The Whole Brain® Blog Blog focusing on the HBDI and the brain

30Oct/140

Don’t Fall Back on Mental Habits

For those of us who observe Daylight Savings Time, this Sunday we’ll “fall back” by setting our clocks back an hour, and that extra hour of sleep will be good news for our brains. A growing body of research is finding that sleep enhances the brain’s ability to process and retain information and memories, unravel complex issues to make better decisions, and make connections that allow us to get more creative, among other learning and performance-improving activities.

But our brains also love their routines. Just try to change someone’s mind (even your own), and you’ll see how firmly engrained those routines are.

In fact, our brains naturally seek and organize around patterns we’ve developed in our thinking throughout the course of our lives. We develop mental habits based on what has always worked for us—and it feels safe.

But when you approach a new situation with your habitual thinking, you severely limit your ability to generate new ideas or solutions. If your thought patterns continue to be processed by your brain using the same neural pathways as in the past, you won’t be able to effectively lead and respond in different ways.

Think about that for a moment: Do you need to do things differently today? Find new solutions or inspiration? Adapt to a changing world? It’s a good bet that you do.

So whether you or your employees want to increase creative output, find new perspectives on how to handle day-to-day issues, or simply lead and manage in new ways, you can’t do it successfully until you break those existing patterns.

Of course, you’ll first need to know what those patterns are. The HBDI® assessment, which measures degrees of preference for different modes of thinking, is a great way to help people understand their thinking patterns and the impact of these patterns on how they communicate, learn, solve problems and more.

Once that baseline is understood, here’s a four-step process anyone can take to break out of their mental defaults:

  1. Visualize it: Because we know what to expect when we do the things we’ve always done, our mental habits feel safe. By visualizing something from a different perspective, we can get more comfortable with it. Here’s an easy exercise to try: Imagine your living room. Now imagine it from the perspective of a burglar. What do you see? How about as an interior decorator? The brain doesn’t necessarily know the difference between visualization and reality, so this is a great way to “try on” different perspectives and make them become reality.
  2. Define your goal: What is it you want? What’s the end game? Write it down and post it in a place you will see every single day. We need that constant reinforcement to remind us why we’re doing it and to keep it top of mind. Otherwise it’s too easy to fall back into the comfort zone of our patterns and preferences.
  3. Use the buddy system: There’s a reason why support groups are so effective for issues like weight loss or dealing with addiction: We’re social beings, and buddy systems actually work. Think about who can help you stay accountable as well as those who could provide some of the alternate perspectives you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a co-worker, someone in your personal life or even an online group.
  4. Make a plan: Give yourself the gift of setting milestones. That way you can celebrate some of the changes you’ve made and figure out where you’re succeeding, where you’re struggling and how to go from there. It’s going to take some time to overcome a natural mindset you’ve probably spent years and years developing and reinforcing.

Change keeps coming. If you keep falling back on your mental habits, you’re going to fall behind.

Don’t just change your clocks this Sunday. Start changing your mindset!

23Oct/140

Managers, You Aren’t Responsible for An Employee’s Motivation

With all the chatter about employee engagement and its impact on productivity and retention, we know that employee motivation is a key issue at all levels of leadership.

But people who lead continue to make a fundamental mistake in this area: They believe and behave as if they are responsible for an employee's motivation.

Here’s a news flash: Motivation of an employee doesn’t come from the manager; it comes from within the employee.

Why is this so hard to grasp? One possible reason is we’ve established a cadre of leaders who think that visible action on their part is the primary way to lead—that you must do something or you won’t be viewed as a leader by those who are led.

The fact is we all motivate ourselves. The more important and useful function managers and leaders can serve is to encourage this inner self-motivation, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Provide employees with work they find stimulating. When people aren’t stimulated by the work, they drop out of the game. Look for clues in their thinking preferences, paying attention to both their primary preferences, which typically are associated with the work they’ll most enjoy, and their areas of avoidance or lack of preference.
  2. Provide a work climate that allows this stimulating work to be performed in ways that satisfy and fulfill the employee. Don’t assume the way you would tackle the work is the best way for the employee. Create an environment where employees have a say and a stake in their own productivity and engagement.
  3. Provide incentives and rewards that supplement the self-actualization the employee is already experiencing. But remember, when it comes to rewards and incentives, one size doesn’t fit all.
  4. Provide the necessary tools, materials and support that allow the employee to optimize quality performance. Employees frequently have a better sense of how to get the tasks done in the most efficient, effective way. Give them the tools they need, and then…
  5. Get out of the way!

