What Does Diversity Have to Do with Innovation?

What cognitive diversity has to do with innovation

For many, the word “diversity” brings up images of staid EEOC training or well-intended but not necessarily critical programs—the “have-to-dos” that don’t get much buy-in or enthusiastic support across the business. So it’s probably not the first word that comes to mind when you’re talking about innovation.

But here’s why it should be.

“A diverse group of people can be more innovative than a homogenous group.”

In making that statement, David Greenberg, Senior Vice President of HR for L’Oréal US, emphasized that he’s not just talking about the more traditional definition of diversity but also diversity of thought, which he says is key to how L’Oréal fosters innovation. While he acknowledges that there can be more friction and discomfort when you bring together people who think differently, “the output,” he says, “is more innovative.”

Cognitive diversity­ has been getting a lot of attention lately for this very reason. Modern business issues demand innovative thinking, especially when you consider the fact that, from market conditions to customer demographics to the problems, tasks and tools, nearly all of the variables have changed. With so much complexity, we need diverse perspectives and ideas. You can’t use old processes to fix new problems.

Our research, including the six-year study on team effectiveness conducted by the US Forest Service, as well as numerous examples from companies like Caesars/Harrahs Entertainment, has consistently shown that you get greater creative output and, ultimately, more effective solutions when you bring together heterogeneous thinking teams and give them practical tools to leverage their differences. Furthermore, mentally balanced teams consider more options, make better decisions and exceed expectations more often than homogeneous teams. Read more

How to Get Value from a Team’s Thinking Diversity

Trying to navigate a thorny issue? Need an innovative solution? Looking for a way to help your team dig deeper and really flex their thinking muscles?

Bring in diversity—of all kinds.

Our research, and the experience of companies like Harrahs Entertainment and Brown- Forman, has shown what a difference difference makes on a team, whether you’re trying to solve a complex problem or come up with more creative ideas. A recent Scientific-American article echoes this point with the particularly eye-catching title, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.”

The article points out that not only do people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives benefit from the diverse information they bring to the group, the diversity itself provokes different thinking, “jolting us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.”

So difference in a group can lead to better problem solving and decision making as well as more innovative ideas—but it’s not just as simple as putting diverse people on a team and seeing what comes out of it.

From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that when a team has representation from across the thinking spectrum, each person will approach problems quite differently. This is a huge benefit to the team, but only if the team recognizes each others’ preferences and how they each add value.

Honoring different thinking approaches will allow every member to share their thinking and ideas openly. Once that openness occurs, the team’s creativity begins to emerge as they’re motivated to take advantage of the different thinking styles rather than viewing them as obstacles. And as a foundation for a discussion about diversity, thinking gives people a non-judgmental starting point. It’s not about behaviors, personalities or other attributes; this is just how someone prefers to process information.

Here’s what we’ve learned about setting up a diverse team for success:

  1. The more heterogeneous (mentally diverse) a group is, the more they need a multi-dominant facilitator/leader. Agile team leaders are critical for managing and leveraging difference on the team.
  2. Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can “crash,” unless they take the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
  3. Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he’s a “this” or she’s a “that”).
  4. Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, more process time and consistent communication are even more important.
  5. Virtual teams need a common language even more than co-located teams to increase the speed of relationship building and decrease miscommunication.

Remember: Successful teams practice “creative contention.” Any team that does not disagree is not doing effective work or leveraging their differences. The art is in knowing how to do it productively.

Are you bringing together diverse thinking to get more innovative? How do you encourage and manage creative contention?

Expect Difference: 4 Tips for Valuing Thinking Diversity

One of the concepts we talk about in the Whole Brain Business Book is that no matter who you’re interacting with, whether it’s at work or at home, when it comes to thinking preferences, expect difference.

Sure, it’s often easier to work with someone who has similar thinking preferences to your own. It’s as if you operate in your own shorthand, and you instantly seem to “get” each other. But it’s not always possible, or even likely, that you’ll be surrounded by people who prefer think like you do. In fact, our data shows that difference is more often the norm.

This is a good thing! In fact, a study of teams with the US Forest Service found that when you have difference in a team—and that can be a difference in thinking styles, gender, age or other factors—the team is 66% more effective. And we certainly know from our research that you can get a lot more creative output from a group of diverse thinkers.

The challenge is that the brain likes patterns, so it’s always looking for similarities. When a difference occurs, it’s jarring, and in some instances we don’t always react in a way that’s very positive. But you can change your mindset about differences. Recognizing both the reality and the value in difference is a good starting point.

Here are four tips for getting the most from your own and others’ thinking diversity:

Expect it and plan for it so you’re not quite so surprised when you face it. Awareness can keep you from having a knee-jerk reaction or jumping to conclusions.

