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


How to Reboot Your Brain

You’re on a roll, tearing through that 20-page document, making changes and getting it all down. And then it happens:

Your computer freezes up on you.

It’s the ultimate frustration. Your system just won’t work, and the only way to move forward is to shut it down.

Something similar happens when you’re mentally stuck. Sometimes you need to change your entire operating system, but sometimes you just need to reboot.

There are advantages to both. Why and when would you want to reboot rather than change systems?

Well, a reboot is easier. It builds off of something you’re familiar with and allows you to feel like you still have momentum. Doing a zero-based budget is a great example of a reboot. Some years ago I was looking at needed cutbacks, and I as went line by line through the P&L, I got lost in the detail of it all: Did we really need this item? How much?

I felt overwhelmed and wasn’t making any progress. So I rebooted by trying a zero-based budget. I started with a clean spreadsheet and listed out all of the items that were must haves if I were starting the company today. Having the clean page gave me a fresh start, took the noise out of the process and made it all much easier. And I knew I could always go back and look at the old P&L if needed to.

You can do this with a project or any plan you get stuck on. (And if the blank page makes you feel even more stuck, try “walking around” the issue by viewing it from the perspective of each of the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.)

What about in life? You can zero-base your life planning by simply asking yourself: If I only focused on what I want and needed from this this day forward, what would that look like? What if the past didn’t matter?

Feel overwhelmed by the never-ending number of commitments you’ve made? Zero-base your activities by imagining you have a totally clean slate to work with. What are the value-added activities you would choose to have in your life?

Feel that your team is riddled with baggage? Give yourselves permission to zero-base your team’s world. Start as if you were onboarding together as a new team. What meetings, processes and structures would you need to be most effective?

The key is to move everything down to zero and then add back in the items that are most crucial. It’s a great way to reboot, shift your thinking and get a clearer view.

Ready to try a reboot? To ramp up your brain first, check out this video that asks, what would you choose to do if money were no object? It will free you up to think differently!



Just Don’t Do It: Fight Distraction with Subtraction

Today’s world generates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

We forget how much of the chaos in our lives is self-imposed. We complain about the complexity of our lives, we survey our crowded calendars and cluttered garages, and we wake up to the day already feeling overwhelmed. Yet at some point we agreed (or acquiesced) to taking on all those things. We complain about information overload even when we choose to over-consume information—a habit that we can control.

Here’s an idea: Don’t just do something—stand there!

When faced with a packed schedule and long to-do list, the natural inclination is to get busy and do something—anything. There is another option: Before you dig in, stop to think. Is everything that’s on your plate truly worth doing? You might be able to get the most important things done by filtering out the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Because most of us are unconsciously allowing more possessions and commitments to stream into our lives. Stuff comes in so fast that we don’t realize how much we've accumulated. In contrast, letting go of stuff calls for mindfulness, new ways of thinking, focused action.

If you really want to get things done, you have to get more conscious about what you choose not to do. In other words, fight distraction with subtraction.

Imagine what it would feel like to have to have one more unscheduled hour in your life every day. What would become possible for you with that added space in your schedule? Now visualize a life where your weekends are largely unscheduled and you leave your office by 6 pm at the latest on a workday. It’s harder to let go than to take on, but it can be done. It just takes some practice over time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Write a three-item to-do list. Keep a master to-do list, then choose the next three things you intend to do and write these down on a Post-it. A three-item list is doable and inviting. In addition, crossing off those three tasks provides a dopamine-driven sense of reward and momentum.

2. Clean out your inbox and unsubscribe to any automatic e-mail list that you do not always read. Purge your subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

3.  Outsource your cognitive load. Draw out a map of your cognitive load:

  •  Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking preferences as depicted in the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues
B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues
C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues
D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

  •  “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.
  •  Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

4. Stop the madness by creating a no-to-do-list. Attending meetings with no clear agendas or end times, spending large chunks of time on low-value/low-return activities or clients, mindlessly filling out unnecessary reports or other activities “because we’ve always done them,” checking emails throughout the day instead of at scheduled intervals… name your not-to-dos and then stick with it!

5. Get offline. Yes, you can.

You can balance FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) with TOTO (the Thrill of Throwing Out). Savor the pure pleasure of a calendar with more blank space and a life with less stuff.

What have you chosen not to do? What about your team, colleagues or employees? How can you encourage them to overcome distraction with subtraction?



On-Demand Webinar: Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above World”

What’s your biggest leadership challenge?

Engaging employees?

Preparing emerging leaders to step up?

Building high-performance teams?

Developing a leadership mindset across the organization?

If you’re like most training leaders today, the answer is “all of the above.” The good news is, you and your leaders already have the best tool for navigating an “all of the above” world—the brain.

Even better news: Kevin Sensenig’s webinar for Training Magazine has the practical strategies and steps you need to take full advantage of your brainpower and consciously shift your thinking when the situation requires it.

The webinar recording and follow-up resources for Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above” World are available now for on-demand access.

Take a moment to check it out and download the materials, because particularly as the world grows more complex, the time you spend now getting your thinking in order will pay off exponentially in 2015.



Plan for 2015 (and Beyond) By Building a Pathway to the Future

As 2014 begins to wind down, you're probably starting to think about your plans for next year, and maybe even further down the road.  But where to begin?

As the Cheshire cat reminded Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.” You have to think about where it is you want to go before you can create the path to it.

In this brief video learning nugget, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi shares an easy exercise you can do to build your pathway to the future, whether you’re looking at the next year, or five years down the road, or even further. Try it and see where your imagination leads you!



