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The New Economy: Retrain Your Brain

The New Economy: Retrain Your Brain

USA Today

August 24, 2009

Those who take the art course typically show “a 50% improvement” in assessing a patient’s symptoms, says Katz, himself an internist. “Usually doctors are not trained in humanism. Students usually say this has expanded their way of thinking, which benefits the patient.”

But that doesn’t mean those steeped in quantitative skills need an arts-major makeover.

Unique solutions often come from pairing people with complementary skills, says Darrell Rigby, Boston-based head of global innovation practices for management consulting firm Bain & Company, citing fashion as a prime example of how right-brain types can thrive within a financially driven matrix. “Brain transplants are not as successful as simple teamwork,” he jokes.

Seeking out creative solutions is now the prime directive for many companies, says Ross DeVol, director of regional economics at the Milken Institute, a Los Angeles-based non-profit think tank. “If the U.S. is going to remain an economic powerhouse, it will be due to value-added ideas. That means employees have to think more broadly about their job than ever before.”

A new way of thinking

Many such folks are meeting with career advisers such as Rebecca Zucker of Next Step Partners, an executive coaching firm with offices in New York and San Francisco. Zucker says many of her left-brain clients in finance and law “can’t believe that simply thinking harder won’t give them the answers they want.”

Instead, she urges them to treat the transition to a new way of thinking as if they’re at a buffet. "They need to try different things, whether it’s reading a book about something that intrigues them or taking a class. People are asking, ‘What else can I do, or learn to do?’ "

A health-food-focused vacation to Brazil is what planted a right-brain seed in Allison Jagtiani’s head. The longtime equity research analyst had been watching her pay decrease and workload increase over the past year, and in March decided to make her move. The Des Moines native quit her Wall Street job and started baking cookies laced with antioxidant-rich goji berries.

“This is the most exciting, challenging thing I’ve ever done,” she says of her nascent venture, Goji Gourmet. “It’d be hard to go back to a cube and crunch numbers.”

That sentiment resonates with Chris Halloran of Phoenix. In his heyday as an investment baker, he pulled a seven-figure salary. But since giving that up last year to start his photo studio, Halloran says the first $85 he made for being creative — shooting a friend’s website photo — thrilled him more than any money he made poring through spreadsheets.

“My old job was about valuing a company’s worth, which is all about quantitative skills and very little about personal contact. Now I get to do something that deals in beauty and makes people happy,” Halloran says.

For ex-Lehman employees Kim and Pham, their ability to tack away from their left-brain comfort zone into uncharted right-brain waters has resulted in not just employment, but innovative work that could prove the backbone of a resurgent economy.

“I liked putting people together ever since I was a little girl, but just went ahead and became a lawyer,” says Kim, whose website connects local entrepreneurs with a national marketplace. “Who knew that what I loved doing as a kid could be a job?”