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

How to Handle the Leadership Challenges of a Changing World

How do I become a better leader in a changing world?

It’s a question that’s been on the minds of so many I’ve talked with recently. It was also the question that lingered in my mind this past year as I was deep in the process of putting together the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book.

The response we hear so often is, Be more agile. Build your agility. But how? And what does that even mean?

Well, for one, I believe it means unleashing your full brainpower. The only way you can keep up with change and lead through the chaos and uncertainty and distractions and complexities and big data and on and on and on…is to get more conscious about your thinking and how you apply it.

Unleashing your full thinking potential can be uncomfortable, though, whether you’re a highly structured thinker who needs to experiment and take more risks, or a highly imaginative person who needs the discipline and organization to be more productive with your time.

Fortunately, brain research supports the fact that you can stretch and overcome your mental blind spots to become a more agile thinker and leader. It’s something we talk about throughout the newly updated Whole Brain Business Book.

Although the second edition won’t be on the shelves until this spring, you don’t have to wait until then to get started! Here are 6 tips from the book you can apply today to make thinking agility your leadership advantage in a changing world:

  1. Get used to being uncomfortable: Discomfort is a sign the brain is engaged and learning. Instead of wanting to avoid those who make you uncomfortable, recognize the opportunity they offer to help you stretch your thinking. Hire and enlist them. They can become your biggest asset. Make it a personal challenge to work through the discomfort to new understanding.
  2. Challenge your assumptions. The brain is very efficient, and it will “fill in the blanks” for you when you’re looking for a solution. But when you’re trying to see something in a different way or find a new way of doing things, the quick leap to conclusions can ultimately be a trap. When you begin to make an assumption, flip it around. Ask yourself, “What if this was not true?”
  3. Embrace the unknown. It’s your ally, not your enemy. Change presents a great opportunity for new thinking, but only if you deliberately and consciously take advantage of it.
  4. Optimize your toolkit. Use your own thinking preferences to determine the tools that work for you. For example, if you’re a highly visual thinker, a linear, spreadsheet-style planning tool may make the task of getting organized even more difficult for you. If the techniques and processes aren’t helping, look to thinking preferences for clues and help on how you can find or create a more workable solution for you.
  5. Lighten up. Unconventional approaches free the brain and stimulate new ideas and perspectives. Find ways to jolt your thinking, and have fun with it!
  6. Make it a mental habit. Decide what you want and go for it, making your desired future outcomes a reality.

Especially in today’s knowledge-intensive world, your greatest strength lies in your ability to get smarter about your thinking—to make your thinking work for you instead of being trapped by it. Try it, and see how it makes the difference!

(And if you want to get more insights from the book—and be among the first to get a copy—be sure to join me at the ATD 2015 International Conference & Exposition in Orlando this May.)


How Do You Measure Success?

Fall has arrived, and that means many of us are taking stock and planning for the future. How do you gauge your successes? And where do you go from here?

It’s a topic Ned Herrmann thought about a lot, particularly as he looked at the journey of his own life and career. What follows is an excerpt from an article he wrote on “Rethinking Success.”

As you evaluate your own successes, as well as those of your team, employees, company or even your personal life, consider how your thinking preferences might affect your view. How might you expand your definition of success? How might failure contribute to future successes?


Suppose somebody asked you how you personally measure success. What would first come to mind? Would it be wealth and the trappings of wealth in our culture, such as a house? Car? Boat? Vacation home? College?

Do you think there is a culture where success is measured on the basis of the level of spirituality achieved? How about always doing things on time? Or putting enough salt on the movie theater popcorn to increase drink sales?

Would it be possible to live in a culture where equal levels of success can be achieved in a variety of ways? A golf pro? A thoracic surgeon? A kindergarten teacher? A university professor? A chief executive officer? A minister? A poet? A circus clown? A mountain climber? An architect?

The list extends to infinity, and each one of these vocations or avocations has its own success potential. Achievement could be based on financial performance, on-time delivery of a project, or facilitating a management workshop that results in needed change. Celebrating 50 years of a happy marriage qualifies, as does being named Teacher of the Year, or being a syndicated political cartoonist.

Even though these represent very different kinds of success, the comparative levels of achievement could be relatively equal. Delivering a high percentage of outstanding sermons might be just as success-worthy as winning a professional golf tournament, winning a big contract or running your business at an increased level of profit. Helping children and adults discover “who they will be when they grow up” is, in every way, as worthy as developing a life-saving medical breakthrough.

Since I believe the world is an equally distributed composite of four distinct thinking preferences, I have found it clarifying to diagnosis success in four different ways:

  1. Those among us who prefer logical, analytical, rational thinking processes like to measure success on the basis of quantifiable performance, such as money: How much? When? For how long?
  1. People who prefer organized, sequential, structured, detailed thinking processes tend to measure success in terms of on-time completion of an event: Did it happen the way it was supposed to? Efficiently? On budget? Were the proper steps followed/completed? Was it legal and ethical?
  1. People who prefer an interpersonal, emotional, humanistic way of thinking apply “softer” measures of success, such as: Were relationships improved? Did meaningful communications take place? Was learning achieved? Was help provided? Was happiness achieved?
  1. Those who prefer conceptual, imaginative, intuitive modes of thinking typically measure success in terms of solving problems and achieving creative “Ahas!” They value achievements that are unique, future oriented and global in concept, particularly when they involve overcoming risks to get there.

