Creative Inspiration – Left Brain vs Right Brain

by Sandy L on September 30, 2010

Last night, I had 6 hour drive that got me home pretty late.  The only positive thing that came out of it, was that I had the opportunity to listen to a great concert by Chip Taylor on NPR.  If you don’t know who Chip Taylor is (I didn’t), he’s the guy who wrote “Wild Thing”.  Come to find out he’s a prolific songwriter and he was playing a great concert. With each song came a fun back story. Chip’s a wonderful storyteller.

One of his stories was about how he was fed up with all the crappy ballads that were out there, and decided to write a soulful ballad that very day.  What came out was “Angel of the Morning” which became a big hit performed by Juice Newton.  Well, during that story, he kind of went through the his creative process and how he noodles around with different things until something finally clicks and starts sounding right.

Chip’s story reminded me of a couple of things. First, it made me think of photographers who take lots of pictures. Yeah 99% of them might be crap, but every once in a while you get a gem.  Second, I thought of Thomas Edison and the number of failed inventions he’s had over a lifetime.  It made me realize that artists and inventors have a lot in common, and the successful ones, create a lot…knowing that not every thing will be a hit or a grand commercial success.

Left Brain vs Right Brain

I’m very much a left brain kind of person and I’m always in awe of right brain people. I’m even more impressed by people who seem to have a good balance of left vs right brain talents. I have quite a few friends who fit into this category. This is perhaps one of the reasons I write this blog..to give my right brain some exercise.

When I first started my career, I had the pleasure of working with a very creative and talented engineer.  Let’s call him the nutty professor. This guy was always brewing up the craziest, most creative solutions to very complex problems.  I really was in awe of how his brain operated. I used to  joke that he’s not capable of “in the box” thinking because all of his ideas are completely out of the box. In fact, I’d bet he’d say “box? what box?”

One day, I said to him “Wow, I wish I were as creative as you.”  He then proceeded to tell me that I absolutely could be creative. He told me that creativity is a skill that can be learned just like anything else.  He said that  all you have to do is practice coming up with ideas and the more you practice, the better the ideas will become.  The other item was experience. The more things you are exposed to, the greater your knowledge pool is to siphon from.

You see, in this particular job, we were the experts in very specialized manufacturing technologies. Usually when none of the other tech service people could figure out a problem, we were called in to help solve it.  Well, my default position as a young engineer was to be as efficient as possible and talk to people more experienced than me to get the answers.  My manager at the time brilliantly told me that I was not going about learning the right way.  At first, I was like, “what, you don’t like me to be fast and efficient?”  I was a little offended. He said, “at some point, there will not be a person who has the answer to the problem you’re trying to solve. You will need to figure out how to solve it on your own.” It was really great that he gave me time to figure stuff out on my own.

To make a long story short, over the years, I have incorporated “being creative” into as many aspects of my life as possible.  My default saying when trying to solve any problem is “Be patient with me. I’ll come up with 1o bad ideas before I have a really good one.” For a while there, I became known for my problem solving skills and became like “the cleaner” from pulp fiction. For about 5 years, I was put on a number of assignments that were extremely screwed up that needed to be fixed fast. They weren’t all technical either..some were in supply chain, some were in marketing. I ended up doing the best of both worlds. I relied on experienced people to help AND I came up with some original ideas as well. It was a fun time in my life.

Use the Other side of your Brain

So, what do I want people to leave this article with? Well, I’d challenge everyone to do the following:

-If you’re building a team, try to have people on it that are different from you. The most successful teams I’ve been on have had people on it that operate very differently. Mix logical linear thinkers with creative types.  Stick a tactical executioner in with a visionary big picture person.

-Make an effort to seek out some people that are different from you. Some of my most fascinating friends see the world totally differently than I do.  Usually their slant on a topic is a thing that would not even enter my mind. It is great hearing their perspective as it really broadens my world view.

-Practice using the other side of your brain – If you’re the logical type, find something that’ll stretch your creative side. If you’re the creative visionary type, do something that forces you to be methodical.  I know no matter what, I’ll always be a left brain kind of gal, but I feel like it’s served me well to tune my creative side.

-Respect People’s Diversity – Sometimes it’s really easy to see the downsides of a person different from you. “Oh they’re so unorganized”, or “oh, they’re so inflexible”  It’s people’s differences that can either make a team stronger or tear them apart. Work with people’s strengths. For example, don’t put the visionary guy to be the one to keep a project on task.

Are you a left brain or right brain kind of person? Have you had similar experiences?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole September 30, 2010 at 8:11 AM

Great post!

It is very easy to shut creativity down with self-defeating strategies. But it is true that it just takes practice, time, and a little relaxation.

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Molly On Money September 30, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Growing up everyone told me how right brained I was. As a teenager I was tested (why? I don’t know) and was what they called ‘middle brain.
You must read ‘My Stroke of Insight’ by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. It’s a fascinating read on how our brains work. I read it this summer and immediately handed it over to my 12yrs old daughter!

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Everyday Tips September 30, 2010 at 3:26 PM

I am totally a logical thinker, and constantly refer to myself as uncreative and unimaginative. I remember having a dollhouse when I was little and I just didn’t know what to do with it. I rearranged the furniture, but pretend conversations? No way.

Now, I am a great problem solver, but I guess I considered that to also be from my logical side. I love logic. I also love emotions. But I am awful at art and pretend. I love to write and have no problem writing a story. But I find the stories that come easiest to me are based on real-life. I need that jump start, whereas my youngest son can come out of the craziest ideas off the top of his hand.

Another observation I have is about my daughter. She is left-handed, and fits every stereotype. She can build anything, is a wonderful artist and just loves to create. She is logical too, but art just flows from her. Not me!

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Money Reasons September 30, 2010 at 9:05 PM

I’m more left oriented too. But I also have my share of right attributes., I use to be a great drawer (I’m not going to call myself and artist though, that would be stretching it). I have come up with some good ideas and inventions, but I never pursued them very far. My weakness is my communication skills, both written and verbal.

Blogging has helped me with both weaknesses in communication though!

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Sandy L October 1, 2010 at 6:19 AM

MoM – I will be sure to put that book on my reading list. Sounds interesting. You’re always reading aren’t you?

Everyday Tips – You sound just like me. I used to say the same things about myself. I think having kids has helped me some. I tell “imagination” stories to my son and encourage him to participate. He does come up with some crazy stuff sometimes.

MR – You are so well spoken on your blog. I can’t imagine you considering yourself weak in that area..but I think no matter how good a communicator one is at work, there’s always room for improvement.

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eemusings October 2, 2010 at 8:10 PM

Hmm, I have never considered myself logical, although I’m working on it (and feel very proud when I work out something simple and sensibly by myself!)

I’m kind of an idiot spatially, though, and am bad at visualising things. However, I need to SEE things to learn (diagrams are good) and feel them.

But I wouldn’t really consider myself all that creative. I love writing, I like to criticise design…but I don’t really think I’m all that good at coming up with clever and innovative solutions, or thinking ‘outside the box’.

Love the idea of cultivating creativity! It needs to be practiced and fed regularly.

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