A total stranger made a startling revelation to me on a recent plane trip. It was as if I had somehow strapped a lie detector onto him. The result was like watching a multi-car pileup in real time--chilling, yet at the same time fascinating.
A bit of backstory first. For most of the past thirty years, I've been the passenger on the plane who avoids entering into conversations with seatmates on plane rides. I've always had more work to do than time in which to do it; plane rides offered great portals of "found" time. In the five years since departing my public company CEO job, however, my life has become far less stressful, resulting in a change of attitude toward plane trips. Don't worry--I have not become the chatty guy you want to run from on the plane. I've simply rediscovered an interest in others that apparently had been sublimated during my former busy, productive life.
On the particular trip referenced above, I was flying from San Francisco to St. Louis. I was feeling upbeat, as the Ideation session I had conducted that day had gone well. After unwinding and listening to music, I entered into conversation with my seatmate. It began innocently enough by his inquiring about the nature of my trip to the Bay Area. (Ideation is a topic which often leads to a stimulating conversation.)
In this instance, I asked my seatmate if he would like to learn about the methodology on which my book is based. If he answered "Yes," I would offer to take him through a short writing and thinking exercise in which the only requirements would be pen, paper and an open mind. My seatmate answered "Yes," possibly thinking that this was a long flight and the exercise would take up some time.
I began by asking the question, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be?" As you might guess, this triggered a laugh. This opening question is one way, however, to demonstrate the Nobel Prize-winning thesis of Dr. Roger Sperry that hemispheric division in our brains allow for the independence of function between the more logical, analytical left hemisphere versus the more intuitive, creative right hemisphere. Surprisingly different answers to this question can result from persons answering this question twice, using first their dominant hand and then their non-dominant hand to access the two hemispheres.
"Bear" answered my seatmate, after writing with his dominant (left-brained) hand. I was not surprised by this answer, as it seemed to be a good physical representation of this large, substantial former college football player."Cat" was the answer written with his non-dominant hand, an exercise which activated his right brain. Very different answers.
Of course my seatmate was intrigued about how he came up with such different answers, and specifically, where "Cat" came from. I then asked him to write with his dominant hand the characteristics he thought he shared with a cat. "Clever, Intuition, Self-Preservation, Survival and Analytical" were his responses. When we returned to the right brain for an answer to the same question, he wrote, "Strong, Inquisitive, Sly, Sneaky, and Self-Reliant." His eyebrows raised a bit as he reflected on what he had written. I assured him that answers derived from the right brain are not necessarily politically correct; in fact, they're often brutally honest and hence of real value to those interested in becoming more self-aware.
"Why do you think you wrote 'Sly and Sneaky'," I asked. He replied by writing, "Do anything to win, Make it happen attitude, and Dependent." He then explained how some of these behaviors were shaped by sports over the course of his life. "These same qualities have made me successful in my sales job, although I'm a bit frustrated I've not been promoted when some of the guys I started with at the company have moved up."
This would be a "plain" plane story if not for the last round prior to touchdown. When I suggested my seatmate respond to the "Sly, Sneaky" response with his non-dominant hand, what flowed from his right brain was "Bend my morals, Lie to my vendors, Cheat, Negotiation." He gasped, "Wow, I can't believe I wrote those things." I asked, "Are they accurate?" He said, "Yes, they are. I'm not proud of what I wrote certainly, and perhaps I've answered my own question as to why I've not been promoted. I suppose I need to figure this out."
I've written about the lies we tell ourselves in, Thought Revolution: How to Unlock Your Inner Genius. Most of us get very good at telling ourselves lies and they become ingrained over time.
Fortunately, the right brain serves as a great lie detector for helping us break through these lies that serve as obstacles and barriers as to who we want to be and what we want from life.
Footnote: I've kept in touch by e-mail with my seatmate. In the months since our trip he stated that he's been busy at work and realizes he's committing one of the "lies we tell ourselves" by saying to himself, "I'll get to it later," referring to when he'll take the time to read the book I gave him.