Are you left- or right-brained? Or both?

Conventional wisdom has it that people are either ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ depending on whether they tend to be more creative or analytical thinkers. From an anatomical perspective, the “right-left brain” concept seems to be incorrect*. But then how about the metaphor, do people actually fall into either one category or the other? Do we get to pick sides?

Nah, not by my book anyway. I think we are all capable of diving into our creative mode to seek for cues and inspiration *and* of activating our analytical mode when we need accuracy and certainty. Actually, we can’t afford to only choose one side or the other.

Especially if we are at a point of trying to identify and solve a complex problem, this creative/analytical thinker one-sidedness can lead to misjudgments and dead ends. So how do we move beyond a false dichotomy?

Have a look at the concepts of Divergent and Convergent thinking. The 2 ‘thinking modes’ , both available inside all humans, work interchangeably to helps us deal with complexity and noise.

Divergent thinking happens when the mind is allowed to wander and explore ideas “out of the box” ie without the limitations of rationale. The diverging mind will engage in associative cognitive processing and generate a “mess” of possibilities, layers, assumptions and abstractions.

Convergent thinking is what takes place in our mind while we are trying to make sense of that mess. Deriving meaning requires deliberation and rules. The converging mind will focus and work to follow rule-based processes in order to classify entities and relations, identify causality, create structure and meaning.

Though both “thinking modes” are available, this does not mean that they are always accessible for problem-solving use. The reason is that most of the time, we are not even aware of the mode we are in, since most of our thinking is— as uncomfortable as this may feel — not deliberate. External events trigger thoughts which trigger other thoughts which in turn trigger internal events which affect the next series of thoughts which will be interrupted by external events at some point and so on and so forth.

Gaining awareness and taking control to deliberately switch between divergent and convergent thinking in order to see the real underlying issue/goal/problem is not a skill they teach you at school, sadly, but I know of a method that can help and will come back to that in another article.

Regardless of personality, lifestyle, domain expertise and belief system, we need both thinking modes and we need to make them “talk” to each other.

*for all I know

Strategic designer, digital transformation trainer.