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

10 Quick Tips to Boost Productivity During Brain Awareness Week

Here are 10 tips to boost productivity during Brain Awareness Week

When it comes to productivity, your brain is your best ally—but are you ignoring the most important signals it’s sending?

Considering this week is Brain Awareness Week, now’s a good time to start paying attention to your mental energy and learning how to manage it to boost your productivity.

After all, it’s hard to be productive when your mental reserves are tapped, and today’s energy-draining environment is fighting you at every step. The typical response to declining energy and productivity levels is to try time management techniques so that you can catch up and stay on top of your workload. But most of those techniques are destined to fail when your energy level falls through the floor.

Increase productivity for Brain Awareness Week in less than 38 hours a day

Instead of thinking of productivity as a time management challenge, try viewing it as an energy management issue. Because while you can’t recover time—those wasted hours are gone forever—you can recover energy.

And here’s where your brain comes into the equation.

We often let this phenomenon of energy gain and drain happen by accident, but your own mental processes play a huge role in your energy throughout the day—at work, at home and with every person you meet. In fact, your energy levels have a lot more to do with what happens inside your head than what happens outside. Becoming conscious and intentional about this aspect of your life can unlock new levels of productivity. The key is to manage your mental filters, not your time. Read more

How Do Your Employees Think? The Answer Might Surprise You


Last week we talked about why you should expect difference when it comes to thinking preferences.

Taking it a step further, one of the things we’ve learned from the data we’ve collected is that not only can you expect difference, you can expect balance: Organizations, ethnic groups and any group of a large enough size will have a balanced distribution across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. That’s why we say the world is a composite Whole Brain®.

In fact, our hard data from around the world demonstrates this finding conclusively: If the sample size is large enough—even just 50 or 100 employees—the composite of individual HBDI® Profiles will represent a highly diverse, but well balanced, distribution across the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.

CEOs are always surprised by this. They often think their organizations have a tilt to the left mode or reflect the mental preferences of the leadership team or culture of the company. As a result, they aren’t managing their companies on the basis of the composite Whole Brain® reality of their organizations. Their leadership and communication styles have been either tilted in one direction or too confined for the global nature of the thinking and learning styles of their employees.

Just think about how much it might be costing these businesses, simply because they’re making the wrong assumptions about the true thinking diversity in their organizations. For starters, there is sure to be some degree of misalignment in jobs, training, communication and leadership approaches. But there is also likely an untapped well of perspectives and ideas that could be generating better decisions, solving problems more effectively and stimulating more innovative thinking across the board.

It’s highly likely your company’s workforce is made up of a balanced distribution of thinking preferences. The question to consider is whether this diverse workforce is being managed to take advantage of its potential productivity.

Most businesses today are made up of knowledge workers, and this is true even for those that have a large manufacturing component. In these highly competitive and complex times, production workers need to work smart; therefore, the mental demands of the work are greater than ever. Recognizing, managing and getting the benefit of all of the company’s thinking resources is essential to managing a successful company.

How well is your organization managing its thinking diversity?

The SAGA of Managing Your Thinking in a Chaotic World

Today’s biggest cognitive challenge—especially at work—is managing the sheer volume of information and noise in the environment. No matter how skilled you think you are at multi-tasking, what you’re really asking your brain to do is task switch, and there’s plenty of research that shows the brain just isn’t very good at it.

So how do you get clarity and results when your attention is fragmented?

You have to consciously choose to manage your thinking. And that’s where filters come into play.

Clarity requires metacognition—thinking about your thinking: what you notice, where your mental energy goes, what you overlook. These are your mental filters.

Mental filters take the infinite streams of data that are available to you and separate what you notice from what you tend not to notice. The problem is your filters are not freely chosen. Instead, they’re put in place by unconscious forces. They work at a level below your conscious awareness.

Once you realize you have a set of filters in place, however, you can make them conscious. You can shine the light of awareness on them, bring them out in the open, examine them and evaluate them.

At that point you’re free to change filters. If your current set of filters is creating more complexity than clarity, then choose new filters. The key is to manage your filters instead of letting them manage you. When you do, they’ll help you:

  • Focus attention by pointing at what’s most important for you to notice right now and what you do not need to pay attention to.
  • Make meaning by consciously choosing how to interpret the events you notice.
  • Move into action based on your interpretations with an understanding of the mental demands required.

The way you habitually think on a daily basis—your default filters—can create blind spots that prevent you, your team and your organization from getting what you want.

You can use the Whole Brain® Model to recognize these default filters without judging yourself (level 1 meta cognition). With this baseline knowledge, you can intentionally put new mental filters in place to shift your mindset, discover your options and take action to get results you want (level 2 meta cognition).

