Does the open road lead to an open mind? That was the conclusion of a 2009 study undertaken by the University of Tokyo, which in seeking to determine how the human brain was affected by motorcycle riding found that a rider’s right hemisphere (i.e., his creative, conceptual side) was activated by this pursuit — that, indeed, his concentration and overall brain function were greater than usual when he took to the highway.
The right side of the brain is no less crucial in helping a business get up to speed — particularly in this day and age, when traditional organizational structures have given way to partnerships, alliances and an increased dependence on outsourcing. There is more emphasis than ever on collaboration and forming relationships, which are at the very core of right-brain thinking.
At the same time, the importance of the left brain (i.e., the logical, analytical side) cannot be overstated. And here again we can draw a parallel to motorcycle riding, where nuts-and-bolts thinking — knowledge of how the bike works (and what to do when things go wrong), an understanding of basic rules of the road, etc. — comes into play, in addition to right-brain functions.
In both disciplines, too much right-brain thinking leads to the rider/entrepreneur losing his head in the clouds; too much left-brain thinking results in too little imagination being applied to the task at hand.
There is a need, as a result, for integration between the two hemispheres — a need for balance.
The concept of the split brain was first posited by an American neurophysicist named Roger Sperry between 1959 and 1968, and resulted in him earning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1981.
His conclusions have since been the subject of some debate, with other researchers arguing that the brain’s two sides do not in fact operate independently, as Sperry believed. Laymen nonetheless cling to the notion, and cite chapter and verse when it comes to applying Sperry’s theories to the business world.
A 2014 Huffington Post report noted a shift toward right-brain thinking, while again underscoring a need for a happy medium between hemispheres — that it is important to be imaginative, while at the same time maintaining an eye for detail. And it is no less important to stick to a plan, while at the same time tweaking things as you go.
Some of the more recent scholarship has pointed out that it is possible for left-brainers to hone their right-brain skills, and vice versa. Autumn Adeigbo, founder and creative director of her eponymous fashion label, offered advice that veered from serious to tongue-in-cheek in a 2017 Forbes.com post, writing that right-brainers looking to develop their left brain would be best served getting into a rigid routine or enrolling in an Excel class. Left-brainers looking to develop their right brains, she added, would do well to take a class in something like cooking or painting.
Entrepreneur Pia Silva, writing for the same outlet in May 2018, thought the best method for expanding one’s mind is to work alongside someone whose brain was wired in the exact opposite fashion — as is the case with her and her husband, Steve, with whom she founded Worstofall Design in 2008. She is the logical one, while he is the creative one, but she writes that it works for them — as in fact it has on the Fortune 500 level at places like Microsoft, where Bill Gates was the wonk and Steve Ballmer the (now former) marketing whiz.
Seeking out someone who thinks differently than you do can benefit anyone, Silva writes. So too can seeking out the necessary training in the area where you might be lacking.
Marketing is the area in which left- and right-brained thinking most often comes into play. A 2016 report noted that right-brained television advertising usually features comedy or a mini-story, as is the case with a recent Kit Kat spot in which a bench was transformed into one of the candy bars or a Budweiser ad from the 2015 Super Bowl featuring a lost dog.
Left-brained ads usually cut to the chase, making data points clearly and directly (as in this Verizon commercial), while whole-brain marketing combines the best of both hemispheres — right-brained humor and left-brained fact-listing. The Progressive advertising campaign featuring the quirky character Flo is an example of this approach.
Right-brained thinking does in fact venture beyond marketing, however. Consider the B Team, an organization formed by Virgin founder Richard Branson and 13 other business leaders in 2013 with the goal of having a positive impact on people, planet and profit. The B Team’s website notes that Earth’s resources are dwindling, while poverty and unemployment are rising. Governments can only do so much, and indeed some do nothing at all. Only businesses can stem the tide.
It is the ultimate in right-brained thinking — i.e., a display of empathy and outside-the-box thinking. And like a motorcycle, such an approach can be ridden far beyond the horizon.