Donavan PIETERSE '84: Air Force Pilot
Posted 04/19/2011 02:12PM

Connecting Both Sides of Your Brain at HMS

by Donavan PIETERSE '84

I did not want to go to High Mowing.  Let’s get that straight right from the beginning.  I knew my goal was to be a fighter pilot and that didn’t fit in with batik, bookbinding and weaving.  Well, twenty-six years after graduation, I am finally understanding the benefits of working with all corners of my brain. 

In the early 80’s, HMS was very weak on the hard, academic courses I needed to get myself prepared for an aeronautical engineering degree and the rigors of military tactical flying.  Luckily, Lou Rossi and a few other teachers sensed my frustration and scheduled me for extra classes and study halls.  At the time, computers were the size of a go-kart and did very little.   Most of the faculty wanted them off the campus as quickly as possible.  I’m glad they are accepted now.  My recent tour of the science building showed the change in HMS’s curriculum.  I am impressed.

After looking back at my career as a fighter pilot and Air Force officer, I can see High Mowing’s “soft” skills were very important.  In a book I read lately, they talk about the need to connect the left, logical brain and the right, creative brain for success in even the most hard core activities.  Throughout my career, I have been known as an unusual thinker.  I rarely took military regulations and thought patterns at face value.  No one ever confused me with a robotic, rule-following officer.  I always wanted to improve and streamline processes and tactics.  Something about my experience at HMS always made me ask “Why are they telling me to do it this way?”

Several times while flying over Iraq, I was faced with situations which required out-of-the-box thought.  If I kept in step with current guidelines we would be very inefficient.  Operating with my creative, right brain helped to find solutions the rule books didn’t consider.   It could be as simple as asking “Why is the air refueling tanker flying in its established track 100 miles from the fight?”  After asking if we are the only fighters needing fuel, we moved the tanker overhead the area we were fighting. “Why” is not a word coming out of most military mouths. 

On one of my first missions over Iraq, we were ordered to drop bombs on a collection of people we suspected to be digging mines.  Something in my brain said “Ask more questions, this doesn’t look right.”  Why would there be such a large group surrounding the men with shovels?  I called back to the commanders and told them to check it out with a ground team.  Sure enough, we were going to bomb a funeral.  The world doesn’t need more clones.  If you are a HM student, you are going to a school that works on both sides of your brain for a reason. 

So, what did batiking do for me?   It helped my brain connect both sides.  Since I was already comfortable with logic, science and math, the weaving and other art classes I took expanded my right brain.  Without having the two sides working together, you are stuck in a rut. 

Accountants without creative abilities will be able to crunch numbers but not empathize and communicate with the business owners they serve.  Artists without a logical background will struggle financially since marketing their art will be very difficult.  If you are forming a partnership in business make sure one or both of you is strong in each discipline.  Two computer programmers joining up with identical left brain logical skills but no creativity will have a hard time in business.  Guess who can do that work cheaper?  China, India, Phillipines…..  But, what if one programmer has social skills and can get customers involved on a personal level?  That can’t be outsourced overseas.  Be relevant in today’s world by connecting both sides of your brain.

I recommend looking at the half of your education that might not be as easy as the other.  Don’t avoid it by saying “I won’t need that” or “Why would I care about that?”  You should ask why, and now here’s your answer.  Your brain can learn different connections but it needs practice at it.  True, I haven’t woven anything since I left HMS but the creativity it carved out in my skull has helped me in the F-16 as well as in business.  Allow the process to work.