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I’m not a numbers guy. I may have mentioned that before, and nothing has changed.

The only time I ever exhibit any left brain tendencies is when I’m out in the shop working on a car or truck, or when I’m at the computer searching for the solution to a difficult problem. Those are the only times being organized or analytical are anything but a struggle for me.

Despite that, there are times when left-brain functions are essential. Earlier this year, for instance, I worked my way through spreadsheet after spreadsheet filled with last year’s numbers, trying to create a new, more realistic budget for 2013.

Right brain? Left brain? What’s that all about?

A number of psychologists insist brain function is divided between the brain’s two hemispheres, with each having distinct and very different responsibilities. Right-side dominance suggests a person who is more creative, abstract, intuitive and emotional. Folks who are left-hemisphere dominant tend to exhibit more acute critical thinking skills. They are more organized and analytical; they reason more and are generally better with numbers.

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Once upon a time, it was thought most people were one or the other. And, yet, in order to do what we do we need to use just about every brain cell we’ve got, regardless of where it lives. You need the more analytical left hemisphere for critical analysis and the more creative right brain to reach creative solutions. 

These are the same skills and abilities you need to master when transitioning from the shop to the office.

You see, the numbers that make up your business are a language you must master if you are serious about success. And, while it’s true that you can appreciate music without being able to read or write a note, or understand what your accountant is trying to communicate without the ability to create your own spreadsheets, ratios or formulas, it’s just as certain that level of understanding will take you and your business where you want and need to go.

I know this because I’ve experienced it personally. I know it because I gave both hemispheres of my brain the workout of a lifetime poring over my own numbers earlier this year.

I know this level of understanding is a critical survival skill for those times when the fates conspire against you and, despite your best efforts, you find yourself drowning in a sea of adversity. When the economy suddenly goes sour, car count drops, margins erode and your expenses continue to climb. That’s when the only truths you are likely to find are those found in the numbers that are your business. And, anything less than your ability to read those numbers and accurately discern the patterns they reveal is just plain dangerous.

I know this because it’s something we are experiencing even now as I write this. And, because I’ve become intimate with those numbers, because I look at them more than once a month, it’s something I’m dealing with, something I saw coming, something I’m confident we can and will overcome.

One of the most important business lessons you will ever learn is that all of those numbers, all of your numbers, are by definition historical data. That means, unless you are looking forward based upon what you’ve learned from the past, you will always find yourself looking backward. You can’t safely steer a successful course toward a better future if all you’ve got is what you can see through your rearview mirror—not safely at any rate.

All that’s important is how you use that information—those numbers—to make better decisions that will move you and your company toward success. You need to be dialed in to that left hemisphere when you’re analyzing and evaluating what’s been going on in your business, and dialed into the right hemisphere while searching for powerful and positive solutions.


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi, Calif. He is a longtime industry educator, trade journalist, author and seminar facilitator. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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