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Left Brain vs. Right Brain: How I Exercise Creativity in a Numbers-Focused Industry

Is there room for creativity in a numbers-focused industry such as SEO? YES! Here's how I've pushed myself to achieve left/right brain balance.

Friday Focus

When I was 6 years old, my mom started going to community college to study nursing.

As her own “mini-me”, I wanted to be just like her – ambitious, studious, smart, and most likely to be seen burning the midnight oil.

I’d flick through her chemistry books, pretending I could read the Periodic Table and that I understood the difference between a proton and a neutron.

I’d tinker with her chemistry set, draw cells all over scratch paper, and excitedly asked for my own microscope for Christmas.

I had a love of science and math, but also reading and art. All of the above complimented each other, I thought, so I anticipated that I’d grow up to be a painter/scientist/teacher all in one.

But at some point, my passion for math and science got all but snuffed out. Perhaps it was due to my dominant love of art, or maybe because my schooling (and society) veered me toward more “soft” subjects.

Either way, by high school, I could have never imagined I’d end up in a field that had anything to do with science, technology, engineering, or math.

The Left Brain vs. Right Brain Conundrum

Enter college and I was thrown into an environment that demanded that I exercise my “left brain” (analytical and methodical) more than my right (creative and artistic).

I was required to take calculus, chemistry, statistics, and macroeconomics. At the same time, I was there on an art scholarship.

I felt like I was being pulled multiple directions at once. Completely exhausted.

See, psychology and society tell us that we have “two brains”: the methodical side and the creative side. The idea is that most people are dominant on one side over the other.

The problem is, I think this becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, where people come to “learn” that they are dominant on one side and therefore identify with being either methodical or creative, but not both.

This is further solidified by society saying that men are methodical and women are creative (or “feeling,” as a lot of sources put it).

The result is then this split where women feel that STEM is not meant for them and that men feel like art and “soft” sciences aren’t open to them.

Obviously, there are many exceptions to this and people break barriers all the time, but these beliefs are so pervasive that people think they are biologically included to either been “left-brained” or “right-brained,” but not both.

In my journey, I’ve realized that it’s possible to be both – as long as you are willing to break down societal barriers and focus on “exercising” the half of your brain you’ve been all but neglected for all these years.

Something that I had to do when I entered the field of SEO.

SEO as a ‘Left Brain’ Dominant Industry

As with most STEM careers, a career in SEO demands a strong left brain. You’re required to analyze numbers, troubleshoot problems, and think methodically about possible solutions.

Your rankings dipped after the latest Google algorithm update?

Time to dig into the data to see what’s afoot.

Maybe run a competitive analysis to see what your competitors got right, and how you might apply them to your own strategy.

Result (whether intentional or not), is a male-dominated field – with more men in “numbers-focused” areas like technical SEO and more women in “creative” areas like SEO writing and content marketing.

However, as everyone who has been in SEO knows, the SEO industry demands both.

The right/left, male/woman split here is not a critique, rather an observation regarding how STEM often creates this left/right brain conundrum when people have been influenced to identify with one or the other.

So what is a savvy SEO to do?

Consciously Exercising My Left Brain

It may sound like a silly concept, but it has taken me consciously exercising my left brain in order to make sense of this industry and provide the best SEO services possible to my clients.

Since I am obviously pulled toward creativity and writing, I’d had to actively pursue opportunities to flex my left brain like a muscle.

These “exercises” have included:

  • Taking a deep-dive into Google Analytics in order to gain a better understanding of analytics and how they apply to SEO content.
  • Acquiring in-person and online training in technical and on-page SEO.
  • Taking control of my business finances by hiring an accountant, handling my allocations every month, and budgeting to invest in the growth of my business.
  • Finally launching my own personal investment portfolio.
  • Teaching myself the ins-and-outs of “funnel hacking,” LinkedIn SEO, Pinterest’s algorithm, and tons of “outlier” marketing strategies.

My desire to learn more about math, science, and technology doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

Staying artsy and creative is comfortable. Flexing my left brain is challenging.

The ‘Aha!’ Moment

The realization that I needed to make a conscious effort in exercising my left brain came when I started tackling my business finances head-on.

I had a mess of numbers on my hands – hello, no accounting experience – and there was a big question mark over whether my business was profitable or not.

I couldn’t keep playing the “If I don’t look it doesn’t exist game”. Instead, I snagged as many books as I could on business accounting and hired a CPA to walk me through my bookkeeping mess.

I also realized that if I wanted to truly level up my business, I’d have to be more intentional about showcasing the results I was generating for my clients. That meant analysis and making sense of the cold, hard numbers.

“Growth” could be felt, but it also needed to be measurable. I needed to show prospects that beyond getting clients to the “first page of Google”, that I was able to increase their organic traffic by X% and lift conversions by Y% across the board.

Do You Need to Exercise Your Left or Right Brain?

In which areas is there untapped potential, simply because we have this fear that we “just don’t get it?”

We say things like “I’m not a math person” or “I suck at art”, and though these things may be true to some degree, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where we avoid these things altogether.

We never push ourselves to venture to the “other side”, even if we want to.

Maybe you’re a “data guy” who has always wanted to try your hand at music or poetry or creative writing.

Maybe you spend your days editing copy, but wish you knew more about CSS and how to build a website.

There are opportunities for all of us to exercise “the other half,” but we have to overcome fear. Fear of looking like a fool, messing up, making mistakes, or even being called out by the pros.

This is something that I was to encourage in the SEO community.

I want people to try different strategies, and also support people who are new in the space.

As soon as you think you have all the answers, that’s when you are closing yourself off to possibilities.

There are communities that are underrepresented in STEM because they feel like it isn’t meant for them. This can be due to a variety of factors, but let’s not keep SEO closed off thinking there’s no room for creativity, art, or design.

The left/right brain balance is a possibility when we make space for different skill sets, strategies, and opinions.

And, on a personal level, I think we are all better off when we pursue our passions, regardless of whether it aligns with what we thought ourselves to be.

There’s always room for growth.

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Category Friday Focus

Jessica Foster is the founder and lead SEO Content Writer at Keys&Copy – a premier content agency that serves SEO ...

Left Brain vs. Right Brain: How I Exercise Creativity in a Numbers-Focused Industry

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