The Economist writes intriguingly about Evan Williams the founder of Blogger and Twitter: “Williams accidentally stumbled upon three insights. First, that genuinely new ideas are, well, accidentally stumbled upon rather than sought out; second, that new ideas are by definition hard to explain to others, because words can express only what is already known; and third, that good ideas seem obvious in retrospect.”The Economist claims that Williams epitomizes Silicon Valley’s right-brain; truly good stuff but needing a critical addition. It is not right-brain – it is “whole-brain” that makes innovation possible.

Recent decades have popularized the right-brain / left-brain story. Every other person is ready to explain what the functions of each side are, and which side of the brain makes innovation, good leadership, happy relationships and more. We seem to love simplistic answers, especially when we believe them to be backed by hard scientific facts. This list below provides us such confidence:

Left-brain Right-brain

looks at parts


uses logic

math & science


facts rule




looks at wholes


uses feeling

art & religion


imagination rules




We look at this and think – “well that’s why I am good at this and not good at that…” or “this is why I understand her but cannot connect with him…”

Why do people love to put themselves in boxes (personality types, astrological signs, brain sides and more…) that justify their behavior and explain their experience? Why do we need such labels to explain what makes great leadership, artistic and scientific breakthroughs and innovation? We love the security of telling ourselves right-brain stories supported by left-brain facts. It lets us off the hook of further reflection.

What’s my point?
How many times have we seen that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and how does this apply to the usage of our brain? Isn’t it time we expressed more interest in “whole-brain–whole-mind” functions to discover how it facilitates us to be more complex and complete humans, better innovators and greater leaders and partners?

Innovation is applying ideas to create valuable results where it matters. It is the transformation that makes ideas “happen”. Innovation needs integrated whole-brain function, not just right-brain. Innovation is not a one side or the other enterprise, but a “more than the sum of its parts” synergistic process.
A Whole-brain:

1. Combines creativity and analysis
2. Looks at the whole and sees the parts within
3. Uses feelings logically and applies logic feelingly
4. Integrates quantitative and qualitative awareness & objective and subjective perspectives
5. Is methodical and intuitive
6. Identifies facts and is imaginative about their meanings
7. Is conceptual and practical
8. Synthesizes problem solving
9. Organizes inside chaos
10. Assimilates learning from multiple sources

To build an innovative organization, to cultivate an innovative culture you need to facilitate whole-brain functions and systems. One of the ways we do this in our strategy and innovation summits is we shift between the “foreground” (the business) and the “background” (our internal operating system), and zoom in and out of both. Albert Einstein is one of the best examples of whole-brain–whole-mind thinkers. He is famous for saying, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” In our summits we cultivate new mindsets (individual and collective) by engaging whole-brain–whole-mind functions.

One of Williams’ whole-brain tricks is to ask “what can we take away to create something new? A decade ago, you could have started with Yahoo! and taken away all the clutter around the search box to get Google.” An idea can be initiated in the right-brain but then it needs a whole team of both left and right-brains working together to bring about whole-brain collaborative transformation to make the idea viable and cool in its implementation.

Innovation’s critical competency is whole-brain engagement. Thomas Edison, a great whole-brain–whole-mind innovator said:

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework”

“I readily absorb ideas from every source, frequently starting where the last person left off.”

“Because ideas have to be original only with regard to their adaptation to the problem at hand, I am always extremely interested in how others have used them….”

“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent….”

© Aviv Shahar