How to nurture right-brain thinking in left-brain analysts

Throughout my years of training countless data analysts of all experience levels, I can safely say that the vast majority of analysts are left-brainers – or, at least, are more inclined towards left-brain thinking than right-brain thinking.

What does this mean?

The difference between left-brain and right-brain

The left side of the brain is logical, organised, mathematical and analytical. The scientific side.

The right side of the brain, on the other hand, is creative, intuitive and qualitative. The artistic side.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that data analysts tend to be left-brainers. After all, the work is all about the examination of numbers and fine details to draw conclusions. Today’s businesses, as you know, need their analysts to do more than just this traditional role of ‘number-crunching’ – the analysts need to be able to understand their stakeholders’ motivations, communicate well with those stakeholders and produce work that hits the bullseye first time round. They need to bridge the gap between the data and the decision-making.

But in order to get there, an analyst needs to unlock the right side of their brain and learn to use it successfully, which is where you come in.

Here’s how to go about nurturing right-brain thinking in lifelong left-brainers.

1. Make the distinction between methodical thinking and intuitive thinking

The first step is getting the analyst to recognise that there is another side to their brain – one that they’re probably not using very much at the moment. It’s also key that they understand that many of their colleagues are more inclined towards the right side of the brain than the left.

It might be an idea to get your analyst to complete an online left-brain-right-brain test before you introduce the concept of the two ‘camps’, so that you can use their test results to illustrate the point.

It’s important that the analyst understands left-brain-right-brain as a spectrum, rather than a black-and-white matter. One left-brainer might be 85% left-brain and 15% right-brain, whereas another left-brainer might be much closer to the centre – such as 60% left and 40% right.

2. Explain how intuitive thinkers tend to approach tasks differently

Once you’ve introduced the concept, it’s time to demonstrate how right-brainers approach their work.

Many of the analyst’s stakeholders will be inclined towards right-brain thinking, so it’s absolutely vital that the analyst understands how right-brainers operate and what their motivations tend to be.

For example, right-brainers are qualitative: they’re interested in end results and bottom lines. In terms of data, they’re interested in knowing what the data means overall, rather than wanting to see the raw data itself. Left-brainers, on the other hand, are quantitative: they measure and they like to dive into the detail, and they can understand it in its unrefined form. Unfortunately, this often leads to both parties failing to understand each other, which in turn leads to rework and wasted efforts – a generally inefficient way of working.

Teach your analysts to identify what the stakeholder actually wants

What the stakeholder asks for and what they really need can be two very different things. The analyst, using their newly-found right-brain perspective, can dig into the request and ascertain what the stakeholder’s end goal actually is, and they can much more quickly arrive at what the stakeholder actually requires.

3. Conduct data visualisation exercises

Visualisation can be a big struggle area for many analysts due to their left-brain inclination. As we’ve already touched on, they’re happy with tables and they love detail, but stakeholders usually just want the simplest possible summary: they want to know what’s worth knowing.

To coach the analyst out of this way of thinking and put them in the right-brainer’s shoes, conduct some visualisation exercises.

One exercise that I often use is the process of converting an exploratory chart of information into an explanatory chart that delivers a simple, clear message.

Here’s an example (and just to note, the figures are fictitious!):

This is the starting point.

For non-analysts, grasping the gist of this information will take a while.

I often present this kind of chart to analysts and ask them to condense it, so that it cuts straight to the chase.

Here’s the end point that I’m looking for:

This second chart couldn’t be much clearer, could it?

Very few analysts I’ve worked with are able to arrive at this simplest message on the first attempt – they instinctively keep it more complex than it needs to be.

4. Introduce communicating with different personality-types

Exploring the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with your analysts might be another way to show them how they work in contrast and relation to others. Left-brain-right-brain is a strong starting point, but it could potentially oversimplify things for the analyst – because, in reality, there are more than two types of people.

Many workplaces carry out Myers-Briggs testing collectively and then delve into the psychology behind communicating with the 16 different personality-types. As a starting point, you could get your analysts to take the test individually and gain an understanding of themselves, before then applying the methodology to their stakeholders and other co-workers.

What’s key is that your analysts are eventually able to communicate effectively with different personalities across the organisation, because this leads to better working relationships, more accurate work and, ultimately, better business decision-making.