Call it what you will – Outside the Box, Abstract, Non-Linear….. It’s critical to tap into both sides of your brain when starting a business. Everyone is born with a right side and a left side of their brain. Generally speaking, the left side is more of the logical side appealing to linear thinkers. “Bean Counters” or highly detailed, logical thinkers will accomplish a task by going from point A to point B to point C.
Non-linear “creative” thinkers would go from point A to point L to point W and then end up at point C. They’ll get there, but it is hard to understand how. The right side of the brain is where many creative thinkers live. It’s critical to have a balance of both. Like a yin to a yang, balance between left brain and right brain thinking is a difficult balance to strike, but when a team or organization has it, it unlocks tremendous potential.
One of the best illustrations of good balance vs. imbalance is Apple vs. Microsoft. Apple has beautifully designed products that function well. There is a great balance, which is why Apple appeals to so many consumers. Microsoft has a line of products that function well, but seldom recognized for having great design. I would say (generally) Microsoft leans more towards the logical left side of the brain. In the 1990’s, Apple’s products did not have great design, and the market punished them for it. Steve Jobs took over and brought a left brain/right brain balance.
I spent 8 years designing products for NIKE (another company with good balance) and learned how critical it was to have balance. Many of the teams I worked on had talented left brain and right brain thinkers who were open to listening to ideas different than their own. We all communicated well which resulted in great success consistently.
In my experience with business leaders I’ve found CEO’s often think about their business systems, cash flow, legal matters, sales, logistics, balance sheets, payroll, etc… Many of these fall under the left brain thinking. The creative right side is often overlooked. I can’t tell you how many times the company logo or product appearance is an afterthought. It’s like building a quality sports car from the ground up with great engine, suspension and tires, then slapping some cheap fiberglass exterior on it. The first thing customers see is often the last thing to be addressed.
From day one, new companies would benefit from not only striving to have left brain/right brain balance, but be open to how non-linear thinkers help the organization. Managing people is an art. Some are born with it, some aren’t.
A good analogy is logical, left brain thinkers might need a corral to function, whereas right brain thinkers need a pasture to roam. Both are under your direction, but can be nurtured differently. I’ve seen so many managers who don’t understand why their micromanaging (keeping everyone in the corral) has mixed results.
Nowadays I work for a CEO in a startup who understands you have to have a balance of both. From the start, there has been a balance of both. As our product starts to take shape, we work internally on doing it right the first time. We’ll have a sports car that run well under the hood AND looks good.
In part 2 of this post I’ll share some tried and true ways to “think non-linear”. They are mental floss ideas any company can employ with their team.