Getting left and right to work together

By Lyndsie Bourgon July - August 2012

The time has come for the legal marketplace to embrace its inner Picasso.

Getting left and right to work together

You’re time-crunched. On deadline. Whatever your problem, you need to solve it quickly. You know it’s time to think outside the box, but creativity sure seems elusive — how can you grasp it, and have it work for you? 

Jonah Lehrer says it’s as simple as exercising a muscle. An expert on creativity and brain science, Lehrer is author of the new book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Creativity, he says, is a science you can master, and tap into more frequently, and with greater skill. Through his writing in books, and for magazines including The New Yorker, Lehrer has tackled everything from daydreaming to playing ping-pong, all of which have left him with a grasp on creativity, understanding its force on everything from business to art. 

“We think about creativity as a really rare gift, and that’s fundamentally wrong,” says Lehrer. “Creativity is a universal trait of human nature. In the end, it’s about problem-solving, making new connections bet­ween old ideas, and that’s certainly relevant whether you’re a scientist or artist, and even if you’re a lawyer.”

Normally, our thought processes are sorted through either the “right brain” or “left brain.” Left-brain tasks are linear and practical — it’s your left brain that solves problems quickly and rationally, and your left brain that helps you sort through information and understand language. Your right brain is the more creative side, and the part of yourself that is more emotional and tuned into things like colour and images. Creativity happens when the two work together, and for that to happen we often need to coax a “flow” between the two. Since creativity is 50 per cent rational thought, Lehrer says we need to consider it as more left brain, less right brain.

Creativity, according to Lehrer, is a victim of our popular culture. Over time, we’ve over-romanticized the practice — we think about it in terms of muses and artists, and consider it unquantifiable. That’s just wrong. “We’ve somehow convinced 90 per cent of people — future lawyers — that they’re not creative. That’s terrible, because creativity really is an important skill for everybody.”

"We think about creativity as a really rare gift, and that’s fundamentally wrong." Jonah Lehrer Creativity Expert

Law might seem like a straightforward job, and one that doesn’t have a lot of wiggle-room in terms of stepping outside the precedent for clients. But lawyers across the country all agree that in this post-recession marketplace, creativity makes all the difference — it brings the market to you, and sets you apart. 

Matthew Peters, a Vancouver-based partner and national leader at McCarthy Tétrault, says creativity is a defining issue of today’s law firm: “I think it’s going to be one of the key differentiators going forward in this market. Firms that don’t get it, and lawyers that don’t get that, I fear for their survival.”

Lyndsie Bourgon is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
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