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.
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
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:
- 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.
- Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can “crash,” unless they take the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
- Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he's a "this" or she's a "that").
- Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, more process time and consistent communication are even more important.
- 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?
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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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?
When we talk to people about the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®), a few questions invariably come up:
- Does the HBDI® measure the same thing as [XYZ] assessment?
- How is the HBDI® profile different from [XYZ] profile?
- Can the HBDI® be used along with [XYZ]?
- If we use an additional assessment, will it confuse people?
Understanding the premises of different assessments can help answer these questions. A premise is the foundation on which something is constructed, and it affects what information the person will gain from the assessment.
Common premises include:
- A thinking preferences brain-based assessment considers: “How do I process information?” (The HBDI® is a brain-based assessment.)
- A talent/interest/career assessment considers: “What are my natural talents and interests?”
- A psychologically based assessment considers: “What does this mean about me?”
- A behavior-based assessment considers: “How do others perceive me?”
While each type of assessment provides unique information, there are also some similarities between different assessments. Be aware that using multiple assessments can create confusion if you don’t provide a clear explanation, especially since some use similar colors, letters, names or numbers. And ultimately, even though there is some overlap, assessments based on different premises will have limited compatibility with each other because each provides information that describes the person in the language and terminology of its premise.
This doesn’t mean assessments can’t be used together. It just means you need to make sure people understand what they’re gaining from each and how they can apply this information in a business context. Because most employees are going to be more interested in how they can apply the information and less concerned about the differences and similarities.
To make sure you and your employees get the application and outcomes you’re looking for, start with these key questions:
- Does the information pigeonhole people, or does it show them they can stretch outside their self-imposed limits? When an assessment reveals potential instead of boundaries, there are no cop-outs or excuses—people understand they have the power and personal accountability to go beyond their blind spots. It’s also a more positive learning experience that avoids perpetuating stereotypes.
- Was the assessment originally designed and intended for problem solving in business, or is it more of an awareness-raising tool? While an awareness-raising tool can be interesting and helpful on a personal level, application is where the rubber meets the road. If people don’t see the connection to business and aren’t using the concepts in their daily work, you won’t get the Return on Intelligence®.
- Is it validated? Many assessments make a sudden, high-profile splash on the scene only to disappear just as quickly, often because they don’t have the validity to back them up. Key areas of validation to look for are test/retest reliability, face validity and internal construct reliability.
- Is it scalable and broadly applicable, with the ability to describe things like processes, viewpoints and other business issues? The more ways it can be used as a way of doing business, the faster it will become part of the culture—and the greater the positive impact on the organization.
The differences and similarities are important, but remember, the more time spent on application, the greater the likelihood the assessment information will be used. Without application, there’s little benefit.
What do you look for in selecting an assessment?
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