Applying Right Brain Thinking in Today’s Business

Some say right-brainers will "rule the world." Eh, probably not. But they possess characteristics that are increasingly valuable, especially as the business world evolves from the proverbial information age to a new era that values creativity and collaboration.

As we begin to prepare for a post-pandemic world, I can’t help but revisit the interesting perspectives offered by Daniel Pink in his best-selling 2006 book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. That’s because, if the last 14 months have taught us anything, it’s that the future has arrived.

There is little doubt that in a world where the emergence of new technologies will continue to dominate our economy and transform business processes, there will be demand for left-brain thinkers and their talents. But as our society undergoes major change, and as businesses prepare for the tectonic shift from a shareholder to stakeholder focus, the importance of right brain skills has reemerged.

As Pink explains it, there is a science to this point-of-view. He outlines – with far greater specifics than I will do here – the differences between our left and right brains. A quick overview: our left brain controls the right side of our bodies; the right brain controls the left. The left brain is sequential; the right brain is simultaneous. The left brain specializes in text; the right brain in context. And the left brain analyzes the details while the right brain synthesizes the big picture. [1]

New Senses for the Conceptual Age

Pink argues that these right brain capabilities are needed in what he refers to as today’s Conceptual Age – an era that has evolved from the Information Age and its reliance on knowledge workers to a new focus on creators and empathizers. Pink then lays out “six senses” he says are required in this new era – all capabilities reflective of right brain functioning. Paraphrasing, they are as follows: [1]

  • Focus on DESIGN: Create products, services and experiences that are not just merely functional but beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging. This is not only personally rewarding but economically critical in today’s marketplace.
  • Build a STORY. It’s no longer sufficient to present an effective argument – someone will rebut it with a counterpoint fact. Today, the essence of communication and persuasion is built around a compelling narrative.
  • Create a SYMPHONY. While knowledge workers are highly focused and specialized, a new emphasis on creators and empathizers is centered on their ability to put the pieces together. This isn’t about analysis but rather synthesis – seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries and combining disparate pieces into a whole.
  • Emphasize EMPATHY. While logical thought is a defining human element, in a world of boundless information and advanced analytics, logic isn’t enough. Those who have an ability to understand what makes others tick, forge relationships and care for others, are those who will thrive.
  • Take time to PLAY. There is a time to be serious but too much sobriety can be bad. In the Conceptual Age, it’s important to play for well-being, as well as career achievement.
  • Find MEANING. In the abundant world, millions of people are looking beyond the material. This means they are finding ways to pursue more significant desires and find purpose in how they live and work.

These “six senses” not only apply to the current environment, but take on new meaning as disruption and social change have significantly reshaped the business landscape since the pandemic began. As a result, 15 years after publication of A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, these senses make for an even more compelling case that right brain skills are the differentiators of success.

Much of this has been already documented. A 2010 study at MIT showed that members of groups skilled at collaboration and reading one another’s emotions are superior problem solvers. [2] A 2014 Stanford study about the six traits associated with high achievers – energy and physical stamina, focus, sensitivity to others, flexibility, ability to tolerate conflict, and submerging one’s ego and getting along – clearly demonstrated how right brain characteristics play a key role in business success. [3]

More recently, Fast Company reported on the six skills needed for success in a post-pandemic world. Based on input from management, HR transformation, and recruitment process consultants, four of the skills identified are right-brain focused: empathy, communication management, adaptability and motivational capabilities. A fifth skill, a high level of comfort in using digital technologies, is left brain. The sixth skill, self-direction, combines both left- and right brain thinking. [4] This all stands to reason. Pink himself writes that the most successful people combine both left-brain and right-brain capabilities.

Applying the “Right” Approach

This is why I could never justify the argument that right-brainers will “rule the world” as the title of Pink’s book suggests. However, I do feel certain they are in a unique leadership position to combine their creative energies and intellectual skills to address the unique and changing demands of today’s stakeholder-focused business environment. There are multiple applications:

  • It all begins with enlightened managers who build business cultures that prove to their employees, customers, suppliers and investors a commitment to shared values and positive impact – an important attribute in this new age of Purpose.
  • It’s about designing products and services that create and ensure a winning customer experience – from smart solutions and captivating gadgets to convenient purchasing options and first-rate customer-service.
  • It’s about establishing HR practices that focus on diversity and inclusiveness, while ensuring flexible work arrangements and meaningful professional development for all.
  • It’s about developing business practices that utilize collaborative energies in synthesizing creativity with technological and analytical design to maximize operational effectiveness.
  • It’s about creating brand storylines and fully-integrated marketing programs to build awareness, establish industry leadership and drive lead-generation.
  • And it’s about understanding and connecting with clients, customers and prospects in personal, emotionally winning and often playful ways to establish and ensure engagement.

It’s fair to say that that when Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, his ideas on why right-brainers will rule the future were ahead of the times. But in 2021, his views are proving not only to be accurate, but seemingly prescient as well.

[1] Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books.
[2] Dizikes, P. (2010, October) Putting heads together. New study: groups demonstrate distinctive ‘collective intelligence’ when facing difficult tasks, MIT News.
[3] Barker, M. (2014, May) Keys to Success: 6 Traits the Most Successful People Have in Common, Time.
[4] Moran, Gwen (October 27, 2020) 6 skills employees will need in the post-pandemic workplace, Fast Company.

About the author


  • Maria Lilly

    Maria has more than 25 years of experience in strategic marketing and communications with a focus on financial services.

From Strategy to Reality®

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