Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Your brain on collaboration

Today I bought a book: I think the title is Your Brain on Music. As is often the case, I bought it online and will not have it in my hands for a few days. It's by a rock musician turned neuroscientist and one of the things it talks about is how many parts of your brain must work together to make music. It claims that music integrates even more mental resources than language does.

That got me thinking. I wonder how much of my brain lights up when I am actively collaborating. My training partner and I often lead trainings together - both of us at the front of the room, co-creating the experience we offer our clients. When we are at our very best, it feels like every part of my mind is fully engaged - tracking information, drawing on memories, creating new thoughts and sometimes, a new way to think. There's lots of traffic on my neural pathways and it's moving fast.

This may account for much of the difficulty we have in tracing where thoughts or practices begin, and who is leading whom at any given moment. We always work together - sometimes while we are working at different tasks in different cities. We have so much experience of thinking together that we continue the process even when we are not physically in the same place. That means that whenever we think about business, more of our brains must be lighting up than would happen if we were working alone.

This does not mean that we always agree or even that we always complement one another. I, for one, am capable of internal disagreement. I am sometimes of two minds about something even before I consider what Chris might think or say. Collaborating does not always mean being in sync or being in agreement.

It does always mean that more parts of my brain are actively engaged. From a neurological standpoint, the argument is generally that more is better. The more parts of our brains fire and wire together, the healthier and more resourceful our brains become. Active collaboration - involving sensory inputs, the centres for reading expression in faces and voices, reason and language and memory - active collaboration means engaging lots of each brain in the task at hand. It means feeling one's mind expanding (not always comfortably) even when exploring a problem that has me (temporarily) stumped.

Sometimes people have asked why we stick together - we live in different cities, have different backgrounds and interests, and often have schedules that do not fit together easily. Often I have said that we complement each other, that we can do different things together than we could separately. That is one kind of truth. Another kind might be that we are simply smarter together than we are apart - not because we share information, but because we use more of each of our brains thinking together than we would if we were working alone.

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