"Because every business runs on its thinking, optimizing thinking is the key to better performance and better results."
Thinking. We all do it, albeit some better than others, and yet most of us take this capability for granted. We typically don’t spend much time thinking about how to improve how we think. Fortunately, there are people like Ned Herrmann and his daughter Ann who have spent their careers studying the brain, how people think, and how we can unleash our hidden wisdom through Whole Brain Thinking.
Ned’s curiosity about how the brain worked eventually resulted in the development of a diagnostic tool (the Herrmann Brain Dominance InstrumentR) which reveals an individual’s preference for four different thinking styles. I completed this assessment years ago as a participant in an intensive leadership program. The results were very insightful and generated some interesting conversations amongst my colleagues. So when I discovered The Whole Brain Business Book (Second Edition), I knew it would be a fascinating read.
At 388 pages, this is not a book for the casual reader, although the material is well organized and you don’t need to read the entire book to glean helpful insights. Each chapter opens with a cartoon followed by 3-4 bullet points that sum up the key points. Real life scenarios illustrate the theoretical concepts and the authors include a “Put it to Work” section that helps readers apply the learnings to their own situations. If you are curious about understanding yourself and the people around you better, this book will definitely help.
The Big Idea
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
"Applying Whole Brain Thinking means being able to fully leverage one’s own preferences, stretch to other styles when necessary, and to adapt to and take advantage of the preferences of those around you to improve performance and results."
You have probably heard of the popular left-brain right-brain distinction first described by Roger Sperry whereby the two hemispheres of our brain are responsible for different specialized functions – logic and creativity respectively. The Whole Brain model Ned Herrmann developed both builds on and debunks this dichotomy by describing four inter-connected thinking quadrants:
A – The Analyzer: logical thinking, analysis of facts, processing numbers
B – The Organizer: planning approaches, organizing facts, detailed review
C – The Personalizer: interpersonal, intuitive, expressive
D – The Strategizer: imaginative, big-picture thinking, conceptualizing
The Herrmann’s research demonstrates that everyone has distinct preferences for one or more of these thinking styles. The important thing to understand about these preferences is that one is not better than another. Each style has context specific advantages and limitations. Sustainable business success is more likely when all four modes of thinking are utilized.
Thus the advice of the The Big Idea – Don’t Get Too Comfortable. Be aware of your thinking preferences but don’t cling stubbornly to them as if they are infallible. Push yourself to think about issues and problems using your less preferred thinking modes. Or at least discuss them with people whose strengths align with those other thinking styles. Whole Brain thinking can reveal possibilities we may inadvertently overlook if we rely too heavily on our dominant thinking patterns.
Exercise your Brain!
"You can work outside your zone of preference, but it will take an enormous amount of effort and motivation...just like working out at the gym."
I can hear the collective groans of many of you at the thought of exercising your brain. Yet, just as our bodies need exercise to develop strength and resiliency, our brain also needs to flex its mental muscles. Developing your competencies and honing your expertise requires time and effort even in your natural areas of preference. And like physical exercise, incorporating mental calisthenics within your daily activities as well as setting aside time for dedicated practice will yield optimum results.
Now before you totally disengage, keep in mind that you don’t have to develop Herculean strengths in all four thinking quadrants. The idea is to become just a little bit more comfortable using those less preferred thinking styles so you can leverage them more easily when the situation warrants. Not sure how to do that? Here are a few ideas from the book:
A Quadrant (Analytical) – Define your work goals for the next quarter in terms of the return on time and investment; try some logic games like Soduko or KenKen
B Quadrant (Practical) – Organize your filing system, inbox and workspace; prepare a detailed property list or work on your family tree
C Quadrant (Relational) – Offer to mentor or coach a coworker on a company project; expand your playlist and take regular music breaks
D Quadrant (Experimental) – set aside time for idea generation and think of at least one “crazy” idea per day; create a personal logo or slogan
Remember, just like going to the gym, exercising underutilized thinking styles will feel awkward and uncomfortable initially and that’s ok! Keep at it. It will become easier the more you do it and you will reap the benefits.
No One Is Smarter than Everyone
"We need to figure out how to listen for, and leverage, the differences in thinking on our teams, especially when we are facing tough new challenges."
Self-awareness of our own thinking preferences and pushing ourselves to use our less-preferred quadrants will certainly improve our success rates in business and life. However, to truly unleash the full potential of our organizations (and families), we would be wise to tune into and then utilize the thinking styles of our co-workers and family members.
Research has shown that mentally diverse heterogeneous groups produce more creative, effective solutions than do similar-thinking homogeneous groups. In an increasingly complex world that requires more innovative solutions to address its challenges, ensuring project teams have members representing all four thinking quadrants is critical. The drawback is that these teams will face communication challenges because their thinking preferences will clash. Team members will need to understand and appreciate the different thinking styles of their teammates before these differences can be leveraged to create more robust and effective solutions. This requires extra time and effort initially however is well worth the investment (recall insight #1).
So when you find yourself getting frustrated with a family member or colleague, you may want to step back and consider if the clash is partially rooted in your different thinking styles. Acknowledging those differences and asking questions to better understand other perspectives can broaden your own thinking on the issue and lead to improved outcomes for all concerned.
The Whole Brain Business Book is both insightful and overwhelming. It affirms our core strengths and values yet forces us to acknowledge that our thinking is often faulty because we don’t always consider all the relevant data (the four quadrants) when making decisions. There is a lot to absorb and practice if we are truly interested in improving how we think and interact with others. The good news is the authors provide plenty of application-friendly exercises to guide our efforts. In my humble opinion, dedicating time to becoming more comfortable with Whole Brain Thinking is (pardon the pun) … a no-brainer!
Which thinking styles sound most like you (based on the short descriptions provided in this summary)? Which ones do you need to exercise more in order to round out your thinking?