Left vs. Right
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.
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.
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.