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Return of the Right Brain

Ten years ago, I got a call from a reporter at a big-city daily paper. "I'm writing a story on communication skills," she said. "Are communication skills important in business?"

I assumed I had misheard her question and asked her whether she could repeat it for me. "My editor wants to know whether communication skills are important in the business world," she said. I didn't know how to respond. Are communication skills important? "Er, they are very important," I managed to squeak out. My brain said: Are breathing skills important? The reporter explained: "The people I've spoken with so far have been mixed on the subject."

Ten years ago, we were mired even deeper than we are now in the Age of Left-Brain Business. We were way into Six Sigma and ISO 9000 and spreadsheets and regulations and policies. We thought we could line-item budget our way to greatness, create shareholder value by tracking our employees' every keystroke, and employ a stitch-level dress-code policy to win in the marketplace. Ten years ago, lots of us believed that order and uniformity could save the world—the business world, anyway.

We had to go pretty far down that path before we caught onto the limits of process, technology, and linear thinking.

Not Just Data

The right brain is coming back into style in the business world, and not a moment too soon. Savvy salespeople say, "We've got a compelling story that meshes with our customer's values and history." Strong leaders say, "We're creating a context for our team members that weaves their passions into ours." Consultants get big bucks for providing perspective on the "user experience." That's not a linear, analytical process. These days, we're talking about emotion again, and context and meaning.

Thank goodness we are. I was about to choke on the death-by-spreadsheet diet, and I wasn't the only one.

Job seekers get great jobs today by avoiding the Black Hole of Keyword-Searching Algorithms and going straight to a human decision-maker to share a story that links the job seeker's powerful history with the decision-maker's present pain.

Leadership teams spend their off-site weekends talking about not the next 400 strategic initiatives on somebody's list but rather a story-type road map to keep the troops philosophically on board while they take the next hill.

The right brain's return is coming in the nick of time, when employees are sick of not only their jobs but also the cynical, hypocritical, and obsessively left-brain behaviors they see all around them in corporate life. Smart employers will grab this opportunity to lose the three-inch-thick policy manuals and enforcement mentality. There's no leverage in those, no spark, and no aha. We've seen where the left-brain mentality has gotten us: to the land of spreadsheets, with PowerPoints (MSFT) and burned-out shells where our workforce used to be.

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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