Whole-Brained Management

The Myth Of “Left Brainers” & “Right Brainers”

Science has long debunked the myth that some people think more with one side of their brain than with the other. The myth suggests that people who “use” the left hemisphere of their brain are more analytical and logical. People who “use” the right hemisphere are more creative and emotional. Physically this has proven to be untrue: the brain is divided into several regions that handle analytical and creative tasks using both hemispheres.

Despite the physical inaccuracy of this myth, many psychologists still treat the analytical and creative differences between “left brained” and “right brained” people as cognitive preferences, or preferred ways of thinking. As a leader, recognizing and utilizing these differences in yourself, and your team, is key for success. The infographic below presents four simple steps any manager can take to utilize the true potential of a diverse, “whole brained” team.


Original brain illustration by TZA. Infographic based off of research by Dorothy Leonard & Susaan Straus.

Steps To Harnessing Creative Abrasion

A major goal of any productive team is dynamic creativity and effective problem solving. In order to harness the true potential of a diverse team, it’s helpful to utilize the natural creative abrasion (i.e. conflict) that results from “left brainers” and “right brainers” working together.

  1. Discover Your Preference – Take a self-survey or talk with a psychologist to discover own cognitive preference. Reflect on your own preferences and personality, and see what friends, family, and coworkers have to say about the way you think and act. Knowing your own cognitive preference will give you insight into how you naturally lead, and how you can best manage a team of diverse individuals.
  2. Create Whole-Brained Teams – Avoid the temptation to surround yourself with like minded individuals. Some industries naturally call for teams made up of a dominant cognitive preference (i.e. left brained engineers in aeronautics), but diverse cognitive preferences will always keep the potential for new, unique ideas high. Most importantly, analyze how a diverse group of thinkers can fill in any natural gaps in your team’s creative capabilities. 
  3. Exploit Preferences – Group “left brainers” & “right brainers” together. Allow time to explore creative challenges, as well as analytical challenges. Give everyone the space they need to think on their own terms every now and then. Overall, use the strategies that work best to bring your team together when needed, while remaining productive while separate. Most importantly, remember that everyone is different. The way you approach a problem will be different from people on the other end of the spectrum. As a leader, it’s your job to not only accommodate these differences, but to promote a productive contribution from each individual.
  4. Manage The Creative Process – It can be easy for a diverse group to get off task. As the leader, you are steering the creative direction of the entire group. Keep the group on task with clear guidelines, milestones, and deadlines. Make the strategies and expectations you have clear from the onset. Finally, depersonalize any conflict: acknowledge the differences in everyone’s cognitive preferences, and make it clear that no single preference is the “right” way of doing things.

Managing a diverse, whole brained team can be a rewarding challenge. It can take a little practice, but with time, things will come together. If anything, always resist the urge to fall back into the comfort of “like minded groups”. Conflict and diversity can be a good thing when managed correctly. Embrace, yet control, the creative abrasion.

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