BALANCE. For the past 200 years, researchers have been developing the field of hemisphericity. A breakthrough came in the late 1940s when neurosurgeons first successfully linked behavior to hemisphericity. Language and mathematics reside in the left brain, they confirmed; art, intuition, illusions and metaphysics in the right. The left identifies tasks, gathers data, analyzes information and prepares details; the right assesses context, forms patterns, considers outcomes and prepares for implementation. The two work in harmony, and a project manager must use both sides in balance.

But left-brainers, including most construction engineers, are more competitive. A right-brainer doesn't mind losing once in a while�it's only a game, after all. A right-brainer is one with the universe. A left-brainer wants to get the job done. We always liked construction engineers who were "practical" and "down to earth," didn't we? But don't talk to construction engineers about Maslow's theory of self-actualization, although they need it most. Seldom can you talk about anything spiritual with a mechanical mind that enjoys discipline, efficiency.

You can imagine how arguments arise between individuals with differing perspectives. One group may be analytical and logical; the other, intuitive and holistic. Many decades-old conflicts are as much between different hemisphericities as cultures: Arabs and Israelis, Serbs and Bosnians, and Indians and Pakistanis.

A right-brainer is usually a "dominant" type. While individuals of the same gender can get along no matter what, marriages should have partners of opposite hemisphericities. To put right-brainers in close quarters in a conventional marriage is asking for trouble because both seek dominance. Most divorces in the U.S. are between right-brained couples. While sex between right-brainers of the opposite gender is often hot, the relationship often wears thin once the steam subsides.

I used to wonder why so many construction plans get proposed, then shelved. Usually, it's not that the cost is excessive or that the objectives aren't being met. It's because of someone's differing perspective. And so many academic administration issues fall into this category that I've stopped wondering about the causes of the crisis in higher education.

I recall a design project that I worked on in the early 1980s for a high-rise in Kuwait. Although the structural design came out of West Germany, some details needed to be designed on site because of some scope changes. My supervisor, a retired structural engineering professor whom I realize now was a linear-thinking left-brainer, guided us through elaborate calculations to come up with the dimensions for beams and walls around the area of a change. When the German designer came to visit us, he asked why we had bothered. Laid back and an obvious right-brainer, he told us that the building would stand no matter what we had designed!

DETAILS. Design engineers often prefer leaving details to draftsmen, construction engineers or technical detailers. Where a construction manager looks for exact details of soldier piles, wales and tie-backs, a design engineer often focuses on the soundness of the overall design.

Lacking the stomach for details, design engineers often can't get their drawings right. They enjoy creativity and come out with an interesting design now and then. Just don't ask them to put it down fully on paper. Too bad for construction engineers and contractors who must spot the mistakes to get everything constructed right. My FHWA/HDOT study showed that construction engineers yelled for changes more often than design engineers.

Upon administering a modified Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test to the engineers in the department that I studied, I discovered that it lacked one powerful group: so-called NTs (for iNtuitive Thinkers). Without them, strategic leadership is seldom effective. These engineers believed in the power of intuition. But intuition is predominantly a right-brain activity. And in this department there were more linear-thinking left-brainers than intuitive right-brainers. No wonder that its leadership quality was uniformly berated.

From the same tests, I found that the design engineers were mostly so-called "judging" types who prefer structured, focused meetings and tasks; the construction engineers were "perceiving" types who desire flexible meetings and tasks. That's why it's been so difficult to get anything started between those two groups—scoping, constructability, claims resolutions, design and drawing trouble-shooting—anything that has them working together. From my findings, the constructors were from Mars and the designers from Venus. Now we know where these guys come from in this troubled industry.

Amarjit Singh is an associate professor
at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu,
and a former chairman of the Hawaii Council
of Engineering Societies. He may be e-mailed
at singh@wiliki.eng.hawaii.edu. The views in this
article are those of the author and not necessarily
those of FHWA or HDOT.

o wonder that so many construction engineers complain about the poor quality of design drawings; no wonder that construction and design engineers rarely see eye-to-eye in dispute resolutions; no wonder that construction engineers often propose methods different from what design engineers feel comfortable with. It's because of polarized hemisphericities. In a recent study that I did with funding from the Federal Highway Administration and Hawaii Dept. of Transportation, I found that most construction engineers are left-brained and most design engineers are right-brained.