  1. Look for the learning you can get from different perspectives: What might you overlook without them? That, alone, may encourage you to seek out differences.
  2. Keep in mind this process requires a mental stretch. If you’re irritated, the other person probably is, too. You both have to stretch to bridge the thinking divide, so recognize what’s happening and cut each other some slack.
  3. Unique is normal—so have fun with it! In nearly every discussion we have with clients, they share stories of how recognizing and valuing thinking diversity has helped them lighten up about it. They realize the differences aren’t personal, it’s just “where she’s coming from.”

What are some of the ways you can apply these in your work? Or how about at home?

Research Reveals Keys to Increasing Team Productivity

How do you increase the efficiency of a group of people? How do you get more output from your existing human resources?

Those were the questions Charles G. DeRidder and Mark A. Wilcox examined as part of a six-year research study they conducted with the USDA Forest Service.

The premise of their study was that a diversity of thinking would help teams reach new performance benchmarks. Using the Whole Brain® Model as the foundation for their work, along with thinking style data from Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) assessments, they documented significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness when teams were designed to include a balance of thinking preferences.

Among their findings and lessons learned:

  • Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective; they consider more options and make better decisions.
  • Whole Brained teams were 66% more efficient than homogenous teams.
  • 70% or more of the teams were “successful” when Whole Brained vs. 30% or less when not.
  • Size matters: 7 members is the ideal team size.

As DeRidder and Wilcox observed, if you want to break through to the next level of production and increase team productivity/efficiency, “The answer is clear: Organize mentally balanced teams that match the task.”

Download the full research report to read more about the study, methodology and outcomes: Improving Group Productivity: Whole Brain® Teams Set New Benchmarks

Watch: In this video, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi shares tips for improving team performance.

Learning and Development Trends from ASTD

conference room

The Herrmann International team checked in from the floor of the Expo Hall at the 2011 ASTD International Conference & Expo in Orlando last month, giving us a glimpse of some of the hot topics they were hearing about during the show. Hear what they had to say.

As you look back on it now, what were your biggest take-aways from ASTD this year?

We’re heard from a few of you on Twitter and through your own blog posts (such as Jack Massa’s Top 3 Things I Learned at ASTD ICE 2011). If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to share your key learnings in the comments.

 What were your impressions of this year’s show?
 What were the top take-aways?
 What topics do you want to hear about next year?

The Trends We’re Watching in 2010: How Will They Impact You?


From leadership strength to innovation, virtual teams to social learning, faster on-boarding to better measurement, business leaders and learning professionals have a full plate in 2010.

We’ve distilled down the trends and focus areas organizations are talking about into our list of Top 10 for 2010, including the Whole Brain® implications for each of these trend areas.

So tell us: What stands out to you when you read through this list? What will be the top 3 hot button topics that you, your organization or your clients will be dealing with this year?

Share your top 3 and any other thoughts you have about trends for the year in the comments section of this post. A few lucky commenters will be winners of our next prize give-away on the Whole Brain® Blog!

Note: This is an expansion of an article that appears in our January BrainBytes™ e-newsletter. Be sure to sign up if you’re not already receiving our monthly newsletter.

