Play catch with your left and right brain: Inside insights on Business-Do

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.

There is something that all successful entrepreneurs have in common but that anyone can try out. You see it at work especially in those “crazy” entrepreneurs – the ones who attempt outrageous innovations that everyone says can’t be done. Entrepreneurs like myself, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.

Innovation accelerator and innovation brake

This commonality is inside our minds: It’s a constant game of catch between two key forces – the innovation accelerator and the innovation brake.

This tension is not a battle, but an engine for entrepreneurship. It’s because of both these elements that we are able to challenge conventional wisdom and attempt what others are sure is impossible. It’s this game of catch that makes us who we are.

Catch between these two poles – some call them the left and right brain – is a critical skill when it comes to innovation. Each force needs the pull of the other to be successful.

On the one hand, you have the innovation accelerator. This is the part of your brain that generates ideas. Sometimes, this part of your brain will generate an “a-ha!” moment – a flash of insight and inspiration that can change the world.

Don’t be afraid to pursue ‘out of this world’ ideas

SpaceMobile was on full display at Rakuten Mobile's March 3 press conference announcing  the mobile carrier's price plan and investment in AST & Science's venture to provide space-based connectivity.

Here’s one: Our collaboration with the SpaceMobile team has the potential to provide 4G and 5G coverage to almost 100% of the world’s geography, using satellites to connect directly to regular mobile phones. It’s an idea that many have said is crazy, but to the entrepreneur, that is where the challenge is found. Those are the challenges an entrepreneur must overcome. Envisioning this idea in your mind and recognizing that it is completely new and world changing – that is the innovation accelerator, roaring ahead full-steam.

But of course, we can’t have our foot on the gas all the time. If we were all to focus only on innovation all the time, the world would flood with disruptive new ideas and society would become unstable.

The left brain understands risk: Innovation brake

That’s where the game of catch comes in. When you have your “a-ha!” moment, toss it over to your brain’s other side – the side we call the innovation brake. Some call it the left brain. The left brain is all about logic. How will we assemble the talent to execute this innovative new idea? How will we find the money and technology to make this crazy idea work? The left brain understands risk. A crazy idea like 100% global mobile coverage is not a small bet. The left brain says: This is not golf where if you miss a stroke, you’re just one stroke back. A miss on a big effort like this one would be far more damaging than a missed stroke.

This is not a single exchange, but an ongoing game of catch. Each side of the brain takes up its challenge and then tosses the idea back. Do we have the money? Is the public ready for this idea?

Left or right brain? Embrace the back-and-forth

This is the Rakuten method. I’ve used this process many times. We have deployed it in many of our innovative efforts, from our Englishnization project to our medical research to our current efforts around mobile

The world cannot be run by the right brain alone. It would be chaotic and disruptive. At the same time, we can’t always have our foot on the brake of disruption. That will leave us with no new ideas at all.

The answer is not a balance between the right and left brain. It’s a trade-off. It’s an exchange. It’s a back-and-forth of the mind, tapping the best of each side of the brain’s thought processes.

Allow your mind to form a crazy new idea, and then toss it over: Catch!

At Rakuten, our process starts with our core principles. As a company, we are deliberately reconnecting to our core principles: by holding a weekly reading and Q&A session on Business-Do, the book I wrote to capture these principles for success. These are turbulent days in which we are called upon to make important decisions that may affect the health and safety of those around us ⁠— we all need core principles to help guide us.

For more Business-Do insights, click here.

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