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Your career may depend on your Right Brain

Can you explain to the left side of your brain (you know, the analytical, logical side) why you bought a Michael Graves designed toilet brush from Target?

Or, why candles are a $2 billion dollar annual business in the US when we've had electric lighting for going on a century?

Both speak to our preference for aesthetic, style and pleasure than to logical needs; for a shift towards meaning and purpose.

Daniel Pink uses these examples in an article coming out in the February issue of WIRED called Revenge of the Right Brain, where he lays out an interesting argument that the future is with the right side of the brain (the intuitive, artistic, holistic side). Pink says the movement of analytical, left brain jobs will continue out of the US/West over the next decade as they are replaced by right brain careers.

This reminds me of a brilliant line from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, where he writes about the US in the future:

There are only four things we do better than anyone else:



microcode (software),

and high-speed pizza delivery.

And for the most part these are right brain endeavours. But we can't even take these for granted; to some extent, low-level software coding is already moving overseas, what will be left is the overall system design and architecture. Movies too: unless Hollywood gets a little more right brained, Bollywood will be glad to eat its lunch. Even in the area of music, ClearChannel can't be good for the right-brained music eco-system.

But, this isn't a US vs the world post. Pink's point is that the future lies in right-brained careers (financial counselling vs tax preparation, software design vs coders for hire, the art of the deal vs number crunching). He makes a far more important point though: to prepare ourselves for a right brained path we need to not only have the technical skills of our craft, we also need to be able to "create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing."

And are we preparing ourselves as a society for this shift? Well, we only have to look as far as Kathy's post Most Classroom Education Sucks to have some pretty serious concerns; and we only have to look as far was the local Walmart to wonder if we're really moving in this direction as a society.

That said, how does a Java book enter a saturated market of 2000 other titles only to take over the category as the #1 book (I'm speaking of course of Head First Java)? Of course by taking a right brained approach to book writing. So the opportunities are out there. Are we going to sit around while left brain occupations are commoditized? Or start using our right brain as well to create some inventions the world didn't know it was missing?

Posted by Eric Freeman on January 23, 2005 | Permalink


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While I realize that both you and the Wired article are probably using the terms 'right brain' and 'left brain' metaphorically rather than literally, it's worth noting that there's little empirical evidence to suggest that the logical/creative split really corresponds to any left/right hemispheric brain asymmetry. There's substantial evidence suggesting that language is heavily lateralized on the left, and quite a bit suggesting that visuo-spatial functions (particularly detail-oriented rather than 'big picture' ones) are lateralized on the right. But there's no good reason to equate this distinction with the logical/creative rift. In fact, you could make a strong case that creativity might depend more heavily on certain functions implemented in the left hemisphere than the right. Regardless, it's certainly the case that all of the activities Stephenson cites recruit a wide array of brain regions working in concert, including both left and right lateralized structures. The left/brain distinction gets a lot of play in pop culture, and there's nothing wrong with using it as a conversational heuristic, as long as one realizes that's all it is.

Posted by: anonymous coward | Jan 24, 2005 12:01:36 AM

This is the sort of thing I'm interested in. I'm a software developer but my first degree was in music, so I seem to straddle the brain hemispheres a good portion of the time. I think I always liked the mathematical aspects of music and the creative aspects of programming. And I've always thought that the interesting stuff one can do with code involved some sort of artistry that's not entirely logical, a.k.a. "thinking outside the box" as the cliche says.

Posted by: gillian | Jan 24, 2005 12:31:36 AM

Anonymous coward (come on, this is a friendly crowd, we like first names!), we're certainly willing to go with a metaphorical treatment - as you point out the left versus right split certainly provides a simplified view of what is going on in the head (and which isn't fully understood).

What I don't want to do though is to miss the point entirely because we are debating true cognitive function rather than looking at the career skills sets that Pink suggests. For instance, having managed many software engineers in my career, it is easy to find developers that given a defined task can write the code needed. It is far far more difficult to find software engineers that can think about and design software architectures. It is this latter set of skills (which some would argue require skills related to spatial and visualization skills) that Pink is arguing we need to develop.

Posted by: Eric | Jan 24, 2005 11:00:00 AM


In my experience there is definitely a correlation between really good programmers and musicians (I wish I could call myself the latter). Love to hear more about how see yourself straddling the L/R sides (metaphorically of course ;) ).


Posted by: Eric | Jan 24, 2005 11:04:55 AM

Movies too: unless Hollywood gets a little more right brained, Bollywood will be glad to eat its lunch.

Looks like you haven't watched any recent Bollywood movies :-))

Posted by: Sandy Boy | Apr 15, 2005 12:53:33 PM

I am a right brained person that rights with his right
and im only 19 and If you ask for Jehovah's help he will give you understanding and if you guide yourselves by your own understanding theres more hope for the stupid one. My help is from jehova! (psalms).

Posted by: Javier Moreno | Jun 30, 2005 9:15:10 AM

There has to be a job combining the right and left brains that will make us lts of money...WHAT IS IT?

Posted by: jOY Young | Sep 28, 2005 6:34:29 AM

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