Mind Over Matter

It’s OK, Keep Your Hands Up

Learners, we hear you. You don’t need to think solely with your brains.

CO_WebSite_BlogHeaders v2-09At some point in your day you’ve probably watched someone talk with their hands. Maybe you’ve done it yourself, and I’m not here to knock you for it. Nothing is wrong with talking with your hands, or working through problems with your hands. Some may call it distracting, but so what. Let the haters hate. You’re actually helping yourself think, according to a team of researchers at Kingston University.

In grade school, thinking with your hands was very explicit. Consider all the times you counted on your fingers — and maybe your toes — to arrive at an answer. Your fingers were like props. On the other end of the spectrum are neuropsychologists who use props to assess memory loss in the elderly. But somewhere in between those two poles, the use of materials, or anything outside our brains to help us think, is seen as a sign of weakness, wrote Kingston University’s Gaëlle Vallée-Tourangeau, a professor of organizational behavior, and Frédéric Vallée-Tourangeau, a psychology professor.

“Our research strongly challenges this assumption. We show instead that people’s thoughts, choices and insights can be transformed by physical interaction with things,” the professors wrote in a recent Newsweek article. “In other words, thinking with your brain alone — like a computer does — is not equivalent to thinking with your brain, your eyes, and your hands — as humans frequently do.”

Check out the article to learn more about their research challenging our assumptions about the use of our hands to facilitate thinking, and then consider this — just as employees learn in different ways, their efforts to make decisions or solve problems varies too — perhaps with no hands, one hand, pencil and paper, or all of the above.

As companies consider the implementation of smart machines and artificial intelligence to augment their work processes and productivity, the Vallée-Tourangeaus’ suggestion reminds me of the beauty of being human. The inputs that shape our thinking aren’t colorless or flat or completely structured, they’re dynamic, ambiguous and noisy, among other things. We think as we take in things through our second-by-second interactions in a way that computers just can’t — at least as far as I know. Whether we literally or figuratively lay those factors on the table, or hold them in hands, our thinking is altered by the environment, and the diverse and compelling solutions we devise — and we’re all the better for it.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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