This surprisingly direct and simple process is founded on two human resource basics:

  1.  Know your employees. Understand their thinking preferences, their expectations and their job needs.
  2. Understand the mental requirements of the work being done. This requires an investment in time, energy and skill to diagnose the work elements of the tasks to be performed and then construct a thinking profile of the job.

The next step in this process is exceedingly elementary in concept, but impossible to carry out if the preceding steps have not been rigorously performed. This next step is bringing the employee into alignment with the work. When the employee’s thinking preferences are well aligned with the mental demands of the job, they’ll be more productive and engaged, and their companies will benefit as a result. It’s a win-win all around.

Want to fuel your own inner self-motivation? Read more about job fit and alignment for greater work satisfaction in our post, Commencement Advice for Everyone.

 

14Oct/140

4 Common Innovation Roadblocks—And How to Get Over Them

A recent Harvard Business Review article reminds us that while it’s natural to look for consensus, you’re actually better off looking for contention if you want to make the big, bold moves that fuel innovation.

Our research and experience back this up, particularly from a thinking standpoint. When people are on the same “mental wavelength,” there’s little confrontation of opposing concepts and ideas. That means no matter how much time is allocated, the team will typically come back early with a solution and say it would be counterproductive to spend any more time on it.

Early consensus can be an advantage, but not in the domain of innovation and creativity. The absence of continued interactions spells missed opportunities.

But even when there are differences on the team, there’s often a tendency to avoid conflict and contention. The result: Interaction, fresh ideas and new perspectives are squashed while the status quo is maintained.

To get past this all-too-common roadblock to innovation, give your teams an understanding of how conflict can be turned into “creative contention” and the steps and tools to make that work. (You can get the platform for such a process with the HBDI® Team Profile and our Business of Thinking® Workshops.)

Here are three other common roadblocks to innovation.

Encouraging new employees to adopt your organization’s “way of thinking” (e.g., “the XYZ company way”). This homogenizes mindsets, especially when people are new to the organization.

Get over it: Make sure your on-boarding process and orientation training discuss why different thinking is valuable to the group and the business. Then make sure you listen when ideas emerge! This doesn’t prevent you from framing up and articulating the organization’s values and principles—those don’t get re-invented every day.

Paying no attention to what is happening outside of your team or group. What’s going on outside may bring new perspective — and new solutions you may never have arrived at without that insight.

Get over it: Reach beyond your usual resources and worldview to get fresh thinking and ideas for your challenges. Cross functions, look at different businesses and ask, “How would you go about solving this problem?” Use the Whole Brain® Walk-Around to ensure you have considered all areas.

Looking at how you solved your previous challenges as the best way to solve all problems. This may seem like a shortcut and a timesaver, but it also keeps you locked in past thinking. Looking at previous solutions automatically sets your brain up for old thinking and old patterns, and that makes it harder to see new ideas.

Get over it: Force fit your situation to something totally different. Metaphors are a great way to shift your mindset. Ask yourself: How is this situation like a circus? A garden? A vehicle? Or step into the “shoes” of a character and imagine how they would look at the challenge. Have fun with it!

Narrow thinking limits your view and your options. Make sure everyone understands, pursues and appreciates the thinking diversity necessary for reaching innovative solutions.

Filed under: innovation, Teams No Comments
10Oct/140

Decision Making in the Midst of Business Crisis: Think Before You React

No organization is immune to adversity. Whether the result of unavoidable external events, like an earthquake or economic crisis, or internal issues and upheavals, challenging times can—and most likely will—hit every business at some point.

The question is, when crisis inevitably hits, how will you handle it?

Let’s take the example of the recent economic downturn. Often when companies feel the beginnings of a financial crisis, the leadership mentality goes narrow, focusing in on the numbers and “downshifting” to a highly controlled, risk-minimizing approach. When all that matters are the numbers, putting on the brakes is an obvious, visible response to take.

So travel is limited, and expense account rules are tightened. Trade shows are cancelled. Purchasing ground rules are severely tightened, and building for inventory cuts back. Hiring stops, and layoffs start. It’s a classic crisis mentality, and it feels right because people are doing something. They’re taking firm action.

But is it the right action? One CEO candidly told us all the cost-cutting activities he directed during the last downturn actually left his company much worse off than they would have otherwise been. The cuts were so deep and his focus was so narrow on budgets and numbers that he couldn’t focus on growth, and that kept him from making a critical strategic hire. He not only lost sight of the company’s strategic purpose, he lost years of momentum.

