important part of creativity, just think about the words we use for innovation: "I see it now!", "Throwing light on the subject", "Insight", "Getting the picture", "Suddenly the light dawns".

Everyone is an artist. Your signature is an important piece of creative art. It tells an enormous amount about your character and personality. It is your fundamental mark so original that it takes an expert to copy it. And we do it without thinking - interesting isn't it?

While I will never be a great artist, I have surprised and delighted myself at some of the stuff I've produced. The main benefit is in 'seeing' what is there rather than what my left brain thought was there. When my left brain was in control my drawing was stick-like, now I can look at the actual shapes and draw them without thinking, indeed my best paintings are those that I quite literally can not remember doing; a sure sign that I moved out of left brain thinking and into right brain thinking.

My painting above was an example where that happened. It's not Van Gogh but it's not bad for an ex bean-counter.

If you promise not to laugh, have a look at my other attempts/BruceHolland.ExamplesOfHisArtWork

The Link Between Art and Organisational Innovation

Having played with art for over 10 years, I have no doubt that it's an important tool for building creativity in individuals and innovation in organisations. It also helps strategic thinking.

In my work which focusses on developing creativity in groups and organisations I use drawing techniques quite often and in many ways it flavours my whole approach to strategy, including the need for balance between creativity and analysis, systems approaches that show the interrelationships and linkages within the system and Appreciative Inquiry that searches out the good and applifies it.

I have found art to be a wonderful tool to develop strategic thinking and creativity because it not only helps organisations 'see' the positive forms of the images and patterns that are in front of them, but also the negative forms that are missing. It helps them perceive the relationships and proportions of the problem, including the things that don't change or can't change. They become better at perceiving the lights and shadows and the edges of a problem.

Where to Go to Help Your Group or Organisation Become More Innovative

If you want help making your group or organisation more innovative I am your expert.

I am trained as an accountant and value left brain thinking, however my experience shows that the big gap in New Zealand business is on the innovation side and much of my work comes from people who want to make their organisations more innovative.

Where to Go to Help Your Creativity as an Individual

At the individual level there are three local resources that I have found useful and recommend if you would like to develop your creativity:


NZ Art Schools

NZ Art Schools is run by Malcolm Sime, a successful businessman who has developed such a passion for seeing others develop their painting skills that he has turned part of his "warehouse" in to one of the best equipped art studios around.

The thing that's special about Malcolm's work is how safe and simple he has made it.

In my experience it's important that people succeed the first time in art otherwise they throw it all away as too difficult. If you enrolled in one of his lessons I could almost guarantee that you would end up with a painting that will impress your family and your friends. And boost your enthusiasm and confidence. In fact Malcolm offers a money back guarantee of success with all his classes. This means that you can walk out at any stage, right up until the painting is finished, leave everything behind and your money is cheerfully refunded.

Many people are put off doing art because they don't know what to buy and it's expensive. Malcolm has made it simple by supplying everything from professionally mounted canvas, paint, brushes and all equipment. You just roll up to the studio at Seaview. He also has a 3 hour "Pizza and Painting" social event or organise a "Team Building Painting Exercise" for any number up to 20 participants for between 2 and 6 hours.

If you want to see the painting I did at Malcolm's class, click on the next link and look at the first painting of a wave. When I did this I had been painting for several years but others in the class were total novices and produced work almost as good.

Contact: NZ Art Schools, 61 Seaview Road, PO Box 31-332, Lower Hutt, Phone: +64 4 568 4126, email: or

Mary Archibald

I went to Mary Archibald's classes for several years and found that she was always enthusiastic and helpful.

Contact: Archibald's Art Supplies, 95 Main Rd, Upper Hutt. Phone +64 4 939 2112.

The Learning Connection

Jonathan Milne is the Director of The Learning Connexion. Jonathan has a personal passion for developing creativity at an individual level and a genius for doing it.

Contact: The Learning Connexion, PO Box 9811 Wellington. Phone +64 4 383 9682.

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture, Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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