An interviewer once asked Albert Einstein how he developed his complex scientific theories. In reply, Einstein reportedly pointed to his head and said that he used a pencil and a piece of paper to develop his ideas. This clearly demonstrates the perfect union of analytics and creativity in problem-solving. Out of Einstein's working process came many famous scientific theories, including the theory of relativity. Nothing could better illustrate the integration of left brain and right brain: logic and reasoning coupled with imagination and creativity.

Einstein's interesting quote (above) points to a current, fundamental shift in business thinking. In fact, business leaders are embracing, with great impact, the concept of integrating analytical abilities and creativity. And this is where our left brain-right brain discussion takes us.

Stephen J. Adler, Editor-in-Chief of Business Week, has dubbed today's business environment "the Creativity Economy." In a memorable editorial, "Ready. Set. Innovate," from August 2005, he states:

The creativity economy may sound like another over-hyped catch-phrase, but companies that have embraced the concept are gaining a bottom-line edge over those who haven't...innovation and design point the way out of a lot of the difficulties U.S. companies face as high-paying jobs in tech and manufacturing shift overseas. But the smartest U.S. companies are learning that they can still lead the way if they listen closely to their customers and rethink product design. That's how Starbucks can charge so much for a cappuccino and why the Swiffer is eclipsing the mop.

While innovation and creative design in products and services seem to point the way to future business success, we should expand on Adler's idea. We could argue that innovation and creativity should be employed to revamp companies' entire organizational structures—not merely their R&D, sales, and marketing departments—as they endeavor to bring successful new products and services to market.

Today's business leaders are faced with enormous challenges and the complexities of doing business in a global environment. Competition is at fever pitch and will continue to increase at unprecedented levels as emerging economic powerhouses China and India market their products and services on a global stage. Imbuing an entire company with a design-centric (read: creative) culture can make a profound difference in the way companies meet these new challenges.

After all, if business executives are expected to become creative thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators to keep their companies ahead of ever-intensifying global competition, won't the basic premises of design serve them well? We might call this a move to integrate right-brain (creative, innovative and design) and left-brain (analytical, management) thinking in the highest circles of business.

Creating a New Business Model

Since taking over as CEO at P&G, Alan Lafley has steadily worked to incorporate the value of design into the entire corporate structure. Once, in an interview, he stated:

"We want to design the purchasing experience...we want to design every component of the product; and we want to design the communication experience and the user experience. I mean, it's all design. And I think that's been hard for people to come to grips with."

Lafley brought P&G marketing veteran Claudia Kotchka into the new role of "VP for Design Innovation and Strategy" to turn P&G into what she calls a "design-centric culture." When the CEO of such a behemoth CPG company embraces the elements of design strategy and its implications for developing meaningful customer experiences at this level, it signals that powerful changes are underway.

Procter & Gamble is not alone in embracing the concept of designing the entire customer experience—or in its plan to make design the centerpiece of its corporate strategy.

Companies such as Dell, Apple, Starbucks, Nokia, Samsung, and BMW have all embraced a design-centric philosophy, as evidenced by the numerous articles and case studies referencing this trend and cataloging their successes. These companies have become leaders in their respective sectors. To be effective, this thinking has to pervade the entire corporate structure, from the CEO down.

You might ask yourself: What has all of this got to do with the average small or medium-sized business? Answer: Whatever product or service you're selling, B2B or B2C, you too are facing increased competition—from corporate behemoths to companies like yours—from all over the world. It's time to think in fresh terms.

Left Brain, Right Brain

Science has mapped out the two distinct hemispheres of the brain, detailing the aspects of each. It is evident that our educational systems teach courses, especially at the undergraduate collegiate and MBA levels, whence our business leaders are made, very much in left brain mode. Very few courses within school curricula embrace right brain thinking, except the arts, it would seem.

Left Brain Right Brain
Logical Intuitive
Rational Creative
Sequential Holistic
Analytical Focused on aesthetics,
Details parts of
the whole picture
Sees the whole
Seeks objectivity Is subjective

There are decidedly great strengths on both sides of the brain that, when developed, bring out quite diverse skill sets.

Speaker, author, and former White House speech writer Daniel Pink will be speaking at the Leaders in London conference later this year. The title of his presentation: "Identifying & Leading the New Breed of Workers: How & Why the Right-Brained Will Be Critical to Future Business Success."

In the abstract for his presentation, Pink boldly states: "The era of 'left-brain' dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are now giving way to a new world in which 'right brain' qualities—inventiveness, empathy, meaning—predominate. Indeed, we are moving from an era when the MBA was the most treasured recruit to the (MFA) Master of Fine Arts graduate who can provide a broadened approach."

This is truly a radical new way of thought. Perhaps the answer to meeting today's business challenges is not to "throw the baby out with the bath water" by opting to hone one side of the brain and its unique skill sets over the other, but to take an integrative approach.

Several of the nation's leading B-schools, like Harvard, Georgetown, and Northwestern, are offering single elective courses in product design, product innovation, or the management of the design process to MBA candidates. Stanford University is establishing a new Institute of Design to teach design strategy to both business and design students. The University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management is taking a leadership role in developing a new B-school program in innovation and design strategy. This trend will likely continue.

Current design and business leaders need to embrace this new "creativity economy" as it unfolds. The corporate and design sectors must integrate their analytical and creative problem-solving strengths as never before. The dividends this will yield are better, more meaningful customer experiences. That is where companies will realize the full potential of brand loyalty and brand equity.

Question: How about educating and training our future business management and marketing leaders, and perhaps retraining current ones with a "whole brain" approach, effectively utilizing both sides of the brain as Einstein did? Might that not lead to some stunning new business successes little dreamed of today?

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image of Ted Mininni

Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni