Business Success: Activities by Brain Function

Considering the complexity of today’s volatile global economy, the role of the right brain is increasingly vital. With computers becoming more and more adept at handling the linear processes, the competitive advantage for humans is in the ability to access the power of the right hemisphere. And the skills needed to participate in an adaptive organization are also dominantly right-brained. In fact, research suggests that our right hemisphere is the only area that deals effectively with change.


In general, the two halves of the brain work together to orchestrate every human activity. However, neuroscientists suggest that the two hemispheres approach every situation slightly differently. Understanding and enhancing the use of one side or the other can enhance creative endeavors.

The differences in the hemispheres can be characterized in four major ways:

1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body; the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. This fact is well known. But it is interesting to note that the written word goes from left to right, a movement controlled by the left hemisphere. Therefore, reading and writing are controlled by the linear, logical, sequential part of the brain. Until recently, this was the source of almost all knowledge. Only since the twentieth century has information been conveyed in pictures, encouraging right hemisphere or even whole-brain synthesis.

2. The left hemisphere is sequential; the right hemisphere is simultaneous. As described, reading is sequential. The left hemisphere also manages other sequential processes, such as talking and interpreting speech. By contrast, the right hemisphere has the ability to interpret information simultaneously. This enables people to make sense of very complex situations. To illustrate, consider a comparison to computer software. SAS software can perform statistical calculations faster than humans can. But the most powerful software cannot recognize a human face as fast as the average person. “Think of the sequential/simultaneous difference like this: the right hemisphere is the picture; the left hemisphere is the thousand words.” As the flow of complex information accelerates, frequent and proficient use of the right hemisphere becomes increasingly important.

3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. In most people, both left- and right-handed, the left hemisphere is the source of language. However, the ability to comprehend language is a bit more nuanced and requires both hemispheres. Chapter 3 described the mechanics of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Within the brain, the left hemisphere interprets the words. The right hemisphere processes all of the nonverbal parts of the communication, such as tone, pace, facial expressions, and body language. In addition, the right hemisphere’s ability to consider context gives it responsibility for filling in blanks, translating nuance, and interpreting metaphor.

4. The left hemisphere analyzes the details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture. Basically, the left brain analyzes information in a linear fashion. The right brain synthesizes information to create a whole. The left brain can find problems, identify parts, and grasp details. The right brain focuses on interactions and relationships. And “only the right brain can see the big picture.”

Ned Herrmann, a well-known brain researcher, created a list of common business functions and mapped them to the quadrant of the brain that primarily handles each one.

Left Cerebral Cortex
• Gather facts.
• Analyze issues.
• Solve problems logically.
• Argue rationally.
• Measure precisely.
• Understand technical elements.
• Consider financial aspects.

Right Cerebral Cortex
• Read signs of coming change.
• See the “big picture.”
• Recognize new possibilities.
• Tolerate ambiguity.
• Integrate ideas and concepts.
• Bend or challenge established policies.
• Synthesize unlike elements into a new whole.
• Problem solve in intuitive ways.

Left Limbic System
• Find overlooked flaws.
• Approach problems practically.
• Stand firm on issues.
• Maintain a standard of consistency.
• Provide stable leadership and supervision.
• Read fine print in documents and/or contracts.
• Organize and keep track of essential data.
• Develop detailed plans and procedures.
• Implement projects in a timely manner.
• Articulate plans in an orderly way.
• Keep financial records straight.

Right Limbic System
• Recognize interpersonal difficulties.
• Anticipate how others will feel.
• Intuitively understand how others feel.
• Pick up nonverbal cues of interpersonal stress.
• Relate to others in empathetic ways.
• Engender enthusiasm.
• Persuade.
• Teach.
• Conciliate.
• Understand emotional elements.
• Consider values.

Come back next week for an article about fostering creativing.  We welcome your comments and feedback and love it when you share our blog with your co-workers and friends.

Business Success: Collaboration in Action: A Case Study

Competition has been the driving force behind the U.S. freight rail industry and related public policy since the first railroad began operations in 1830. This is a curious phenomenon for a contiguous “network” of railroads within a transportation “system.” With competition in the marketplace and competition for government attention as the prevailing influences, the system continues to underutilize rail technology, even though railroads move freight on one-third the amount of fuel and consequent air pollution as trucks moving on the highway. Next Michael Sussman, founder of OnTrackAmerica, describes how collaboration is helping to rebuild and strengthen the national railway system.railroad_crossing

Power of Collaboration in the Railroad Industry
By Michael Sussman
Railroads are energy, capital, and space efficient. Yet their market share of an otherwise growing transportation demand has continually declined since the early twentieth century. What is it about this competition-based system that suppresses the use of efficient modes of transportation?

Competition, as a commercial and regulatory principle, often rewards better-operated companies. But it is usually ineffective at preventing companies that enjoy more financial and political clout from dominating the marketplace. How often in recent years has that domination had a detrimental impact on our greater communal interests? The country needs a rail system that advances in concert with our national needs; instead, it has developed according to its corporate needs.

In 1995 it became apparent that many smaller freight railroads across America were under-supported by policy makers and lending institutions. This threatened the long-term economic vitality and overall quality of life in America.

The railroad industry was cost-cutting by consolidating srvice to higher-volume components of the rail system. This path, while leading to greater profitability for the industry, contributed to a far less efficient transportation system than was called for by post–World War II demographic and business trends. The years since have been characterized by dramatic population growth, steadily increasing freight traffic, ongoing growth of rural and urban communities, and the proliferation of small businesses, distribution centers, and time-sensitive shipping needs. The trucking industry, in spite of its inherent fuel disadvantage, has filled this service gap ably. But with the increase in fuel prices and its uncertain future availability, the question becomes “Now what?”

To satisfy the imperative for collaboration between government and private sector, a broad network of relationships with government representatives at the federal and state levels was established. The success in bridging the public-private sector communications divide led to the founding of OnTrackAmerica, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating new methods and forums for the multistakeholder development of better policies and more effective private initiatives.

This collaborative approach has proven to be been highly effective in creating financing breakthroughs for smaller freight railroads. Project and industry funding options typically are offered by individual entities competing against other funding sources. This alternative approach leads to benefit for all involved by facilitating cooperation among multiple banks and government agencies. In practice, it has resulted in significantly higher capitalization levels with better terms than if those funding sources were made to compete for the entire project.

Even the clients’ existing bankers, who previously had declined further lending, are included in this collaborative approach. Rather than being pitted against other banks, the current bank is urged to offer what it can and what it prefers, as its part of an overall strategy for helping the client grow.

In the case of the Iowa Northern Railway, a corn-hauling railroad that was suddenly in the heart of the alternative energy belt, additional capital was required that outstripped the lending limits of its local bank. A collaborative approach provided bankers at Iowa’s Lincoln Savings Bank with the understanding and assurance they needed to expand the railroad’s credit from $150,000 to over $1.5 million. This facility became the anchor for $30 million in additional funds secured from a Federal Railroad Administration loan program, a Chicago regional bank, several equipment lenders, and even the railroads’ customers and suppliers.

The basic orientation of competition is toward individual gain. Yet so much of what occurs in business involves multiple parties, with all parties benefiting if success is shared. Shared benefit and the resulting gain are the foundation of collaboration. What if our “for individual gain” concept of competition was reoriented to a competition (or striving) to make the greatest contribution to the community? That model of competition would naturally lead to a refocus of business plans and activities toward “collaboration for the common good.”

While competition is a useful tool in certain elements of regulating private interests in the marketplace, it can be a dangerously wasteful force in public policy discourse and formulation.

Competition, unfortunately, is now the overarching principle of interaction, not just between political parties but also among agencies, legislative offices, committees, think tanks, universities, and other entities that influence and produce public policies. The marketplace of ideas should continue to accommodate competing ideas. But the process for thinking and teasing out competing ideas requires our best collaboration.

Our world and our economies are undergoing changes at a rate that demands we upgrade public-sector management processes. OnTrackAmerica has taken on the challenge of bringing forward a new method for large-scale industrial policy, planning, and implementation. By lowering antagonism and increasing trust among businesspeople, academic and industry experts, the community, and policy developers, the potential emerges for unveiling the best solutions and resulting public policy. Just as cooperative multimodal relations among transportation providers are now clearly needed to advance the efficiency of the overall system, collaboration among public policy creators is the necessary ingredient for improving our national transportation policy.

Design improvements for intelligence and efficiency at the level of governance do not have to wait for the crucible of crisis. No law or regulation mandates that business must depend only on competitive, vested-interest lobbying of government legislators and policy makers. All well-intentioned citizens are entitled to advance leadership and cooperation in government and commerce. Contrary to what is expressed in popular culture, many people in Washington and beyond are anxious to participate in productive collaborative engagement. A new model of leadership that convenes and facilitates that collaboration is the missing ingredient.

Business Success: Collaborating for the Future

Cisco, the world’s largest provider of Internet networking and communication equipment, is powered by collaboration. With 22 current worldwide initiatives, chief executive John Chambers claims that it would be impossible to manage his company using his old style of command and control. Collaboration enables Cisco to foresee changing trends and act quickly.

Management of changeAccording to Chambers, one of Cisco’s strengths is its ability to foresee impending market transitions. “Cisco is able to predict trends six to eight years ahead even in the highly volatile technology market by recognizing early-warning signals its customers unwittingly put off. To capitalize on these ‘market shifts,’ Chambers gave up his command-and-control style and made decision making highly collaborative.”
Cisco organizes for collaboration in several ways.

No Hierarchy
Chambers claims that he found it difficult to let go of his usual command-and-control style, but he disciplined himself to change his behavior. Specifically, in meetings, he gave his team time to think. He began to see that his team often made decisions that were just as good, if not better, than his. And because they were involved in the process, the members of the team were much more invested in the execution. However, not all managers were able to make the adjustment. When this collaborative leadership style was implemented throughout Cisco, 20 percent of the top management team went elsewhere.

State-of-the-Art Technologies
Among Cisco’s offerings are several technologies that enable collaboration. PC software for online meetings is powerful and efficient. But the real collaborative power comes from the company’s next-generation videoconferencing that connects customers and team members world wide.

Collaborative Teams
Cisco has a highly matrixed structure of cross-functional teams called councils and boards that collaborate on projects. Because of the highly sophisticated conferencing software, Cisco employees collaborate in real time much like social networking groups. “The power of collaboration is not in adding more people to the process but in getting immediate input from smart people and thinking through the problem as a group.” This is critical to the success of the company. Individuals and teams from anywhere in the world can gather quickly for an intimate virtual meeting using their state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology.

Verbal and Financial Motivation
To begin a project, Cisco puts people together who speak a common language and engages them in reaching their goal. The leader then drives the team through execution. People are motivated to engage with strong leadership and compensation tied to team performance.

Clear and Consistent Communication
Chambers states: “Clear and consistent communication was and is very, very important to making this whole thing work.” Top management has developed a clear and consistent vocabulary to ensure that information is dispersed and shared consistently worldwide.

Quick Alignment of Resources
When resources are low, flat management and collaboration may save the day. Team members are encouraged to help each other and reallocate resources. Risk taking is also necessary to make a quick change of direction. Team members must be tolerant of failure.
Chambers claims that the new challenges keep him motivated and competitive. His passion for collaboration and willingness to share decision making infuses the whole system with new energy to fuel the vision and stimulate innovation.

Business Success: Instilling a Culture of Collaboration

Many organizations spend large amounts of money on state-of-the-art collaboration software. However, success is elusive if the culture does not support collaboration. Here are some approaches for instilling a culture of collaboration.

• Establish a mentoring system. A natural complement to collaboration, mentoring helps support team effort by providing assistance to members in learning and development. A formal structure with top-level commitment and participation goes a long way to support system-wide collaboration.

• Invite constructive confrontation. Disagreement and conflict in a safe and trusting environment infuse the system with energy, leading to innovation within and evolution of the system.

• Integrate collaborative tools into work styles. Technology that facilitates collaboration is transforming the workplace. System-wide support and advocacy that consider individual styles as well as organizational goals ensure high adoption rates and collaboration

• Facilitate cross-functional brainstorming. Bringing diverse individuals together in a safe, informal environment to share ideas and concerns taps into the wisdom of the organization, leading to expansive thinking and breakthrough solutions.

• Reward people for collaborative behavior. Effective collaboration leads to efficiencies across the organization. Discouraging internal competition by rewarding individuals who collaborate helps to ingrain the behavior. The goal is create a new norm where collaboration is the natural tendency.

• Reward people for gaining broad input. Evaluate and reward individuals for seeking input and advice from others.

• Reward people for sharing information. Evaluate and reward individuals who share their knowledge and resources freely.

• Reward people who use collaboration to innovate. Evaluate and reward those who initiate and inspire cross-functional teams that innovate.

• Promote collaborators. Promote individuals who demonstrate their understanding of that concept that considering multiple perspectives leads to better decisions.

