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How non-dominant hand can steer brain to greater creativity

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 20, 2012 - The first Bill Donius I knew was one that flickered on the television screen all across the region. You may recall having seen him: he played himself in commercials for Pulaski Bank, his family’s business, and the role he played, and his day job as well, was chairman and CEO of the bank. In both roles he exuded self-confidence, approachability and friendliness. He brought new customers to the bank through the successful ad campaign and was effective in bringing innovative ideas to the operation of the bank as well.

About four years ago, however, at the relatively young age of 50, Donius stepped down as chief executive of the bank, and year ago resigned from its board. He had other things to do, some of them of the

“flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying”


He wanted to see the world and to write. Some endeavors hung on from his banking world: For example, he served a two-year term on the Thrift Institutions Advisory Council of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board in Washington and was on the board of America's Community Bankers, where he chaired the for-profit subsidiary board.

Nowadays, he’s active in the Human Rights Campaign, and was chair of its recent, enormously successful benefit dinner. Among his board memberships are the St. Louis Art Museum, Maryville University, the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation, Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS), Forest Park Forever and — hooray for our team — the St. Louis Beacon. He has contributed commentary to us and writes regularly for the Huffington Post as well.

Back when he and I were talking about the possibility of his coming on the Beacon's board, Donius told me something else was pressing — an endeavor other than finance and philanthropy and journalism.

He was working on a book about the brain, he told me. I admit I was incredulous, akin to my writing a book on string theory. I wondered what someone with Donius’s liberal arts and business credentials could possibly add to the literature of brain science, a field growing richer all the time, thanks to enormous technological advances and elegant clinical investigations. Some healthy helping of chutzpah had to have been involved.

Still, because of his enthusiasm and energy and his evident commitment to producing this book on the subject and out of curiosity, I asked if I might read his pages as they were written. He asked me if I’d provide comments. The deal was simple. I’d be honest and direct with my suggestions; and he’d take them or leave them. No one would get his feelings hurt.

I found myself intrigued with his ideas, which have to do with learning to use the untapped resources of the right side of the brain. I suggested he bring more factual material to the book; I believed that to be persuasive, the book had to serve the reader healthy doses of science, along with anecdotal evidence. He put the science in; one of his first “real” editors told him to take all that stuff out. In the end, the science returned.

But along with that was lots of experimentation and interviewing. His ideas caught the attention of institutions and were tried out it in high schools, colleges and businesses. The results were impressive. And last week, his literary “Thought Revolution” was released.

Donius calls this book a manual for individuals — a how-to guide for folks interested in pushing their intellectual and creative boundaries.

I won’t give away the process, but basically it involves using the non-dominant hand to take dictation and to write answers to questions posed by Donius, or whoever is in charge. A clip of Donius’s appearance on Fox News last week, is instructive, and serves to remove any aspects of the process that might seem scary.

As for my experience, it was revelatory. And once the publishing wheels on his book began to turn, Donius asked me to write a promotional blurb for it. A good chunk of what I wrote there works pretty well here, so what follows is a recycling, with some editing and trimming, of stuff swiped from the blurb.

Here goes:

So many times I’ve thought, “Oh I could never do that because of this. The “that” is no one thing but an entry made on a list first composed in early childhood and one that continues to be written until the present moment. The “this” file is hefty also, although in general “this” has to do with fear of failing or fear of making someone, anyone, angry with me.

When Donius began talking to me about brain function and the employment of exercises involving the non-dominant hand and, along with that work, the engagement of the right brain, I regarded it as well-intentioned, new-age, self-help baloney. Then I gave up, and I struggled with putting my left hand to work.

The results, at first especially, weren’t exactly Palmer cursive-writing method approved. But industry with promise of paying significant, satisfying rewards usually is not pretty to begin with. As my left-hand writing became not only more legible but also more liberated, I began to have the strength and the grit to clear obstacles to a creative enterprise I’d avoided starting, literally, all my adult-life long.

In the blurb, I recommend the book to potential customers, but this is not the place for endorsements. Suffice it to say that for me, the Donius method is something I respect, and for me, it has been helpful, indeed.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, “Thought Revolution” will receive its public launching here, at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 225 N. Euclid Ave., at Lindell Boulevard. Donius will discuss the book and sign copies of it, using, one assumes, whichever hand he chooses.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.