The ability to analyze issues using both “left brained” and “right brained” thinking is critical to really great strategic thinking.
In business, many of us have a tendency to lean on one or the other type of thinking. Truly strategic thinking, however, involves a more holistic understanding of situations. This is at least partly because strategic situations are rarely pure “left brained” or “right brained” scenarios. Hence, quantification and logic dictate the correct answer (left brained) or emotion and feeling determine the best answer (right brained). This is sometimes thought of as seeing both the forest and the trees.
Many industries function around operational realities that are best approached with left brained thinking – finance, construction and manufacturing. On the other hand, right brained thinking tends to give us better access to creative ideas and understanding customer behaviors.
First, in most business settings, this reality is often evident in the tendencies of people in different roles in the company.
People who prefer right-brained thinking often gravitate to positions in sales, marketing and design. People who like left-brained thinking typically feel more at home as engineers, or in positions involving finance and measurement.
As with the tension triangle issue, where there is no one perspective that’s always correct, you want to assure you bring both types of thinking into your strategic thinking. Many excellent companies show an understanding of this by including both types of thinking in the strategic planning team. The best strategic thinkers have the ability to consider and use both types of thinking in their own heads.
If you’ve relied heavily on one type of thinking, however, the practice of using both can take some getting used to.
There is a specific part of the brain – the corpus callosum – that connects the two hemispheres. As a result, bilateral thinking tends to use it heavily. Research suggests that there is a positive correlation between intelligence and the thickness of the corpus callosum. So, more intelligent managers should have a higher ability to engage in bicameral thinking. People who are born without a corpus callosum, however, can learn to integrate left and right-brained processes. Furthermore, it’s also likely that we can improve our integrative thinking by “rewiring” our brains. The ability of the brain to adapt in this way is called neuroplasticity, and it’s an exciting area of brain research.
Practically, you can bring both types of thinking together in three simple ways.
- Assess strategic issues with someone whose thinking is the opposite of yours, hemispherically.
- Consciously ask key questions while trying to hold both types of thinking in your mind.
- Seek to develop your other hemisphere by engaging in play activities that require its use. For example, painting and music are activities for right-brained thinking. Crossword puzzles and logic games are activities for left-brained thinking.
How do you assure good strategic thinking skills in your company?
If you’d like to learn more about strategic thinking and more specifically thinking bilaterally, Simplified Strategic Planning is a great place to start. For great ideas on how to improve the quality of your planning, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning.
Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.