The Space Between Us: An Approach to Collaborative Innovation
Innovation requires the ability to question the prevailing reality, which in turn requires that we are able to recognize ourselves as the source of the narrative underlying it, or at the very least as the source of the agreement that keeps it in place. In other words, innovation implies, first of all, that we are able to distinguish reality as a story and ourselves as the storytellers. This is just as true whether one lives in a scientific materialistic society or in an indigenous animistic one. If innovation requires the ability to question the prevailing reality, then the competence to engage in that kind of questioning requires the ability to collaborate. Yes, it is true that there always have been a few geniuses who seemed able to manage it alone in the solitude of their library or laboratory, but the questioning now needed is far too large and complex for a purely individual effort. Moreover, even these apparent lone geniuses didn’t actually act alone. They were in contact with the work of contemporaries through reading their publications or through correspondence as well as sometimes even through direct conversations. None of them operated in a total vacuum.
In the last few decades there has been quite a bit of inquiry into the nature of insight. For example, in a study done by brain researchers Edward Bowden, Mark Jung-Beeman and their team, the results of which were published in July 2005 in “Trends in Cognitive Sciences”, the classic “aha” moment of insight was discovered to be associated with a surge of activity in the right hemisphere of the brain. However, closer examination showed that this surge was actually caused by a reduction in left hemisphere activity, which normally would inhibit right hemisphere functioning.
Why is this important or even relevant? Because it is the left hemisphere that tells us who we are, which is to say, that continually reminds us of our identity and of its place in the story. It is the right hemisphere, which operates more intuitively and holistically, that produces the moment of insight by being freed up to make connections that are otherwise not obvious. Thus, not only is the facticity of the prevailing reality anchored in the activity of the brain, but so also is the ability to question that reality. This theme is developed further by Iain McGilchrist in his brilliant book, “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.” McGilchrist explores how the two hemispheres interact with each other to shape our experience of reality.