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Why Problem Solving Starts with Problem Definition

Why Problem Solving Starts with Defining Problems

Charles Kettering, the celebrated inventor and head of research at General Motors, once said that a problem well stated is a problem half solved. Most people today would probably agree. And yet, it’s not what most people usually do.

Typically, they jump right in to brainstorming solutions before understanding what they really want to accomplish.

You can dramatically increase your problem-solving effectiveness by taking a few minutes to define the problem up front. In fact, you might be surprised at how often this step leads directly to a solution.

Take the elevator makers’ dilemma, for example.

You can imagine what it was like when elevators were introduced. People were understandably nervous about getting on them. They fidgeted and pushed buttons, impatient and waiting for the elevator to arrive at its destination. And there was a widespread perception that elevators were unbelievably slow. This led to complaints.

So, elevator makers had a problem on their hands: Can we make our product move faster? Read more

Asking these 4 questions will improve problem solving in your group

4 Questions that Will Improve Problem Solving in Your Group

Due to a quality problem with a weekly shipment, a large financial publishing firm was facing a very unhappy $50 million customer.

This was obviously a very big deal. The managers were scrambling for a solution and feeling stuck. So they reached out to someone in the organization who knew about our Whole Brain® Model and asked for help.

This person pointed out that the managers had done some things very well. They’d done the analysis. They’d crunched the numbers. They’d focused on the fact-based and implementation-oriented thinking aspects of the problem by discovering what the symptoms were and how they were playing out. Yet there was something missing—a new way of looking at the problem, a shift in mindset. Read more

4 Steps to Integrate Thinking into Your Teambuilding Exercises

4 Steps to Integrate Thinking into Teambuilding Exercises

Teambuilding exercises. Just the words can bring up strong feelings and long memories, from awkward exercises and superficial “feel-good” activities to other tasks that have questionable—if any—lasting business value.

But we know that teams are essential to getting work done in today’s business environment. A large majority of the workplace now spends a high percentage of its time in team-related activities, and this trend is only expected to escalate.

But as we also know from our own team experiences, you don’t automatically get the results you’re looking for just by bringing people together. Communication breakdowns, competing priorities, conflict and a lack of trust are just a few of the obstacles that can, and often do, get in the way of the team’s success. Read more

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

5 Reasons to Laugh at Stress (and Why Your Brain Will Thank You)

Let’s face it. If you’re like most people today, you’re stressed. From the intensity of the business environment to unpredictable, constantly changing world events to the fast-approaching holiday season, there are plenty of reasons to feel the pressure—to buckle down and get serious.

It’s also a good time to answer the age-old question, What do you call a bee who’s having a bad hair day?

A Frisbee.

That’s right. It’s a good time to laugh (even if you’re somewhat annoyed at yourself for laughing at a particularly dumb joke).

From a thinking standpoint, laughter can be an instant antidote to ambiguity and tension because it shifts your mindset. It’s a “pattern interrupt” for your brain—a way to hit the pause button on habitual negative thinking.

Here are five more reasons you should take the time to laugh:

  1. You need to remember something: The stress-busting properties of laughter have been shown to shift brain wave activity toward the “gamma frequency,” which could help improve memory and recall.
  2. You need others to remember something: When it’s funny, it’s memorable. Humor makes ideas “sticky” because people remember what they find funny. That’s why we like to incorporate cartoons, funny videos and images into our presentations.
  3. You need to exercise your mental muscles: Research shows that working through jokes can be a kind of mental workout, enhancing your ability to learn. Anything that requires you to stop for a minute and get conscious about your thinking is great for your mental agility. Even better when it has the added mood-enhancing benefits of laughter.
  4. You need the team to collaborate through conflict. Just as sharing laughter and a good joke will help you strengthen your connections with others, humor is a good way to relieve tension, take away the potentially threatening edge of certain information or conflicting opinions, and put people in a more positive frame of mind so they can stay focused on the task at hand.
  5.  You need some mental distance. Humor promotes resilience. When you laugh, you gain a sense of detachment and control that allows you to remain resilient, even when things are going rough.

This list is truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of this simple, free and readily available strategy for reducing stress while working out your brain.

So the next time someone asks, “What’s smarter than a talking dog?” You’ll know the answer.

(A spelling bee, of course.)

Lighten up! Your brain will thank you!

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?

It’s Time to Rethink Your Team Performance Model

Teams have become the driving force in many organizations today. We’re relying on their collective intelligence to solve problems faster, come up with more innovative ideas and deliver higher quality results in less time. But as we all know from our own team experiences, it’s not as simple as just bringing people together.

While many of the traditional activities and behavioral models designed to enhance teamwork and collaboration “make us feel good,” as Margaret Neale, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, points out, “What they don’t do is improve team performance.”

In fact, according to a survey of 1,000 employees in the UK, they often “only succeed in leaving staff feeling more awkward about dealing with their colleagues.”

With knowledge workers, you can’t develop and maintain an exceptional, consistently high-performing team without focusing first on what drives the team’s behaviors and actions at the root level: thinking.

On September 10th, Herrmann International’s Product Development Director, Kevin Sensenig, will be sharing a new model of team performance that will help your organization focus in on the critical thinking factors that affect a team’s productivity, work processes and collaborative approach—those key issues that will make or break their success.

In a free interactive webinar for HRDQ-U, he’ll demonstrate practical tools and think-centered methods to help teams tap into their full brainpower. He’ll also discuss some of the strategies companies like Caesars Entertainment and Microsoft Game Studios are using to assemble the most effective teams for tackling tough business problems.

With a recent study showing that nearly seven in ten workers have been part of a dysfunctional team, it’s clear the traditional teambuilding models aren’t doing their job.

Join Kevin on the 10th to learn a team performance model that’s designed specifically for delivering business results in today’s complex environment.

HRDQ Webinar: A New Model of Team Performance: Optimizing Team Brainpower for Maximum Results

September 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM EDT

Register Now.

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.

Tips for Leading Cognitive Diversity in Teams

One of the things we know from the research on team performance is that getting great results from a team isn’t just about everyone getting along or coming to quick agreement. In fact, when the problems are complex or we need to push the boundaries for innovation, creative abrasion, which comes from the collaboration of diverse thinking styles and perspectives, can make the difference.

But it can also make people uncomfortable.

That’s why just having cognitive diversity on a team isn’t enough. If the process isn’t managed properly, the team can devolve into unproductive conflict, frustration and chaos.

Particularly in the case of highly diverse groups, an effective leader or facilitator is essential. The most successful team leaders value the differences on the team and encourage people to bring their best thinking to work, helping to both bridge the diversity of thought in the group and keep the Whole Brain® in mind so all perspectives are heard.

Here are some tips for managing the team’s collective brainpower and making the abrasion that sometimes occurs an advantage:

  • Encourage team members to learn about and share their preferred thinking styles and discuss the impact of differences and similarities among team members on the performance of the team.
  •  Understand the strengths of the group and how the dominant preferences can be effectively harnessed towards reaching the team’s objectives.
  •  Recognize and bring in the diversity of thought necessary to get the best results.
  •  Use the Whole Brain® Model as a framework to guide the team’s actions. At the beginning of a project or periodically throughout the team’s engagement, ask questions from each quadrant, such as:

A. Do we have clear performance goals, objectives and measurements?

B. Do we have clear priorities, a plan and a timeline?

C. Do we have an understanding of our “customer” and each other?

D. Are we taking appropriate risks to challenge ourselves and come up with new ideas?

Don’t discount the importance of this key team role, whether it’s a manager, team lead, or even a more informal rotating assignment.

What are your tips for getting the most of a team’s cognitive diversity?