Indians are known to be strong on analytical thinking and arithmetic reasoning-skills associated with the Left Brain. But in today’s creativity-driven world, is the Left Brain enough, asksÂ Ketan Tanna
In June 2005, General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz, while speaking at a shareholder meeting, said his company could not be managed just by the left, analytical side of the brain. “You have to have a lot of right side, creative input. We are in the arts and entertainment business, and we’re putting a huge emphasis on world-class design,” he said. Lutz, in his wisdom, was reflecting on a shift in the way this world is being run. In mature economies, the glory of jobs tied to analytical reasoning is being surpassed by creative enterprises. A whole gamut of professions that Hollywood, gaming and animation have unleashed are eclipsing traditionally profitable fields like code writing, law, management and accountancy. The Right Brain is emerging.
Research has shown that the two different hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different faculties. The Right Brain is credited with, among other thing, creativity, intuition and the ability to look at the whole picture while the Left Brain is responsible for problem solving, logical reasoning, rationality and the ability to look efficiently at parts of the whole. Intelligence today is widely accepted as a virtue that involves a good balance between the functions of the two hemispheres.
India’s analytical skills, chiefly a left brain business, are today fetching its engineers and bankers considerable sums. This has influenced the youth of this country to focus their resources on mastering quantitative ability. There is a huge coaching industry worth several hundred crores that is adept at transforming students into entrance-exam crackers.
Infosys Technologies senior vice-president and group head Hema Ravichandar says the Indian education system encourages individuals to conform, not challenge; to learn by rote rather than be original. This, she says, limits lateral thinking and creativity, a function of the right brain that people like GM’s Lutz believe will drive the economy of the future.
“Even in industries fuelled by strong left brain skills, I have seen the importance of right brain thinking,” Ravichandar says.
MindTree Consulting Chief Operating Officer, Subroto Bagchi, says India cannot be called a left-brain nation only because of the success of the IT industry. “The IT industry is only three decades old. Agriclture in India has a history of over 3000 years. If we study the history of our civilisation, it had a holistic approach to understanding and using the power of thinking. When we created zero, it was a deeply profound act. It was not about bean counting and algorith chanting. It was a philosophical act that encompassed the entire consciousness of the mind.”
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, is reshaping his entire MBA program around the principle that business people will have to become more masters of innovative solutions than ‘managers of algorithms’. “Design skills and business skills are converging,” he said in the school’s alumni publication.
What does all of this mean to India? According to a recent analysis done by Business Week magazine, gusts of comparative advantage (which a country such as India has had so far) are blowing away only certain kinds of whitecollar jobs – those that can be reduced to a set of rules, routines and instructions.
That’s why narrow left-brain work such as basic computer coding, accounting, legal research, and financial analysis is migrating across the oceans to India. The study says, “If the Industrial Age was built on people’s backs and the Information Age on people’s left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people’s right hemispheres.”
Technologies are proving they can outperform the left brain. They can execute sequential, computational work better, faster and more accurately than even those with the highest IQs. Stockbrokers, lawyers, financial agents all are feeling the heat of automation. It is not fantastical to imagine a day when certain types of left brain jobs need not be outsourced to India because they can be automated. Paradoxically, the left brain can create machines and software that can do the left brain’s jobs. Drawing on his visits to Indian software firms as well as his own two-year study, writer Daniel Pink who has also authored best selling book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age explains that the present world operates on a much more emotional, creative level where designers have been empowered to express themselves.
“Doctors. Lawyers. Engineers. That’s what our parents told us to be when we grew up. But were Mom and Dad right?” Pink says, “Actually, the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind, people like artists, inventors, storytellers, caregivers. These rightbrained people are the next business elite-the women and men who will power your organisation.” According to Pink, there are three questions that would one would need to ask one in the future: Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Can a computer do it better? And finally, am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age? This then would determine the future of the fight between the left and the right brain. As India pushes ahead to occupy its slot of world’s third largest economy in the next two decades, the management world is grappling to address the issue of which jobs would survive and which would be history.
A ceaselessly innovative world is known to suddenly abolish or shrink jobs that appeared to have great prospects. In the 1980s, America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) forecast lots of jobs for data entry clerks. But suddenly, the PC became so cheap and popular that top-end executives were doing ‘data entry’ themselves, endangering the data entry clerk. “Ten years from now, I fully expect lots of people to be working in professions none of us have heard of today,” Pink says.
Bagchi of MindTree Consulting feels likewise. “No job will maintain currency beyond 10 years. Some will go in less time than that. At highest risk will be people who intermediate between any two processes. All forms of intermediation are at risk,” says Bagchi.
No matter what those jobs will be, it is fairly evident that in the future the Left Brain will be exposed for what it is-half a mind.Â TNN