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

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

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

A Frisbee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A spelling bee, of course.)

Lighten up! Your brain will thank you!


A Leader Learning Gap? Digging into our CEO Data

Updating The Whole Brain Business Book has been a fascinating experience. One of the most interesting aspects has been looking at what our HBDI® data tells us today about how business people think, and in particular, how the C-Suite thinks.

As we saw when the research was conducted nearly 20 years ago for the original book, CEOs are a unique breed. What’s consistently true is that no matter what changes are occurring in the world—whether it’s the economy, demographics, market trends, technological advances and new regulations, or disruptions, catastrophic events and other factors—the data reveals that CEOs are different when it comes to thinking preferences. On average they tend to have strong preferences across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model (analytical, structured, interpersonal and strategic)—more so than any other occupational group.

This might explain the puzzlement people often feel when trying to “psych out” the CEO. To an uninformed observer, this balanced profile, what we call multi-dominant preferences, can appear both disarming and tough to pin down because of the wide array of interests, approaches and “clues” they provide.

It also explains why CEOs as a group are so effective at the role they play in overseeing numerous different specialized functional leaders. Their multi-dominance provides them with the ability to translate ideas from the language of one quadrant or function to the next.

It’s a crucial skill when the time comes to take action: CEOs and other C-suite leaders have to be able to advance facts and data toward conclusions and articulate concepts and incorporate the human factors into those concepts and synthesize many ideas into a few. The power to lead and communicate clearly with a variety of internal “tribes” in such a way that they effectively work together is the critical competitive work that must take place at the C Level.

The richness of the HBDI® Profile data in our database of global CEOs provides endless insights and information to slice and dice. One area we looked at was the “work elements” section, which is a part of the assessment that asks the person to force rank the work elements that represent the types of tasks or activities (e.g., problem solving, innovating, expressing ideas, planning, etc.) they have to do to perform their job.

We found that the work element “Teaching/Training” was near the bottom of the list for CEOs in all of the 12 countries we studied. This data point mirrors a recent Deloitte study that showed less than half of all C-suite executives care about developing the leadership skills of their people.

These findings are particularly worrisome as companies could face a huge knowledge gap when these C-level leaders leave. While there’s been plenty of talk about addressing the looming “leadership crisis” and thin leadership pipelines, companies aren’t going to be able to hire their way out of it—and the C-level can’t outsource this task entirely. They need to take an active role in mentoring, developing and transferring their knowledge and expertise to the next generation.

What do you think? Have you noticed that C-level leaders seem to have that ability to “translate” from one thinking quadrant to another? And are you seeing those at the top do what they need to do to groom the next generation?

If you’d like to learn more about our study of CEO thinking preferences, let us know. And be sure to mark your calendar for the 2015 ATD International Conference & Exposition, where Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will present the session, “How Global Leaders Think: Development Strategies from New Research.

In the meantime, watch for additional updates on the new edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, which will be released in 2015.


Getting Your Point Across: 4 Steps to Effective Virtual Communications

In some form or fashion, working virtually is the reality for most of us today. And whether you’re working with colleagues, customers, vendors or others, there are more tools and apps than ever to help you collaborate across town, across the country or across the globe.

But no matter how many tools and devices you have, effective collaboration still comes down to how effectively the parties communicate with each other. Particularly when you don’t have the advantage of visual cues, tone of voice or cultural nuances, the chances for miscommunication are high.

Here are 4 steps for making sure your communications get across in the way you intended, no matter what technology you use (or even if you’re communicating in person!):

1. Give them the context: You develop your communications with a specific frame of reference in mind, but your audience doesn’t necessarily have the same mindset going in. This is one of the reasons why email and other brief written communications can be so prone to misunderstanding. The context isn’t there, so the receiver feels like it’s coming out of the blue or misinterprets your intention.

Preempt the problem by letting them know upfront what’s going on, why you’re communicating and what the big picture is. This is important to clarify both for yourself (before you communicate) and for your listener.

2. Give them the agenda: Everyone’s juggling multiple priorities. We all have very full plates. Especially when you’re working with dispersed team members who may not have much daily interaction, rambling messages or confusing requests can feel frustrating, intrusive and disrespectful of people’s time.

Don’t just wing it. Give people a high-level agenda or plan that sets expectations about what you’re trying to accomplish in a way that’s appropriate for the format or communication vehicle.

3. Give them the what: Of course, the facts and data—the what—are important, but oftentimes, the tendency is to jump right in to the content. If you haven’t set up the context and expectations, people may misinterpret what you’re saying, have trouble following your train of thought or simply tune out.

Dive into the content after doing those first two steps, and people will understand the data within the framing you desire. This will help you deliver it in a much more effective way while giving your listener the critical information they need.

4. Give them a way to engage: Stories and interaction are what allow people to quickly make connections with what you’re talking about—and that means what you’re communicating is more likely to stick with them.

We do this naturally in our heads, trying to make connections to what it is we’re hearing, so if you can facilitate that process through relevant stories, you’ll find you’ll get much better impact and people will really understand what you mean. Do this throughout your communications, and whenever possible, make it a two-way interaction so people feel involved and that their participation matters.

Because these steps hit all of the quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model, no matter how diverse the thinking preferences of your audience, you’ll be able to “speak the language” of their thinking to make sure your communication gets across—whether it’s across the phone, across email, across Skype or across the room—in the way you intended.

Try them out in your next virtual meeting or in the next team communications you send out to see how it works!




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!


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.



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.

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