Success is frequently a combination of these four different thinking preferences, but in most cases, one particular preference takes the lead and determines how success is measured for that person.

Success can also be highly varied in terms of rewards and recognition, but in most cases, that determination is in the eye of the achiever. That particular accomplishment for that person, at that time, represents success for them personally, and it’s not in competition with another person’s success.

It is my belief that ultimate success for each of us is a combination of personal health, well-being and happiness. Easy to say, but often difficult to achieve.

In the meantime, perhaps we should all recognize and honor different types of success in ourselves and others, each and every day. We may be happier for it.

How efficient is your sales thinking?

With so many of us pressed for time and juggling more and more responsibilities, it doesn’t make sense to focus energy and attention on areas that will be unnecessary—or even detrimental—to the sale.

By learning how to diagnose the thinking styles of customers, sales people can quickly engage their prospects, understand their pain points, articulate value in a more compelling way, and close deals faster.

But this isn’t just a strategy that will benefit the sales team.

Whether you’re selling a product or service, trying to get buy-in for your ideas, or need to work more productively with internal customers and stakeholders, paying attention to their thinking helps you get outside your own head so you can focus on what’s really driving the decision-making process for that specific person.

So, how do you think like your customer?

In a video lesson for Athena Online’s MyQuickCoach series, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, explains how specific questions, comments and even the environment can reveal a great deal about:

  • What your customer cares about
  • How they prefer to be communicated with
  • What types of information you should focus on, and just as importantly, the kinds you don’t want or need to waste time on

As you watch the video, consider how you might apply a knowledge of customer thinking to improve other areas of your business, including:

  • Improving the efficiency and user-friendliness of processes
  • Fine-tuning marketing and communication approaches
  • Developing, segmenting or redesigning product offerings

Watch the video: Connecting with the Customer

Brain Dominance and Your Cell Phone

Does brain dominance affect which hand you use to hold your cell phone? That’s the conclusion of a recent research study, the findings of which were published in May 2013 issue of JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

The study is based on an email survey that was completed by 717 people. It found a strong correlation between a person’s brain dominance and the ear they use to listen to their cell phone: If you hold your phone to your right ear, the study purported, you’re more likely to be left-brain dominant, and vice versa. The study’s authors believe the findings may help us better map the language centers of the brain.

I was surprised by the somewhat oversimplified conclusions, and in fact, our HBDI® data shows this is not an accurate assumption. A comment in the USA Today article by Susan Bookheimer, director of the Staglin Imaging Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at UCLA, about the relationship between handedness and brain dominance is very apt:

Because a fairly equal proportion of right-handers in the study hold their phone with their right hand, and left-handers use their left hand, “The logical conclusion should be that individuals are more likely to hold the phone in their dominant hand than in their non-dominant hand.”

Hand dominance is the primary factor and likely the first explanation of how we use our phone and which ear we use. As to the correlation between hand dominance and brain dominance, the brain is structured in such a way that our handedness is correlated with language center processing: Our ears are split with a bias to the opposite ear. So that means we are using the ear that aligns most of the time. I think a study of ear switching would be fascinating. Are we adjusting to better listen to the loving words in our left ear?

Also missing from this study is the handwriting connection. Handwriting, including the way you hold a pencil, is also related to language processing and has an impact on how we process information — and in an era in which kids no longer learn to write because they are typing and using voice recognition, that impact is decreasing over time. How will our brains process differently?

Only time and more research will tell. In the meantime, the next time you are suffering through a conversation, try switching ears — it just might make a difference!

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?

What Makes a Team Work

One thing that’s becoming clear in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world is that effective teams can give organizations a distinct advantage. They bring together the people power and the thinking power to get things done faster, more efficiently and more successfully.

But we also know it’s not as simple as that. There’s a reason less than a quarter of workers prefer to work on teams.

Are more team-building activities the answer? Sensitivity training? Personality and communications workshops?

These activities can be helpful, but on their own, they’re not enough. The frustrations, miscommunications, subpar results, and same issues that keep coming up, time and again, bear this out.

The problem is that too many organizations try to build trust — a key attribute of effective teams — by focusing on behavioral issues first. But because behaviors can be affected by a variety of external factors, the fix is often only a temporary one at best. To build trust, we have to focus first on what drives the team’s behaviors and actions at the root level: thinking.

Missing this key ingredient means organizations will also miss out on the full potential, power and competitive advantage teams can provide. Particularly in today’s world, as cross-functional teaming increases, more team members operate virtually and globally, and projects and problems are becoming more complex, a focus on how the team thinks will become even more critical to developing exceptional, consistently high-performing teams.

We’re creating teams to bring together and then funnel the knowledge and skills of the members towards solving business problems and achieving business outcomes. While teambuilding exercises can build camaraderie, and personality and sensitivity workshops can develop interpersonal understanding to help improve communications, none of these can really take hold without a foundation in how the team’s collective intelligence fuels business outcomes.

And after all, achieving business outcomes is what they’re there for, right?

Our next white paper will address key ways you can apply a thinking-based approach to get the most from every “meeting of the minds” so you can truly leverage the power of teams. It will also explore how to use the designed-for-business Whole Brain® framework to:

  • Optimize a department’s strategic and day-to-day effectiveness
  • Set virtual and far-flung teams up for success
  • Make cross-functional really work
  • Give “voice” to the full cognitive diversity within the team
  • Strategically deploy teams to solve critical business problems

In the meantime, tell us: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in getting the full benefits of the team’s collective intelligence? Are there any standout team experiences that come to mind? What made them work so effectively?

Share your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to check back next month to download the free white paper.

Thinking Styles and the US Presidential Candidates: It’s HOW they think as well as WHAT they think

Thinking Styles and the US Presidential Candidates: It’s HOW they think as well as WHAT they think

We know thinking preferences play a part in the decision-making process, and many US residents are facing a big, once-every-four-years decision right now: who they will elect as President.

Putting aside political or ideological differences, when we look at the thinking styles of the two major party candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and their respective running mates, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, we can see some distinct differences. It’s an interesting exercise, because how the candidates think impacts the approaches they use in stating their cases to the voters.

To shed some light on the thinking preferences of the two parties’ candidates, we recently conducted a pro forma process, which is a way to use published information to analyze someone’s thinking and estimate what their preferences might be.

It’s not an actual HBDI® Profile generated from the assessment, but it does provide some clues about how and why different voters react to the different candidates and their different styles.

Your own thinking preferences affect your reactions to the different approaches. Whether you are more convinced by logical arguments or emotional appeals, for example, has roots in your preferences for thinking in each of the four quadrants (A – logical, B – detailed, C – expressive, D – big picture), as depicted by the Whole Brain® Model.

Understanding thinking styles helps clarify your thinking and decision making, as well as better understand how others (like our spouse/partner, family members or friends) make those decisions.

As you look at the pro forma profiles for the candidates below, consider your reaction to the styles you have observed:

  •  How do your thinking style preferences impact your reactions, opinions and decision-making as a voter?
  • Aside from your political leanings, what approaches tend to inspire you or irritate you most?

In Preparing for the Olympics, Coca-Cola Exercises its Brainpower

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Seventy days, 8,000-plus miles, 1,000 towns, and one momentous flame.

Preparing for what was dubbed the “logistical minefield” of the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay wasn’t so much a physical test as a mental one for the organizers and sponsors of the London Games.

As a Worldwide Partner, Coca-Cola knew it would need to unleash its full brainpower to execute with flawless communication, stay agile in the face of enormous complexity, and generate world-class teamwork from a diverse group of people who, for the most part, had never worked together before.

We recently spoke with David Barker, Strategic HR Business Partner for Coca-Cola’s London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games project teams, about the company’s decision to bring in the Whole Brain® methodology, training and tools to help prepare its Olympic teams for success.

As we discovered, while the Games would soon become a part of history, the framework and collaborative benefits of Whole Brain® Thinking were just getting started as a foundation for the culture going forward at Coca-Cola Great Britain.

Download the full story here for a glimpse behind the scenes of Coca-Cola’s innovative approach to preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics.


Hiring Is Up, But Will Your New Hires Stay?

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Earlier this year, we talked about the challenges new hires often face when joining a company, and how organizations and their leaders can “teach culture” to ease the onboarding process.

Another new survey of 500 human resource professionals shows just how important the onboarding and employee engagement processes are — in real financial terms.

According to Allied Van Lines’ 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, employers are losing nearly a quarter of their new hires within the first year. Of those that remain, one-third fail to achieve productivity targets.

Citing an average cost of $10,731 to fill one position, and another $21,033 per new hire for relocation, the study shows how this retention and productivity problem is more than just an HR issue; it’s a bottom-line issue.

Why are new hires leaving? According to the respondents, the top three reasons are managerial relationships, job performance and career advancement opportunities.

As the economy turns around and hiring picks up, your organization may need to take a fresh look at the onboarding and employee engagement processes. So much has changed in the workplace and business environment over the past few years, yet many of our internal systems and processes haven’t kept up.

Here’s an innovative approach a pharmaceutical company we’ve worked with has taken.

While training and a strong coaching culture already existed, the company worked with its sales managers to help them better understand the mental demands of the sales rep positions they were filling as well as their own and their employees’ thinking preferences.

By mapping the job responsibilities against the thinking processes involved, and then looking at their own thinking preferences as well as the preferences of the new hires, they could not only put together a more focused, targeted development plan, they could better align their coaching to the individual.

Many of the new hires were recent college graduates. This approach didn’t just give them a faster way to learn the ropes and achieve productivity goals — although it did, reducing the average ramp-up time from two years to just seven months — it also brought them into the culture in a more significant way. They appreciated the insights they learned about thinking preferences, many commenting that they’d wished they’d known this information when they were in school.

What onboarding or retention challenges have you seen since hiring has picked back up? Have you used any Whole Brain® Thinking approaches to make the process easier and more effective?