In thinking preference terms, this kind of response reflects an emphasis on analytical (A-quadrant) and safekeeping (B-quadrant) thinking almost to the exclusion of the interpersonal (C-quadrant) and future-focused (D-quadrant) preferences we know are equally important from a business and leadership standpoint. It’s a common reaction when you’re dealing with a situation that involves so much unpredictability and ambiguity.

Our colleagues in New Zealand looked at a very different sort of crisis response when they conducted research on how organizations can be more adaptive and resilient during the recovery phase of complex, disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, they discovered the opposite problem can occur. Leadership may feel they don’t have time to spend on the supporting data or process and procedures (A- and B-quadrant thinking), and as a result, there’s a potential to overlook important considerations for decision making, particularly when it comes to what gets priority attention.

Thinking time may feel like a luxury, especially in chaotic circumstances, but being conscious about how you shift and apply your thinking is never more critical than in a high-stakes situation. In fact, if you’re going to apply Whole Brain® Thinking as a leader, there’s no better time than during a period of business crisis.

This is the time to develop multiple options rather than considering only those that are security-focused and safekeeping, to employ savvy leadership rather than single-minded management. This is a time for wide-angle binoculars. Because in crisis after crisis, the companies that fair best are those that are both realistic about the situation and committed to the long-term vision. They are prudent but not at the expense of keeping customers loyal and retaining good people.

With so much unpredictability in our world today, thinking agility has never been more important. Here are some resources for applying Whole Brain® Thinking as an organizing principle for making sense of the issue and making smart decisions under pressure:

  • Enhancing Organizations’ Adaptive Capacity and Resilience: Research report by Dr. Erica Seville and HBDI® Certified Practitioners Dr. Dean Myburgh and Chris Webb, published in The Business Continuity and Resiliency Journal
  • Whole Brain® WalkAround: Making Decisions in a Business Crisis:A handy tool for making sure you have a balanced view of both the short- and long-term implications of your decisions
1Oct/140

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?

24Sep/140

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.

17Sep/14Off

Comparing Assessments: How to Get the Results You Need

On a fairly regular basis, you can find articles on the Internet comparing (and often taking to task) the multitude of personality assessments and behavioral tests that are now available.

With so many tools and instruments floating around, and so many similar-sounding labels to categorize people, it’s hard to tell how each differs and whether or not they’re appropriate for your business purposes.

When comparing assessments, we’ve found one of the best places to start is by understanding the premise, which is the foundation on which something is constructed. In terms of an assessment, the premise affects what information people will gain from it.

For example, although the HBDI® assessment sometimes gets lumped in with theoretical personality type tests, it is, in fact, a brain-based assessment. Its premise—that we all have a brain, we just each use ours differently—answers the question, “How do I process information?”

Here are three other key questions to consider when looking at different assessment instruments:

1. Is it validated? This will give you clues as to how likely it is the assessment will measure what it says it measures, produce consistent results and get buy-in, both from those who take it and from the organization. The HBDI® is validated in key areas such as test/retest reliability, internal construct reliability and face reliability, while many other assessments are not.

2. Is there a potential for stereotyping or other limiting behaviors? Even with the best intentions, categorizing people as a “this” or a “that” can become divisive and de-motivating. Look for positive models that emphasize personal accountability. For example, with its brain-based foundation, Whole Brain® Thinking shows people that while there are some    areas we each may be less comfortable with, none of us is limited in what we can do—and that means there are no cop outs!

3. Was it designed for business application? The vast majority of assessments were created for individuals and are focused on raising awareness. While there can be benefits from this on a personal level, if you’re looking for business results and ROI, the key is application: Is this something people can and will use every day to drive the results you need?

This gap was one of the reasons Ned Herrmann originally developed the HBDI® and Whole Brain® Model while he was in charge of management education at GE-Crotonville. He needed an approach people could quickly use to solve problems in a business environment, and to get the most benefit, he wanted to make sure it was scalable and applicable to business in ways other assessments aren’t. That’s why he designed the HBDI® to describe individual and team preferences as well as a wide variety of mental processes, from customer viewpoints to corporate culture.

Many companies and consultants will use a variety of different assessments based on specific goals and objectives. Here’s a great resource for understanding the similarities and differences in various assessment instruments and how to get the most benefit when using multiple assessments together.

In addition, several years ago we assembled a panel of practitioners and business leaders to discuss their experiences using different assessments. You can access the recording of that webinar here.

 

 

10Sep/140

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?

4Sep/140

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?

2Sep/140

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?