There are many filters, and none of them are “right” for all people at all times. As I’ve worked in the field of Whole Brain® Thinking over the past 30 years, I’ve sorted through hundreds of options. But I’ve found that the following four filters apply to the challenges most of us are or will be facing. You can remember them by the acronym SAGA:

  •  Solving—Question your assumptions, shift your mindset and create breakthrough solutions.
  •  Aligning—Collaborate, leverage disagreement and get to closure even in the midst of conflict.
  •  Growing—Change at a deeper level when internal motivation or external challenges move you toward significant, long-term learning.
  •  Adapting—Flex your thinking and change your behavior in response to challenges that don’t require deep learning.

I’ll be exploring this topic more over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, think about this: Which filter can you leverage right now for maximum benefit?


Leaders Not Listening? Use Your Head if You Want to Be Heard

I often hear business people say they’re having a hard time getting a “seat at the table.” Or they’re concerned that the leadership team isn’t “getting” their ideas or acknowledging the improvements they’ve made.

This struggle to prove the business value of what we’re doing is often rooted in a tendency to speak from our own thinking preferences rather than adjusting for the needs and expectations of senior business leaders.

And when it comes to how senior leaders think, some clear patterns have emerged. Our data has consistently shown that most C-level leaders have natural preferences that span the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. That means if you want to build your credibility and get your ideas heard, you need to cover all the thinking bases:

  1. Make sure you have the facts that support your argument, idea or position. They expect data to back it up, and they’ll want to know things like, What are the technical aspects? Have we done the research? How do these numbers compare to our previous benchmarks?
  2. Do your homework and anticipate those little details that senior leaders always seem to bring up. What about timing? Is there a plan? A process? They’ll want to know they can count on you, and that you’ve thought through potential risks.
  3. Take steps to build rapport and show them what you stand for—even if that’s not something you feel naturally comfortable doing. They want to understand where you’re coming from and feel they can trust you.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Context is critical for satisfying their strategic mindset. They’ll want to know: What does this mean for the long term? How does it fit into the overall strategy?

Leaders are looking at all of these areas, so they’re expecting you to have done this thinking work before you come to them. During the process, you might even find that you’re not quite ready to make the pitch — that waiting until you have more facts or a better strategic fit, for example, will make for a better case.

It takes a little advance preparation, but if you spend that time on the front end, you’ll have a better chance of making an impression and getting the response you’re looking for in the long run.

Watch this brief video to learn more about C-level thinking.

Developing High Potentials? Here’s Why Thinking Has Everything to Do With It

Companies are increasingly optimistic about growth, according to new research from Right Management. That’s the good news.

The bad? “Only 6% of companies in the Americas say, ‘We have an ample leadership pipeline that will cover most of our needs.’” (“Trends in Talent Management: Employers Optimistic on Growth but Lack of ‘Ready Now’ Leaders will Impede Success,” Right Management)

Coming out of the layoffs and restructurings of recent years, organizations are starting to see better results, but now they’re dealing with another issue: a talent gap. This talent gap is colliding with a changing business landscape—one that will place new demands on the leaders of the future.

So what can organizations do to start “growing their own” to step up to leadership?

The first task is to recognize that thinking, as Ned Herrmann would say, has everything to do with management.

In his book, The Creative Brain, he spoke of the need for managers to be able to engage all modes of thinking, depending on the demands of the situation, explaining, “When designing and implementing responses to business issues and challenges, the human brain functions at its most innovative, productive best only when all four quadrants [of thinking styles as depicted in the Whole Brain® Model] engage situationally and iteratively in the process…”

This description—a call for Whole Brain® Thinking as a way to be more agile in leadership—has never been more relevant than today. Consider:

  • As the environment continues to change, up-and-coming leaders will have to get comfortable with unpredictability and be able to shift their thinking in a moment’s notice.
  • As they move through the leadership pipeline, they’ll have to deal with a variety of different mental demands, many of which will require them to stretch outside their own mental comfort zones.
  • In the midst of more noise and complexity, but less time to develop people, HR, talent management and training professionals will have to find more brain-friendly ways to engage learners, understanding what they need and how to best deliver it.

What are you doing to make sure Whole Brain® Thinking is part of your high-potential development strategies?

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.

Q & A on Whole Brain® Thinking

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The Whole Brain® Model (shown above), based on 30 years of research, is a validated metaphor for how we think, providing a useful framework to diagnose and describe the different types of thinking involved in any organization. It divides thinking into four quadrants, two on the “left brain” side and two on the “right brain” side. All four of the different thinking modes are in use and available to all of us, but we tend to prefer certain types over others.

 In what kinds of situations can Whole Brain® Thinking be used?

