Arm wrestle of the mind

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Before we begin, bear with us on this issue. What we’ll be talking about will seem rather
abstract and, yes, we’ll eventually get around to how it can help you.

As most people know, the human mind is comprised of two hemispheres, the left and the right.

The left side is logical, linear, objective, and focuses on details. Just the facts! The right side is intuitive, chaotic, subjective, and sees “the big picture”.

Think of it like this: each side of your brain contains a mental movie that helps you come to grips with things. In your right brain, warm dazzling colours and images flow and provide you the ability to see amazing new things from new perspectives. Too bad your right side is nonverbal, so you must find the words to express your sights, all within the confines of your brain’s left side.

The sad little mental movie of your left brain is too small to see anything so grand. It sees in black and white, not the vivid technicolour reserved for your right side. The left side of the brain comprehends big ideas by reducing and simplifying things until they can fit the leftsided movie screen. The left side will not rest until it has figured out how to make everything fit as “completely knowable”.

It’s like a never-ending arm wrestle in your mind.

So what?

Well, given that breakthrough ideas and concepts are conceived in the right side of the brain, being able to express them via the left side is critical. In fact, it can often be more important than the idea itself.

Almost all decisions made are made emotionally (right side) and justified logically (left side). The nature of the decision doesn’t really matter: buying clothes, buying a house, or deciding on a new approach or direction for a project.

Say it again, slowly: All decisions are made emotionally and then justified logically.
Now think about business change efforts, especially in supply chain management. They’re dominated by the logical, left side. All arguments are based on rational, objective analysis. That’s it. If your idea is logical and factual then everyone will agree and make it so.

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The world is littered with factual, objective ideas that sit in the dust bins of corporate America. Of course, it’s not because the ideas are rubbish. Quite to the contrary, many are well conceived and highly valuable. But ideas without emotion only speak to half of your brain. Facts and figures – however indisputable – are simply not compelling in and of themselves.

How can you make an emotional connection? How can ideas be communicated in such a way that the massive, right brain thoughts can be seen and understood by the left side? One of the secrets is to use symbolic thought.

Anybody who works on change efforts (even in the supply chain realm) needs to become a student of marketing and communications. Why? Because creating change involves selling ideas (marketing) and engaging, prodding and challenging people (communications). We’re implementers by heart and implementing true change should be messy and emotional (if it’s not, then you either work for the most focused and aligned organization that the world has ever known, or you’re leaving benefits on the table by not doing enough questioning).

You can get started by learning from one of the greatest communicators of all time: Theodor S. Geisel. Ted pursued a Ph.D. in English Literature at Oxford, but dropped out in 1950. He began writing nonsensical poems and stories for, of all people, kids. He also made up words – in fact, he invented the word “nerd” in the 1950s. Despite his dropout status, Ted wrote 46 books that sold 200 million copies and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

Ted always wanted to finish his Ph.D., but never did. Unfazed, he bestowed upon himself an honorary doctorate and decided to use his middle name. Maybe you’ve heard of him: Dr. Seuss!

Green Eggs and Ham is considered by many to be one of the best marketed books of all time. And the Wizard Academy (a world renowned communications think-tank in Austin, Texas) teaches a technique called “Seussing”. The technique involves making up words to help describe things in abstract terms to appease the right hemisphere.

Is this an effective strategy? Maybe you should ask the creators of Google that question. This term is virtually synonymous with internet content search, but we defy the left half of anyone’s brain to make that connection! Interestingly, the search engines with more “left brain friendly” names (MSN Search, AOL Search, etc.) are the ones that never got used.

When we talk to people about our book “Flowcasting the Retail Supply Chain”, we are often asked where the word “Flowcasting” came from. The short answer is that – unless you’re a metallurgist by trade – it is completely made up (our co-author Andre Martin deserves the credit for that one).

I suppose we could have chosen a title that’s more appealing to the left brain like “Time-
Phased Retail Enterprise Management”.

But then again, we actually want people to buy it.

Image by Flickr user easylocum

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