• Practice collaborative leadership. Modeling behaviors such as engaging people, asking questions, listening, and building consensus sends a powerful message that encourages similar behavior at all levels. Using positive nonverbal communication such as an accepting tone and curious tone elicits trust, sharing, and consensus.

I would love to hear your comments about ways you are implementing and encouraging collaboration in your organization.  If you like what you are reading, please share it with your network!

Leadership Skills: Dialogue, it is more than just talking

May 15, 2012 @ 02:00 PM

Communication works for those who work at it.
—John Powell, Creator of the Five Levels of Communication

Dialogue goes beyond communication to describe a style of conversation that taps into the energy of an organization through shared intention. Jalma Marcus, executive coach and energy healer, shares her perspective on dialogue.

What Is Dialogue?

Dialogue is “a conversation with a center, not sides.” It is a way of taking the energy of differences and channeling it toward the creation of something new. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater understanding. In essence, it is a means for accessing the innate intelligence and previously untapped power of the organization.

Dialogue is “a flow of meaning.”


Dialogue is “a conversation in which people think together in relationship.” Rather than holding on to their own position, the participants relax their grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities.

Dialogue is “about exploring the nature of choice.”

The intention of dialogue is to reach new understanding and, in so doing, form a totally new basis from which to think and act. In dialogue, problems are not just solved, they are dissolved. The goal is not merely try to reach agreement but to create a context from which many new agreements emerge. By unveiling a base of shared meaning, the group’s actions and values come into alignment.

Dialogue seeks to address the problem of fragmentation not by rearranging the physical components of a conversation but by uncovering and shifting the organic underlying structures that produce it.

Dialogue requires thinking, not just reacting. It requires a deep awareness of personal feelings as well as other’s reactions.  Dialogue can be learned. It requires a set of practices based on theory and principles. A “‘practice’ is an activity you do repeatedly to help bring about an experience.”

I would love to hear your comments about this way of exporing dialogue and in the next few weeks we will cover several principles of practice to improve dialogue.

Business Skills: The Art of Listening

Listening may or may not be an “act of love” or way to “tap into people’s 

listeningdreams,” but it sure as hell is (1) an uncommon act of courtesy and recognition of worth from which (2) you will invariably learn amazing stuff…and (3) it will build-maintain relationships beyond your wildest dreams.

—Tom Peters, best-selling author

To be a strong leader, you must be able to influence others. In highly complex organizations, everyone plays the role of leader from time to time. And communication is an essential mechanism for the exchange of knowledge and intentions. Mastering the art of listening is essential to the success of all participants in an interdependent organization.[i]

Those who are good listeners greatly increase their influence on others. Although listening is passive in nature, when someone feels heard, he or she feels inspired and validated. Sadly, many leaders fail to listen because they are biased, impatient, bored, or rigid in their views. This prevents the critical exchange of knowledge, insights, and intentions.

Listening skills are rarely taught. Communication training in business schools typically focuses on argument and persuasion. These skills fit the old management model with its top-down, authoritative approach.  Managers had little reason to listen. They communicated down the chain of command, and the workers followed orders.

As stated earlier, as organizations embrace new business models, listening is becoming an integral part of the communication process. Two-way interaction helps to clarify and prevent confusion, aid comprehension, and improve connection.

Listening goes beyond just hearing. Hearing usually triggers a reflexive response without any thought or reflection. Listening is deliberate and requires interpretation. A good exercise in listening is to ask recipients to reflect back what they heard.

Bad listeners:

  • Interrupt. They are impatient and may like to dominate the conversation.
  • Are inattentive. They are easily distracted, perhaps even multitasking.
  • Exhibit mind-drift. They are easily bored, perhaps even self-centered.
  • Are biased. They have strong marginal views (out of the mainstream), and cannot expand their thinking.
  • Have closed minds. They have already drawn a conclusion or stay with their own beliefs.

Good listeners:

  • Are quiet. They talk less than the speaker.
  • Are patient. They never interrupt the speaker.
  • Are unbiased. They avoid prejudgment.
  • Are curious. They ask clarifying and open-ended questions.
  • Pay attention. They sit attentively, take notes, concentrate.
  • Employ nonverbals. They smile, maintain an open posture and eye contact.
  • Reflect back. They verify and reinforce what was heard through summary comments.

Skillful listeners are natural leaders in the new business landscape with their ability to influence, engage, and inspire.

Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. 

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[i]             William F. Kumuyi, “Sir, Listen Up!” 2008,;col1.