Understanding the Herrmann Whole Brain® model

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Discover the impact of your HBDI® thinking style preferences

Visualize your profile on the graphic below. Review how your preferences relate to the Whole Brain® model.

“Is this profile ‘me’, or how I would like to see myself?”

Generally, how people see themselves is accurate and informative: it captures a point of view which can be invisible to others. Our research has shown that having a third party filling out an HBDI® gives imprecise results. While you might tilt your answers towards an idealized view of yourself, the HBDI® questions are framed to minimize this. Also, it is likely you would think it self–defeating to provide inaccurate information about yourself.

"When I filled out the HBDI®, I wasn't feeling 100%. Will that affect my profile?"

Mood does have a bearing on the overall size of the profile, but it seems to have very little effect on the shape or orientation. If you were feeling especially positive or expansive when completing the assessment, then you may have answered some questions with higher values, thus expanding your higher preference scores. Your least preferred quadrant will typically not shift with your mood.

The background of the Herrmann Whole Brain® Model

I - Introduction

II - An uncommon personality

III - Right brain/Left brain

IV - Profiles reflect a diversity of thinking style preferences

V - Taking different preferences into account

VI - Two different ways to solve problems

VII - Preferences and team effectiveness

VIII - Improving communication

IX - Inside each of the four quadrants

I - Introduction

The human brain is one of the wonders of the world. It weighs only 1.4 kg (3 lbs) yet contains over 100 billion neurons. Each neuron has the possibility of connecting with 10,000 adjoining neurons. This means that the total number of possible combinations in the brain, if written out, would be 1 followed by over 10.5 million zeros.

The potential of the human brain is unlimited.

In the last 40 years, knowledge of the brain has progressed further than it had in the previous twenty centuries, thanks to new technologies which allow us to see the brain in action: electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI and fMRI) and more.

The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) was developed from this knowledge. The HBDI® allows you to become aware of your thinking preferences in order to use them better in your personal and professional life.

II - An uncommon personality

The developer of the HBDI®, Ned Herrmann, had always been curious about his own ‘duality’ of preference, which he began to understand through his study of the brain. While attending Cornell University, Ned Herrmann was recognized for excellence in both physics and music. Later, while a successful executive at GE (General Electric), he was also an accomplished artist and sculptor.

Ned Herrmann’s professional interest as a management development expert further fueled his brain research: “How is it that managers who attend a training session together, with a single trainer and a common program of instruction, can come away with totally opposite judgments and retain different elements of the program for their individual careers and jobs?”

III — Right brain/Left brain

In 1975, the brain research of Roger Sperry began to reveal the dual specialization of the brain. By observing patients who had their brain hemispheres separated by a procedure to sever the Corpus Callosum in an attempt to cure epilepsy, Sperry made a multitude of discoveries. For example, the left side of the brain, which controlled the right hand, appeared to have the function of logical, analytical, sequential and rational thinking.

Conversely, the right hemisphere was shown to perceive the world and other people in a global mode, instantaneous, intuitive, visual, synthesizing, emotional and expressive. It finds solutions through sudden and spontaneous intuition, leaving to the left hemisphere the job of proving them in a logical, analytical and scientific manner.

The research shows that the left hemisphere breaks everything down into different elements; the right hemisphere, on the other hand, considers the global whole and searches systematically for connections, analogies and similarities.

This has been demonstrated and observed again and again in laboratory tests, as well as in healthy subjects and patients with lesions in one or the other hemisphere. For example, a victim of damage to the right hemisphere won’t recognize people or streets in his hometown. Someone with damage to the left hemisphere will not be able to express himself easily and may have to begin relying on such elements as word and sentence intonation to regain language ability.

Ned Herrmann studied this research and also included other findings about the limbic system, also a dual structure, buried deep inside the brain. The principal location for emotion and memory, this system directs our affective and interpersonal processes. Ned Herrmann synthesized this body of research into the four quadrant Whole Brain® model, a metaphor for how we think.

Each of us has access to all the above quadrants, but we clearly have preferences for some over others. Those preferences, based on the dominance of specialized thinking processes, form the basis of the Whole Brain® model, the foundation of the HBDI®.

IV - Profiles reflect a diversity of thinking style preferences

This research led Ned Herrmann to develop the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) while at GE, consisting of 120 questions, to provide a visual, easy–to–read, ‘picture’ of an individual’s, pair’s, team’s or organization’s mental or thinking preferences. Extensive and ongoing validation studies have been performed and include the initial EEG testing and more recently updated validity reports and correlation with other valid instruments (please visit our website for more information on validation). