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Editorial: Using your brain

March 24, 2021
By Patrick Flannery


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There are two modes of thinking and each is equally important in our work.

Been reading an excellent book called The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. It’s all about the differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. As I read it, I keep thinking of ways this information applies to the business world. 

Most of us know that the left side of the brain controls the right side of our bodies and vice versa. But the differences in what the hemispheres do goes much deeper than that. The left side is where all our focused attention happens. It’s the side that looks at things, identifies them, makes decisions and plans action. The right side of our brain is where the brain does all its “background” work. It’s probably what Freud was talking about when he described the subconscious. It’s actually more aware of our environment than the left side as this is where all the information from our senses is collected, filtered and prioritized for importance. Thus the title of the book: the right brain is the master who knows about everything going on and comes up with the innovative strategies, the left side is his emissary who acts on his memos but thinks he’s in control of everything.

What on earth does any of this have to do with your business? Well, one way is in how we think about marketing. A lot of people expect advertising to work like a lever: you put out ad X and the phone rings Y times. When that doesn’t happen, they become frustrated and conclude advertising doesn’t work. That’s left-brain thinking. Direct-response advertising is a thing and does work, but it has to be executed properly and represents only one of several advertising strategies. Another kind engages the right-brains of its audience: branding. This sort of advertising inserts your company into your market’s environment, making its message and character part of the background your prospects live with every day. Once this is accomplished, when decision time comes for your clients, they are much more likely to direct their left-brains’ attention to your company. 

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One of the reasons for this is that your right-brain is better at noticing new things and thinking new thoughts. Remember, it’s where information is collected and assimilated; your left-brain is engaged in actually rejecting irrelevant information, narrowing your attention and sorting through the data to extract the useful and actionable bits. The left-brain deals with what you already know and actively prefers to focus on that information, resisting the distracting addition of potentially irrelevant detail. 

So when employees resist change in your organization, they are letting their left-brains run the show. This is perhaps an inevitable result in the parts of your organization where problem-solving is important and people who are good at problem-solving are employed – that’s what the left-brain does. But an organization also needs out-of-the-box thinking, acceptance of novel ideas and broad awareness of the business conditions both internal and external. So in business, there needs to be a master who considers all factors and contemplates all possibilities as well as emissaries who attack problems and drive specific tasks. 

In short, in business, we need to think with our whole brains! •


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