From the school system to the workplace, our society has a way of polarizing left-brained and right-brained people. Everybody remembers the kid in school who mastered long division before anyone else but was laughed out of the room during creative writing. These perceived strengths and weaknesses are constantly reinforced throughout our lives and often follow us into adulthood.
While your “left-brainers” may be hesitant to join in a brainstorm or the development of new projects because they’re not “creative enough,” putting both types of people together allows for the divergence and convergence necessary to generate breakthrough ideas. Just as we need both hemispheres of the brain, both types of individuals can be assets in the innovation process.
The Importance of Balance
It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about individuals, teams, or an entire organization — balance between left-brain and right-brain functions is essential. You may think the innovation process primarily requires creativity and intuition — gifts traditionally attributed to right-brain thinkers — but without some left-brainers in the mix, teams lack the practical thinking to make creative new ideas happen. And innovation is worthless if it can’t be applied in the real world.
Strengths of the Left Brain
The stereotypical left-brained thinker brings a number of essential attributes that can enhance the innovation process:
Rapid Processing of Language
Left-brain dominant thinkers are excellent assets when seeking to understand regional dialects and international languages. This comes into play when introducing innovations to an international field.
Strong Logic and Critical Thinking
It’s easier for the left-brained to rapidly process large amounts of data. They often maintain a clearly objective perspective, allowing them to more readily identify patterns and themes. This is a great asset when reviewing observational studies and user experiences.
An Affinity for Numbers and Abstract Reasoning
When their right-brained co-workers come up with a new idea, the left-brained people on the team utilize this strength to create more detailed structures for innovative designs and enhance their team members’ creativity.
Strategic and Practical Outlook
This quality is what really connects creative innovation with real-life implementation. Left-brained employees are able to envision the path from point A to point B. They see the strategy required to make innovation effective and naturally take into account the feasibility of an idea during both the planning and the execution.
Supporting Your Left-Brained Team Members
Because many people assume that innovation is for “creative types,” those who don’t consider themselves creative might not think there’s a place for them on teams striving to innovate — even though their presence could make or break a project. Here are some ways to be considerate of their needs and encourage them to contribute:
Be clear that there’s a role for everyone in innovation efforts. This starts with management communicating expectations clearly throughout the company.
Because these individuals are often more reflective, you should give them time to consider their responses before asking them to contribute.
Provide left-brained thinkers with a process, including logic and sequence for innovation activities, and highlight the most important elements. Innovation is rarely a linear process, but providing some structure will help integrate people who crave organization.
Make your thinking visible. Right-brained participants will look holistically at the data presented, but left-brainers will use the data for analysis and identify gaps in logic and areas of concern that might otherwise be missed.
Encourage your left-brain dominant thinkers to start small if they’re uncomfortable in a creative team setting. They should feel free to observe first and then engage. Their first steps should be manageable risks that can be easily accommodated. If things feel chaotic, they should be free to request a moment to reflect and regroup.
Besides balance, the biggest factor for success with different personalities is patience. All of your team members have weaknesses, but they also have areas of brilliance that can shine new light on the innovation process. The more we understand different styles of learning and working, the more effective our efforts become.
About the Author: Andrew (Drew) C. Marshall is the Principal of Primed Associates, an innovation consultancy. He lives in central New Jersey and works with clients across the U.S. and around the world. He is a co-host of a weekly innovation-focused Twitter chat, #innochat; the founder, host, and producer of Ignite Princeton; and a contributor to the Innovation Excellence blog.