Tag Archives: Albert Einstein

Tim Brown: Using Visual Thinking Is How Your Brain Naturally Simplifies Things

If you’re like most of us, when you look for a Table of Contents in a book, you’ll expect to find a series of Chapter headings and sub-titles. So it might come as a shock when you see that the Table of Contents in Tim Brown’s 2009 bestseller Change by Design is a two-page mind map (see picture).  You might dismiss this as just a gimmick or a cutesy way to illustrate the book.  If that’s your reaction, you’ve probably been conditioned to think mostly in words, and if so, you could be failing to use a big portion of your brain – typically referred to as your “right brain.”

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Actually, science has now shown that 50% of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information (much, but not all, of it concentrated in the brain’s right hemisphere). The upshot is that you can be failing to use that part of your brain if you’re ignoring the many ways to think and communicate visually. It could even be the case that for the brain to function optimally, we need to think visually, use visual tools, and communicate in pictures when appropriate. So why is it still so difficult to buy into the idea that a Table of Contents could be portrayed visually?

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Chalk that up to an education system that for the most part, until recently, shunned visual thinking as a serious method.

The tables are turning, to use a good, visual metaphor.

Much research now shows that the brain works best when both the left side (logic, words, reason) and the right side (visuals, the mind’s eye, feeling) have been developed and work well together.

Some of history’s greatest minds must have understood this intuitively. Einstein, a scientist and mathematician, claimed that his first love was actually music and said he couldn’t live without the joy of playing the violin daily. Thomas Jefferson, hailed for his way with words and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence, was also an avid artist who sketched and designed frequently.

“All children draw,” Tim Brown writes. “But somewhere in the course of becoming logical, verbally oriented adults, they unlearn this elemental skill.”

A growing chorus of experts are showing that training the right side of the brain is not just for the sake of the art itself. It’s the art that makes the whole brain better. Brown explains how it works for him: “When I use drawing to express an idea, I get different results than if I try to express it with words, and I usually get to them more quickly.”

The process of thinking visually can also help you tap into a part of yourself you might otherwise have missed if you only think in words. That’s the message of Sir Ken Robinson in his latest book, Finding Your Element, the sequel to his bestseller The Element, which is about discovering your unique talents and passions, and building your career around them. “To find your Element,” he says, “you may need to see yourself differently.” The key word there, actually, is “see.” It’s a visual process.

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Robinson himself has become an advocate of mind mapping, the visual technique illustrated above by Tim Brown. “To create a mind map, you begin by putting the core idea or them in the center of the page and draw a circle around it. You then draw branching lines fro the center circle that represent related thoughts and ideas. You can have as many of these branching lines as you like and each of them may divide into two or more other lines of thought.” As an example, Sir Ken himself offers a kind of visual table of contents – “a mind map of the structure and main themes of this book” (see picture).

It’s an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In today’s world where people have little time to read even five hundred words, the new motto may become that a sketch is worth a thousand words, and it only takes a few seconds to bang out a quick sketch.




Steve Jobs Simplified the Decision to Build the iPad by Asking the Right Question

In January 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple iPad to the world, he showed a slide with a smart phone on the left, a laptop on the right, and a big question mark right in the middle.

Steve Jobs Introducing the iPad, 2010Then he said the question they asked at Apple was “is there room for a third category of device in the middle? … something that’s between a laptop and a smart phone … and of course, we’ve pondered this question for years as well.”

By asking the question this way, Jobs explained, the design team was forced to design a new tablet that could do things the other two devices could not. For this third category of device to be successful, it would have to be both highly portable and great for surfing the web, reading ebooks, sending email, playing games, and so on. That’s exactly what the iPad became.

Whatever you’re working on right now, does your success or failure depend on whether you’re asking the right question in the first place? Yes is the common thread running through the stories of dozens of game-changing innovators.

Why was Apple’s tablet the first to succeed in the marketplace? The iPad was launched in 2010, but tablet-size computers had been around since the early 2000s. Why was Jobs the one to make them a success? Isn’t this an example of the power of asking the right question in the first place?

Albert Einstein attributed much of his success to his focus on first asking the right question. He famously put it this way: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Einstein was clearly trying to tell us how crucial it is to get the question right in the first place.

So how exactly do you do that? How do you figure out if you’ve asked the right question in the first place?

Einstein’s answer is clear: it’s not easy. Take the time to do it right. And take heart also by realizing that your education probably didn’t teach you much about asking questions – most of your education was about giving answers to someone else’s questions.

MacBook with Several Question Mark KeysHere’s a tip: find that key on your keyboard with the question mark. Make it your new favorite key. Start using it more often. Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein would say it’s likely your first step to finding the new solution you’re looking for.

Daniel Gogek

(Next post on Monday … till then, D.G.)