Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Understanding the Two Executives in Your Brain

We talk about this more in The Mislabeled Child, but the idea of the brain's executive function is important for every human activity because it's the top in top-down processing - the CEO who directs, prioritizes, and implements our action.

In the playground, the classroom, and the clinic, executive function usually comes up as what a child doesn't have - or at least have enough of...but we think what the neurobiology and clinical observations really support is the existence of two executives in the brain. And when practical dilemmas arise, it's often the case that a great imbalance exists between executive preference of the student and the executive preference of his teacher.

The two executives in the brain are the chief operations officer (COO) and the chief creativity officer (CCO), or graphically:

The COO is more directly oriented toward goals and direct causal relationships (left hemisphere-dominant), while the CCO is more loosely oriented toward associations and relationships, and surprise, conflict, and novelty (right hemisphere-dominant) are his end game.

It really does take a perspective shift for some people to recognize the legitimacy of the CCO as "the second executive". ADD and ADHD frameworks tend to be oriented toward "COO - or - nothing" categorizations...but dying companies know well the punishments of COO-only leadership, and with any luck more parents and teachers will recognize this as well.

Neuroleadership does not come only in one flavor, but, as with corporations, there can be wide variations between the power balance of Operations and the Creativity Officers that are successful in their own niche.

This is a great topic to blog more on in the future - lots of implications for teaching and training, as well as facing up to motivation. As a trend, children tend to prefer their CCO, use more Operations as they develop.

Look at the brain preference of children vs. adults in their generation of verbs - starts out stronger on the right, then shifts to the left by young adulthood. We don't mean to suggest that we should trade off our Creativity Officers for Operations - in fact, there is a great deal of evidence that complex creative or novel thinking involves good cooperation between the two executives. But that we'll save for another day!

2002 Review of Executive Function pdf
Right Prefrontal in Associative Learning
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Reasoning and Real-Life Decision Making
Rule Use Development in Children
Verb Generation

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