Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Styles of thought and the selection of a president.

Here is an interesting idea on the way we think from "Brains in the White House" by  Karl Albrecht in Psychology Today:

Our everyday experience tells us that some people are very logical, analytical, systematic, and procedural in the way they think—and talk........(W)e characterize left-brain thinkers as “Blue” thinkers. 
In contrast, people.......we can describe as “Red” thinker tend to rely on intuition, hunches, visceral judgments, and a kind of general radar for situations. 
Each of these two contrasting patterns, Red and Blue, shows up in two variations. One is the concrete focus—immediate, geared to the here and now, and oriented to direct experience. The other focus is abstract, attuned to conceptual, imaginary, hypothetical, or future-oriented thinking. 
This gives us four combinations:
1) logical/analytic and concrete, or “Blue Earth;” 
2) intuitive and concrete, or “Red Earth;” 
3) logical/analytic and abstract, or “Blue Sky;” and
4) intuitive and abstract, or “Red Sky.”
He goes on to apply these categories to the candidates based on his reading of their cognitive styles:

  • Barack Obama: Blue Earth—logical/analytic and concrete orientation. Raised as a lawyer and a law scholar, he’s a serial problem solver. He takes on issues one at a time. We haven’t heard many references from him to the “big picture,” or the grand vision, which is popular with Sky-type thinkers.
  • Joe Biden: Red Earth—intuitive and concrete thinker. Intuitive, down to earth, people-focused, he prefers action to deep thinking. He tends to frame issues and problems in practical, human terms.
  • Mitt Romney: Red Earth—intuitive and concrete. "If you analyze his speeches and conversations, you might be struck by the absence of structure, logic, and linearity. Much of his financial success could be attributed to instinct, timing, and opportunity—and the assistance of experts—rather than an intensely analytical orientation."
  • Paul RyanBlue Earth—logical/analytic and concrete orientation. "He won the role of the Republican Party’s “budget guru.” His speeches and conversations display a linear, analytical perspective, a love of cause-and-effect ideation, and a preference for logical argument."
Dwight Eisenhower was a Blue Sky thinker.......Harry S Truman was a Red Earth. John F. Kennedy was a Red Sky. Lyndon Johnson was also a Red Earth. Richard Nixon was a Blue Sky. Jimmy Carter was a Blue Earth. Ronald Reagan was a Red Earth and a Red Sky. George Bush the elder was a Red Earth. So was George Junior. Bill Clinton was a Red Sky.
I am not sure I agree with the judgments of this management consultant. As I look at Obama for example, I see him putting forth a long term vision for foreign policy (more focus on the Pacific, a new relationship with Russia and with the Muslim world, ending wars and a long term peace). I see him stressing the long term in domestic policy (talking about building the intellectual and physical infrastructure for economic development and a medium term strategy to deal with the debt). You should  make your own judgments. You should also think whether you want the president and vice president to share the same style or to have complementary styles.

We want the United States to be successful, and hope that the President we chose will contribute to that success. The success of the president (not the same as the success of the country under the president) will depend on the team he brings to his administration, his success in dealing with the Congress, his ability to communicate and inspire the public, and the challenges he faces as well as his cognitive style.

Moreover, I suspect that different cognitive styles lend themselves to different periods of history and to the challenges presented to the country in those periods. FDR was an intuitive thinker, generating lots of ideas and willing to try them out and fail if a high enough portion proved successful. That was perhaps the best kind of mind to deal with the Depression and World War II, where there was such uncertainty that other approaches might have proven inadequate. On the other hand, FDR never lost sight of the objective -- to bring the nation back to prosperity, to win the war.

There is some evidence that intuitive thinkers do better in situations of great complexity, that the whole brain, conscious and unconscious, does better with such problems, and we take the results of the brain's synthesis of those deliberations as "intuition".

So is the next term's president going to be faced with relatively concrete problems of stopping digging ourselves deeper into a hole, or will he be able to focus on charting a course toward a long term successful future? And does it matter, in comparison with his ability to form and lead a team, to deal with the Congress, and to communicate with the electorate?

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