The Cohen-Miller Report: Left vs Right Brain

Left vs Right Brain

by Emily Cohen

Recently, my 12th Grade daughter, Hunter, was interviewed by an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business as part of her application process. Hunter encountered an interesting situation, one that is all too familiar to my own professional experience – that of a “creative” talking to a more analytical thinker. Hunter is an entrepreneurial, creative thinker and is interested in going to business school to major in marketing. She sees marketing from the more creative-aspects and is very interested in combining her skills as a creative thinker with her more practical, business-minded brain. Unfortunately, the young woman who interviewed her was an engineer-type whose own career path was more traditional. Hunter clearly baffled her. It was as if they spoke two different languages.

When hearing Hunter talk about her creativity, the woman was a bit stymied by why business school was the appropriate choice for Hunter saying “I can totally see you in the fine art department.” She simply did not understand or appreciate the role of creativity in the business world. This type of advice continued throughout the interview, despite my daughter’s attempts to explain why she thought creative thinking was perfectly aligned with her goal to work in the business world. The interviewer, seeing Hunter was committed to business school, tried to switch the conversation to a more traditional business-school major and then asked Hunter why she did not pursue finance, which, in her mind, was the more “popular” and obvious choice of business-school majors. The entire experience made my daughter question her own direction and tarnished her expectations of business school itself; will other students enrolled in the program be similar to that of the young woman who interviewed her?

This whole disconnected experience reminded me of the all to common experience and frustration we have heard from many creative teams and clients. They frequently do not understand or appreciate each other. In fact, they don’t even speak the same language.

The challenge Hunter faces is one we all face: that of bridging the deep divide between the creative and business worlds and their individual ways of thinking. There are many success stories where innovation is leading business thinking but many corporate cultures still struggle with this deep divide and have yet to bridge the gap. While I have done a tremendous amount of research, reading, and consulting on this challenge, I would love to do more. If you have experience in this area I am very interested in hearing about it.

Emily has consulted with design firms and in-house corporate creative departments for over twenty years. During this time, she has provided confidential, best-practice insights and advice. She helps creatie teams improve operational effectiveness and helps companies build efficient teams and processes.

Emily currently serves on the board of advisors of InSource and on the AIGA In-House task force. Emily has also served as Secretary for the AIGA/NY Board of Directors and has taught classes and conducted seminars for many leading design schools and organizations. Emily is a frequently-requested speaker on business-related issues for the creative industry. Learn more at and


2 thoughts on “The Cohen-Miller Report: Left vs Right Brain

  1. Isabelle Picard

    I think it’s all about being aware of each other’s “blind spot”, i.e. what we do not know about people we interact with. I find that since I make a special effort to be aware of these blind spots, communication and understanding flow much better.

    For example, relationships and chit-chat are a part of doing business for salespeople, so now that I know this I take the time to chat with them instead of feeling intruded on. In return, I know that they are unaware of the problem-solving aspect of design and will try to dictate me what to do – again a trait of people who try to direct customers and close a sale – so instead of being insulted I take a step back, a deep breath and explain, in their language, why we need to take a broader look at things and consider the alternatives.

    I guess it’s all about not taking for granted that we know each other’s motives and gathering intelligence instead, so that we can understand each other’s reactions and anticipate meaningful replies to these reactions.

  2. Isabelle Picard

    I would also like to add that we creatives are usually much more analytical that we gives ourselves credit for. To me, problem-solving and analysis go hand-in-hand.