Rediscovering the gift


“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein

As an off the scale intuitive on the Meyers-Briggs chart, I can relate to this. I frequently act on feelings or ideas that draw me out ahead of my ability to explain them to others. In practicing and teaching architecture, I learned that it’s a good discipline to be able to toggle between the two.

Intuition is a wellspring of creativity. When designing a building, I would sometimes get into a trance-like state and just let the ideas keep coming. One of my teaching colleagues used to tell students to draw with such abandon that their rolled trace paper might as well flow from the same endless source. I would get everything out on paper, no editing, just draw until I ran out of steam. Then take a break. When I came back, I would ask myself, what do we have here?

If it’s not balanced, the work suffers. Overly rational work is boring. One has only to think of soul-killing suburban shopping centers or big-box storeland. Nothing in those environments speaks to the human spirit, let alone our relationship with any other living beings. You might notice that much of the built environment we move through every day falls into this category. No wonder depression is rampant in our world; there is so little beauty in our surroundings.

At the other end of the scale, overly intuitive work is inaccessible to others and might not stand up to the laws of physics. Think of Frank Gehry and the contortions his people have to go through to get his buildings to stand up. I once attended a lecture by one of his lieutenants on the Bilbao project and was appalled at the waste of materials involved. That building consists of two complete buildings, as required by the realities of statics and weather.

Maybe I’m a snob, but I’m more impressed with masterpieces that set a high bar for both beauty and function, like, say, Renzo Piano’s addition to the Art Institute of Chicago. (I would cite Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, but it turned out to have been so daring structurally that it had to be rebuilt a few years ago at a cost running to many millions of dollars. Still, I’d take a falling-down Fallingwater over bulbous Bilbao any day.)

It’s similar to the relationship between a writer and editor. The best writing starts with unbridled intuition and is shaped by the editor’s ability to sense patterns and relationships, to be impartial and logical. Even the most beautiful writing can only stay in if it advances the story. With practice and experience, this dance may take place inside one person. Even so, a good editor will always see things the writer has missed.

Getting back to Einstein’s warning, a society that devalues intuition and elevates reason closes off access to the fresh perspectives and insights that we so desperately need to negotiate the challenging times ahead. It’s a good reminder that no one person has all the answers or even the best approach. Because some of us are more intuitive and others are more naturally rational, it’s going to take intentional collaboration and open minds and hearts to see us through.

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