  1. Strengthening Overall Leadership Skills. With the planned economic rebound, never has there been such a demand for leadership. After a year in which much development was “on hold,” many organizations are reviewing their existing curricula, updating their approaches with new blended offerings and emphasizing competencies that stress a broader range of skills and a need for situational thinking.Whole Brain® Implication: Understanding leadership through a Whole Brain® lens allows for a fresh approach to leader development. I am currently working on a model of the leadership attributes required for 21st Century leaders. (Please email me if you are interested in receiving a copy.)
  2. A Broader Definition of Diversity (and related talent management implications). Diversity and diversity initiatives continue to play a significant role in the workplace, and the definition is expanding to include such areas as thinking and generational differences. There is also a growing focus on the business benefits of inclusion, beyond an articulation of the process and need. Whole Brain® Implication: When the HBDI® is used as a platform or introduction to diversity, it provides a broader lens for viewing diversity and immediately gives the initiative a practical, relatable and actionable context. A recent article on Harrah’s approach to “diverse by design” teaming is a great example of how cognitive diversity can be leveraged for increased innovation.
  3. Adapting to Virtual Leadership and Team Roles. Reduced travel and a growing “virtual workforce” have decreased face-to-face time and both highlighted and heightened the need for more effective approaches to virtual leadership, teaming and communications.Whole Brain® Implication: Terrific research on Virtual Distance has emerged, and it recommends the use of an approach (like Herrmann International’s!) to reduce the perceived distance between virtual colleagues and increase their effectiveness. It’s a topic we’re considering for a future webinar if there is enough interest. If you have a particular interest or need, be sure to consult with your Herrmann Client Relationship Manager for information and assistance.
  4. Faster On-Boarding and Ramp-up to New Functions, Teams and Responsibilities. In light of the desired mobility and shorter job stints of younger generations, the need for rapid assimilation has increased even further. Whole Brain® Implication: Several organizations in the United States and around the globe are using the HBDI® as an accelerator for assimilation and “culture positioning.”
  5. Developing and Retaining High-Potential Employees. Emerging leaders, or “Hi-Po’s” as they are often called, are a precious resource and will be at risk for poaching from the competition as soon as the economy rebounds (and don’t kid yourself: The best are already weighing their options!). Whole Brain® Implication: As early as in the 1980s, Ned Herrmann used the HBDI® at Crotonville as a development platform for Hi-Po’s. Since then a multitude of companies have found the model to be a good fit because it helps to build off of and honor preference in addition to providing the opportunity for stretching thinking as needed – thus, no cop-outs!
  6. Building Teams That Fuel Innovation. Many believe that innovation will be the key for succeeding in the wake of this economic crisis. The opportunity is there, but innovating out of the recession requires work at both the organizational culture level and the team level – work that many organizations have yet to take on or simply aren’t doing well. Whole Brain® Implication: In her recent book, The Firefly Effect, Kimberly Douglas, President of FireFly Facilitation, a Herrmann HBDI® Certified Practitioner and a nationally recognized team effectiveness expert, shares a multitude of ways she has used Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® to help her clients transform group talents and energies into innovative business ideas.
  7. Social Media Implications on Customer Experience, Service and Brand. A recent article in Scientific American Mind on social networks and mental health addresses many of the questions we are asking about what it all means for us as humans. Clearly, there are huge organizational implications as we look for effective, informal touch points with those we serve. Whole Brain® Implication: I addressed the phenomenon of hyperthinking and its impact on the brain in an article last year. With so many communication options accessible to us all, it’s never been more important to look for ways to communicate using a Whole Brain® approach: Who is your target? How do they like to be communicated to?
  8. Expanding Effective Use of Informal Learning, Social Learning and Self-Paced E-Learning. We have learned much in recent years about the power and effectiveness of informal learning from many thought leaders, including my friend Jay Cross. Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies is great resource on social learning (follow her on Twitter or check out her blog, Social Media in Learning). The economic crisis has led to a renewed interest in self-paced e-learning and simulations as a viable part of a blended solution. Whole Brain® Implication: The brain is an essential part of all learning processes. As you reflect on your design options, think about ways to use a Whole Brain® Approach to enhance the outcomes. For more on Whole Brain® learning and design, download the recent white paper, The Best of Both Worlds – Making Blended Learning Really Work by Engaging the Whole Brain®, or see my article, The Learner – What We Need to Know, in the ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals.
  9. Better Measurement of Learning Impact/Demonstrating Connection to Bottom-Line Results. Demonstrating ROI is still one of the biggest challenges of many in our profession, and with resources tight, the connection to the bottom line is ever more critical. Learning leaders are redoubling their efforts to better measure and more effectively articulate training’s impact on organizational success. Whole Brain® Implication: For several years I have referred to ROI as Return on (a) Investment, (b) Implementation, (c) Interaction and (d) Ideas. All four are vital. What results are you trying to drive?
  10. Increasing Training in 2010 (but not necessarily increasing resources). The need is there! Many are saying there is a pent-up demand for training and development and feel they have some catching up to do. Others kept things going in ‘09 but see a growing demand for development in a growing (albeit slowly) economy. Whole Brain® Implication: Clients are telling us that the Whole Brain® approach gives them the advantage of a platform for learning that is fast to teach, can address a wide range of applications and has great stickability.
  11. Sources

Support for Your Supplier Diversity Initiatives: Herrmann International is Nationally Certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise


We’re pleased to announce that Herrmann International has received national certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Greater Women’s Business Council, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

The organizations we work with have a strong commitment to fostering diversity at all levels – including within their supplier ranks and throughout the supply chain. This certification gives them the assurance that Herrmann has met the strict requirements of WBENC’s certification standards.

As part of the meticulous process the WBENC institutes, we provided a detailed notarized affidavit, client interviews and site visits. The process was designed to confirm that our business is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.

By including women-owned businesses among their suppliers and partners, corporations and government agencies demonstrate their commitment to fostering diversity and the continued development of their supplier diversity programs.

To learn more about Herrmann International’s status as a Women’s Business Enterprise and how it can support an organization’s diversity initiatives, contact 800-432-4234 (press 6) or email