Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Why just the right brain? What’s wrong with the left brain? Why not both?
The best results, in marketing as in life, come from using whole-brain thinking. In business though, the preference for left-brain thinking approaches a near monopoly. Right-brain approaches get precious little respect. Yet a single-minded focus, so to speak, on the left brain not only squeezes the life out of things–it also leads to dangerous consequences for brands.
A tale of two hemispheres
The left brain is all about using analysis, logic, and linearity to manipulate the world. It excels at dealing with what is isolated and static, creating categories and systems. Left-brain thinking is sequential, and emphasizes details and abstractions. Great stuff, but incomplete.
The right brain is all about the big picture, using free-range, holistic thinking to understand the world and how the pieces fit together. It excels at context, and at understanding people and other living beings. Right-brain thinking is simultaneous and nonlinear. Also great stuff, also incomplete.
B-schools: Left-brain only
Business schools are relentlessly focused on the left brain, and for good reason. It’s highly valued, especially in the business community, not to mention society at large. Moreover, helps make sense of a world drowning in data where the stakes are very high. It gives us the illusion of control. It’s also highly valued in universities—heck, it drives the very process of creating professors. And it’s also a lot easier to teach. The right brain? Not so much.
So MBAs and other business professionals graduate with heads chock-full of zippy analytical tools and quantitative methods. They know how to slice and dice parameters, markets, variables. They’re great at crafting complex matrices that make everyone nod so they can look smart.
The special perils of a left-brain focus…
The left brain focuses narrowly on what is already known to be important, constructing a view of reality that gets increasingly self-referential. It doesn’t know—or care—about what it doesn’t know. While it thrives on lifeless abstractions, it’s pretty awful at dealing with real people, with their passions, quirks and contradictions. But guess what? It’s real people, in all their messy nonlinearity, who actually buy products and services.
Unfortunately, left-brain supremacy also overvalues specialized mastery and is ill-adapted to understanding complex, interrelated issues, especially when they’re evolving. It is likely to favor coherence of its abstract system over the multifaceted, complicated world that real human beings inhabit. And left-brain analytical chops, though brilliant at manipulating data, often lead to lifeless tactics that leave people cold–and brands vulnerable.
A better way
I think there’s a better way, by giving the right brain a seat at the table. From the start.
As I demonstrate in my book, What Great Brands Know, it’s the integration of human-centered, nonlinear right-brain thinking that creates connection and brings brands to life. It’s what differentiates Apple vs. Microsoft, Southwest Airlines vs. United or Delta, and Trader Joe’s vs. Safeway. It’s the missing component that creates iconic brands–brands we love, and brands we’d genuinely miss if they disappeared tomorrow. So Right-Brain Brands is dedicated to championing and giving a voice to what’s missing (and often banned) from business. I do so not because it’s better, but because it’s different—and it matters.
Two brains are better than one.