The “Left Brain v/s Right Brain” Fallacy & The New World Order

Our Left Brain tells us – based on reasoning – that, Left Brain deals with the Science & reasoning while the Right Brain deals with Art & Creativity.

Left Brain Right Brain - Mercedes Benz Ad

Great Ad Illustration by Mercedes Benz. (Click for enlarged view)

Therein lies the fallacy of the “Left Brain – Right Brain” dichotomy that has developed over time and frozen into over minds. For a long time, I have followed the same understanding of the Creativity v/s Rationalism.

We’ve gone through more than 200 years of evolution through the economies driven by industrialization and operations, to lead ourselves to train our minds more left-brain-wise than the other, for progress in terms of increased production. This has also led to the stronger reinforcement of the dichotomy-based theory behind the operations of the brain (as brain got more and more Left Brain oriented in practice, asking for rationale).

However, the broader context of Right Brain would tell us that it’s not as simple as it seems – not boxed in two hemispheres, but the two hemispheres operate more profoundly in broader context. And that’s what Right Brain deals in – Broader Context and Holisticity.

Lain McGilchrist has brilliantly covered this in his book “The Master and His Emissary”. Here’s an awesome RSA Animate illustration of one of his speeches on the subject.

Implication on Workforce and Business?

Through the Industrial Economy, we focused on building the Left-Brain trained work force. This workforce was oriented to bring order and harmony, and hence to bring efficiency to processes and systems. So far so good, but we took this further into Knowledge Economy. Success of most Tech firms would tell us otherwise, but this success is not sustainable in long term due to the inherent contradictions of the requirements of Knowledge Economy with the way our organizations are trained and conceived.

Few of the simple/basic challenges that we see today –

  • The Engineering thought Process being thrust upon Software Developers, and expecting them to bring up Creative solutions in the same Left Brain Orderly Context
  • A Designer struggling with the a number of “pre-planned & estimated” creative assignments
  • The Innovation Models – Trying to find the Science bit in the Creative Quest. We have Art of Innovation, Science of Innovation, the Factory models of Innovation…
  • …and so on. There are more convoluted examples, but these should do for the sack of argument for now! 🙂

This contradiction seems to be everywhere.

Prima facie, None of this seems “contradictory”. The problem is when the left-brain does the strategy & planning – that requires a broader context and intuitive input too – in the narrowly, scientifically modeled context. This is especially problematic when applied to work items that involve more Right Brain activity (Broader Context, Intuitive Thinking) than the Left Brain.

There’s going to be a change in the World Order of Business & Workforce.

  • Rise of Multitude of smaller organizations that would build the right mix of Left-brain and Right Brain activity in workplace
  • Big Organizations struggling with the scale issue when it comes to replicating a Right Brain activity across the board
  • A more prominent growth profile for Right Brain profiles across the hierarchy, instead of being limited to smaller creative / R&D silos or at non-operational senior level positions

And as I think about it this way, one of my observations for Business Strategy is that we see more and more Black Swan Successes in business. They seem logical and comprehensible in “retrospect”, however, not definable at the time of their formulation. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram are just tip of the iceberg with plenty of such examples.

These are driven by Right Brain Strategy built on Intuition and Broader context of ecosystem, than the rational Left Brain driven Business Plan / Strategy in a narrowly focused environment. And that would explain why these are not rationally foreseen, but only explained in retrospect thus. A Right Brain person may be able to predict such success, but cannot explain or rationalize it either.

Technology has enabled new phenomena – such as Long Tail, Free Business Models, Multi-Sided Business Platforms – resulting in more such Black Swans to appear. And, this seems to be just the beginning of the overturn. In the new World Order, The balance of Left-brain and Right-brain will prevail, in individual success, as well as in Business.

Could it become a Right Brain Driven economy instead? My guess is as hazardous as yours. My best guess would be (biased as a proponent of a balance between the brain hemispheres!) a more balanced play field.


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