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Left vs. Right

28 September 2008 2,054 views 7 Comments

This post is not really about politics. Sure the presidential campaign continues marching towards an exciting conclusion. Sure a sudden bevy of vocal, cynical, and amateurish political observers and bloggers are loudly decrying the two presidential candidates as basically undifferentiated “clowns.” There are major differences between the two parties and the two candidates – would we really be so divided as a nation and would our political debates be as heated if they are essentially the same? Please people, let’s be respectful of our diverse differences and acknowledge that there are a mosaic of opinions on how best to govern this country. Often, these opinions diverge widely.

The Left vs. Right Phenomenon
This post is actually about the dichotomy of “right-brained” people who think intuitively and creatively vs. “left-brained” people who think analytically and logically. There are proponents on both sides who contend that their side is better (not unlike our political pundits). Books such as A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future and The Rise of the Creative Class make a forceful case for the right-brainers. Other books such as Building Left-Brain Power and Being Logical make an equally convincing case for the left-brainers.

Analytical vs. Creative Diagram

We are Divided
In my work at Design Engine Lab, I interact with designers who believe that creativity and art reign supreme. They dismiss “soulless” businesspeople and “middle-managers” who think logically. When I interact with businesspeople in the venture capital or private equity worlds, they pay little attention to “frivolous” artists who speak in soft language and cannot deliver against measurable hard metrics and milestones. Both sides contain some truth but they are more wrong than right.

Connecting the Dots
The fervent advocacy of the different hemispheres of thinking by their respective fanatics threatens to create a shortage of generalists or whole-brainers. In this increasingly competitive world, we need generalists who can traverse both sides of the fence with aplomb and deft agility. The ability to communicate and “connect the dots” or weave multi-disciplinary fields of knowledge will emerge as the premium skills of this century. Effective communication has always been a desired skill but we will increasingly need leaders who can communicate with engineers and financial analysts on the left side along with artists and storytellers on the right side. Leaders will need to tell compelling stories and extract critical analytic insight from a swamp of data with equal mastery.

Analytical vs. Creative vs. Whole Brain

Mental Agility
This video makes a quick and fun exercise to explore whether you are right-brained or left-brained. How does the figure rotate? Do you see it rotating clockwise or counter-clockwise? I can make it spin either way in my vision.

I’ve tried all my life to expose myself to a myriad of wide-ranging experiences. If you look at my diverse background of life and career experiences, you’ll find it very difficult to typecast me in any single role. My goal is to be able to add value and lead whether I’m in a crowd of industrial designers or a crowd of database programmers.

The ability to synthesize disparate fields of knowledge leads to innovative thinking and innovative breakthroughs. Innovation arises strongest as a result of the combination of logical and intuitive thinking models. Thus, engineers can think innovatively, think creatively, and make beautiful things. Artists can use logic to create works of art that are beautiful and structured at the same time. The ultimate goal is innovation, not the singular domination of left or right brain modes of thinking.

To conclude, enjoy this painting by Georges Seurat. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was painted entirely in dots, what is known as pointillism or divisionism. This was a drastic departure from the tradition of painting in strokes. Today, the pixels in our computer screens follow Seurat’s original insight.

Georges Seurat - A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Georges Seurat – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

 

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7 Comments »

  • The Pareto Principle for Careers said:

    [...] I subscribe to Charlie Munger’s Latticework Model of looking at the world. Charlie Munger is Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) and Warren Buffett’s long time business partner. The Latticework Model is essentially about approaching life, investing, and problem-solving by weaving multidisciplinary models of knowledge. I don’t want to be an expert in any one specialty or field. If I aspire to be an expert at anything, it would be to master connecting the dots in many different fields of knowledge to bring about new innovations and solutions. That’s why the Pareto Principle works well for me as a way to approach the world and allocate my time. I can take intense deep dives in relatively short bursts of time to learn about the bulk of different subjects and challenges. Perhaps we’ll see a rise of the generalists – people who can straddle the right brain and the left brain with aplomb, people who are “whole-brainers.” [...]

  • Gregory Yankelovich said:

    I like a definition of expert as a person, who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about nothing.

  • Colin Y.J. Chung said:

    Allan,

    Thank you for posting on my blog.

    Regarding your post here, I can fully empathize with it. I’ve always been somewhat of a content addict, delving into various subject matter on both sides of the equation. As a project manager at my day job, I utilize my left brain… but it is informed by my past as a musician/artist, which adds a creative synthesis to the whole formula.

    People that identify themselves as either/or severely restricts their potential to explore new avenues via juxtapositions, contradictions, etc… the grey stuff in between.

    I just skimmed/read your last ten posts… really great blog here.

  • Konstantin Kovshenin said:

    So basically the idea behind this is that a good coder cannot be a good designer? Or perhaps the species is very rare :) )

  • Allan (author) said:

    Konstantin – You’re right, the coder with great design skills is the rarest breed. I celebrate the magic of life every time I run into one by shouting hallelujah to the skies! It’s as if all the stars aligned just right for that one individual. I did pay a visit to your website and it looks as if you might actually care about aesthetics and good code at the same time.

  • Konstantin Kovshenin said:

    Allan, thank you. Well the thing you saw there is just a free wordpress template, so I’m no artist :-[ Yeah, I like design, but only web – I can draw tiny icons, tables, logos and other elements, but consider myself a coder, since I’ve been doing that for many years and I enjoy it more than designing.

    I bet it’s because I work mainly as a coder and a web analytic, and have no time for improving my drawing skills, since I can do that on my tiny personal projects.

    Anyways, I design in minimalism, like this: http://www.searchajax.ru (It’s a russian article catalouge, so don’t read ;)

  • Taryn said:

    I am a whole brainer and i’m so confused with what career path to take. Do you guys know of some careers that whole brainer could do? Please email me back on this. Im really curious

    Taryn

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