 Any situation that requires thinking that goes beyond a given quadrant’s specialized mode can benefit from Whole Brain® Thinking. To insure that each quadrant has been explored in a given process, an approach called a Walk-Around™ is used. (The Walk-Around™ pad is a great tool for facilitating this.)

Here are four examples of frequently used applications of Whole Brain® Thinking:

Decision Making

Most decisions benefit from a thought process that includes the review of multiple options and perspectives. A typical example is the purchase of a car. Quadrant A thinkers look at information on the actual performance of the vehicle. Quadrant B thinkers read a consumer report to gather research on the reliability and practical features (trunk size, safety records, etc.) of the vehicle. Quadrant C thinkers test drive the car to see if it “feels” right. And Quadrant D focuses on the aesthetics, color, styling and innovations of each model.

Using Whole Brain® Thinking—the thinking of all quadrants—contributes to a better choice and avoids unpleasant surprises. Overlooking even one quadrant can result in a less than ideal outcome.

Problem Solving

Every problem situation can benefit from a Quadrant A review of the data and facts, as well as an analysis of the real problem at hand; the Quadrant D “big-picture” context and possible creative ideas; Quadrant C viewpoint of the “customer” of the problem and how the problem affects others; and Quadrant B step-by-step process to solve the problem and implement the solution.

Improving team interactions and performance

Most teams are formed to make the most of the differences among team members. But very often those differences stand in the way of the team living up to its potential. Whole Brain® Thinking can help a team to acknowledge the differences among team members and then use those differences to make the most of the ideas of each team member. In addition, once a team knows its preferences it can use that knowledge to enhance its communication with other teams and work groups which may have thinking preferences that are quite different.


The objective of most communication is to convey an idea, transfer information or persuade someone. How many times have you experienced the frustration of delivering a message only to realize that the other person “just didn’t get it.” In order to communicate effectively, it’s important to understand the “language” and mindset of the person(s) you are communicating with. A diagnosis of the thinking preferences of the audience can provide the critical planning information you need to tailor your language and presentation to the audience. When the audience’s preferences are in doubt, taking a Whole Brain® approach to communication ensures that you’ve covered all the “languages.” This reduces the possibility of miscommunication and improves the chance that your message will be successfully received by the audience.

This guest post was contributed by Herrmann International Asia.

In addition to the thinking preferences of people, we can also use the Whole Brain® Model to diagnose processes, organizational cultures, vision and value statements, and a host of other systems we engage with on a daily basis. How are you applying Whole Brain® Thinking to get better results?

Learnings From The Leadership Challenge Forum Conference

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Orin Salas, VP of Sales for Herrmann International, checked in from The Leadership Challenge (TLC) Forum in Chicago.

 175 people attended The Leadership Challenge (TLC) Forum Conference this year, with participants from across the US, Canada, the UK and Asia. It was a good, enthusiastic group of people who are certified in the TLC methodology or are users of the materials.

On Thursday morning, Ann Herrrmann-Nehdi and I attended several sessions including the kick-off by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the leaders of TLC. There were several breakout sessions featuring companies using TLC methodology. 

The afternoon started with the Chicago Comedy Company leading us through a number of improvisational activities in a session entitled, “The Improvisational Leader.” They did a good job of connecting the activities back to the business challenges leaders face.

And with that as an introduction, Ann took the stage for the final presentation of the day, her keynote, “It’s Not Left Brain or Right Brain, It’s Whole Brain®.”

The group took a few minutes to warm up, but less than 10 minutes into her presentation, Ann had full participation. She led them through some background information about the brain, connected thinking preferences to leadership competencies, and reviewed the Whole Brain® Model, exploring how Whole Brain® Thinking is becoming even more critical for leadership success in today’s business environment. As always, the participants were wowed by the handouts and the tools they received.

Friday began with focus groups discussing the future of leadership and development. The groups touched on topics such as virtual leadership, technology, technology etiquette, generational challenges and the “size” of learning. This was followed by an interesting presentation on emotional quotient (EQ) and emotional intelligence. 

All in all, it was a learning-filled two days in Chicago with plenty of opportunity for best practice sharing and knowledge exchange about how to develop leaders in an increasingly complex world.

For other participants’ take on the event, you can search the Twitter hashtag #TLCForum11 and read the live updates at @TLCTalk.

Whole Brain® Thinking In Action: Contest Winners!

We asked and you delivered.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our recent blog contest about the organizing principle of the brain and contributed to the list of ways Whole Brain® Thinking can be applied.

The list keeps growing, and even though the contest has ended, we hope you’ll continue to come back to the post and add your thoughts and ideas about how you’re driving the Whole Brain® Advantage and how that’s fueling success in your work and personal life.

In the meantime, the lucky winners…

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Congratulations to commenter number 6, Andy Radka, and commenter number 4, Mary Simpson, who each won an HBDI® Profile Board!