Oxen And The Brain

Jim Blasingame Watching a public television program recently about how American pioneers trained and employed oxen in the 19th century reminded me of our brains.

No, I'm not saying you have the brain of an ox. But my analogy does revolve around some similarities, and how the latter has actually replaced the former.

During the 19th century, more than 90% of all Americans depended directly upon the issue of the earth for survival. With so much of their daily existence having to be scratched from the land, early American settlers spent a lot of time training draft animals to work as a team in order to leverage their physical power.

Today the heavy lifting and daily sustenance of modern humans are derived more from the fruits of our brainpower than from any animal's brute strength. Consequently, we can, and should, spend more of our time contemplating a different kind of bilateral team -- the left and right hemispheres of the human brain.

Like a yoke of oxen, the hemispheres of our brain are hitched side-by-side. But even though our brain hemispheres physically meet the world head-on like a team of oxen, alas, they don't always pull together.

Nigh Ox And Off Ox
In addition to their names, oxen are also identified by their position in the yoke. The animal nearest the human is the nigh ox, always on left, while the one farthest away, always on the right, is the off ox. For effect and for fun, we'll be referring to one of the brain hemispheres as our nigh ox, and the other one our off ox. Except that unlike a yoke of oxen, as you will see, our nigh ox can be on either side.

Experts believe that human behavior can often be attributed to the influence of one of the hemispheres of the brain. It's generally accepted that the left hemisphere is dominant when we are logical, rational, and analytical. While the right hemisphere is pulling the hardest when we are intuitive, subjective, and emotive.

Research has shown that most humans favor one side of the brain when reacting to stimulus, solving problems, communicating, and generally pursuing life. Engineers, for example, are typically nigh to the left bow of the brain yoke, while artists are nigh to the right side. If you think about it, you can probably see how you are predisposed to the influences of one side of your brain.

Gender also plays a part of the hemisphere equation. Males don't have the franchise to the left hemisphere, but they do seem to predominately lead with that side, having a greater tendency to manage analytically and think in a strategically linear fashion. Likewise, females don't own the right brain territory, but are more likely to respond with the characteristics of that side, as consensus building managers who respond more holistically and intuitively.

Nature Meets Reality
All of this left brain/right brain stuff might be unremarkable to small business owners if it weren't for two things:

1. From time-to-time, as managers, we are called upon to perform and respond to issues with our off ox instead of our nigh ox.

2. Regardless of which side of the brain is nigh to us, we have to work and associate with those whose behavior is more likely to align with the other side of the brain yoke.

Let's take a look at examples of how these two realities manifest in the marketplace and in our small businesses.

Managing Your Oxen
As a small business owner, any given day is filled with demands on both sides of your brain. If you're developing a marketing campaign, you have to incorporate the right-brain emotive aspects of reaching out to prospective customers so that your branding effort connects to how they feel about what you have to sell. But you also -- often simultaneously -- must let your left-brain emerge to study the cold, hard analysis of media buys, demographic strategy, and ultimately, operational fulfillment of the business your plan generated.

It's likely that you look forward to one of these activities but not to the other one, depending on which side of your brain is your nigh ox and which is your off ox. But as a small business owner, you may not have the luxury of assigning the off ox work to an employee who relishes that kind of assignment. In those cases, you will have to cross over and perform effectively with your off ox.

Clearly, this last bit of reality may be the most classic example of how managing a small business is different from managing a department for a big business.

Working With Off Ox People
Everywhere we turn we run into people who are not like us because their nigh ox is our off ox. Our reactions to, and regard for, these people can range from indifference to disdain. But the small business reality is that we must be able to successfully work and do business with people who don't think as we do. For example:

• If you're a right-brain creative genius, you still have to employ, manage, and work with left-brain accountants and engineers.

• If you're strength is hard core, by-the-numbers focus and detailed analysis, you must be able to suffer -- sometimes gladly -- the seemingly random expressions of those whose job it is to put a friendly and welcoming face on your brand.

As a manager, you have the advantage of becoming familiar with employees and associates whose nigh ox is different from yours. But in sales, you have to be able to quickly assess which ox your current prospect favors. For example:

• If you're selling a product that is used by customers of both hemispheric persuasions, you will need to explain and demonstrate the features and benefits of your wares differently to each of the two groups. It's true that both may use the product for the same purpose, but they are almost certainly motivated to purchase it for different reasons.

Your challenge is not only to be prepared to effectively communicate with both of these groups of prospects, but also to be able to almost instantaneously recognize which one is in front of you.

There are individuals who are considered to be whole-brained, meaning their brain hemispheres respond more like a team of oxen, pulling together. This group is well suited for small business.

If you were born a whole-brainer, or have trained yourself to become one, congratulations; you will have to stretch less to deal with the bi-polar demands of the marketplace. Plus you will experience less stress and brain damage in order to work effectively with those who are nigh to one side of the brain yoke.

Write this on a rock... Regardless of which hemisphere of our brain is the nigh ox, the challenge for us is to manage more like a whole-brainer. No other marketplace participant is required to move from left-brain to right-brain and back again as is a small business owner.

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Category: Work-Life, Balance
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