How to Get Left- and Right-Brain Thinking to Coexist

February 1, 2016

[visuals unlimited/corbis]
[visuals unlimited/corbis]

To add new and different perspectives on communication research and measurement, for 2016, the “Ask Doc Rock” column is switching to a new format. A variety of Ketchum Global Research and Analytics staff members will author the column, and David B. Rockland, Ph.D., its originator, will serve as the editor.

Left- and right-brain wars

At first glance, structured, logical planning (left-brain thinking) and lofty, muse-minded creativity (right-brain thinking) appear at odds. At times, even though we all speak English, the left- and the right-brainers might as well be speaking Swahili and Japanese for how well they understand each other. But does it have to be this way?

It’s clear that the best work is created not by an isolated intersection between research, planning and creative, but by a total symbiosis. Great work doesn’t just require these three working well together on the same team, but in the same brain. In other words, the right and left sides of the brain have to become one.

Creative ideas and questions

As marketers, we have a tendency to classify ourselves as being either right-brained creative types or left-brained research types. But according to the latest in neuroscience, that’s not actually how our brains work at all.

Our brains, and the campaigns that are birthed by them, are the products of billions of neural interactions — or pure cerebral magic if you ask the creative rather than the researcher.

So how do we get our research, planning and creative brain camps to work together?

If you ask a neuroscientist, the answer might lie in the way we prepare our thought processes. In a recent study, researchers at Stanford measured neural activity and communication between different regions of the brain and found that how we mentally prepare for a task distinctly sets up the way our brain regions are able to communicate through neural pathways during the actual action. In other words, the moment you take to pause and prepare before diving into your challenge can make or break the whole process.

Luckily for us non-neuroscientists, this principle can be applied to our daily marketing challenges on a non-neural level. The idea is simple: Take a moment to get creative about the way you ask questions.

Pausing before ideation

The reality is that tight client turnarounds often mean that we skimp on doing our due diligence. We order up the same standard research briefs and competitive analyses and get frustrated when we get the same standard — and often uninspiring — key findings challenge after challenge. Creating novel ideas starts with asking novel questions.

Before the research even begins, take that pause your neural connections love so much. What are you actually trying to accomplish? Is there a better way to approach this challenge? How can we act as counselors to the client to shape this challenge in the best way possible?

Take that pause before you jump into ideation as well. Armed with insights and strategy, pull in some of your left-brained prowess and think about how you want your creative outputs to look through an analytical lens. Before thoughts of pitching your brilliant campaign even enter your mind, consider the metrics. How will you measure your idea? How will the research team be able to track true impact and success?

Whether you sit in a research department, in a planning role or wear the quirky hat of a creative, pause to redefine your brain’s boundaries with each challenge. And next time someone asks where the roles of research, planning and creativity should optimally intersect, just point to your capable left and right brain.

Macaela MacKenzie
Macaela MacKenzie is a senior planning associate at Ketchum. She’s responsible for helping clients across a variety of practice areas meet their challenges strategically and insightfully and is working to create a generation of strategic-minded university graduates through Ketchum’s Mindfire program. Email:


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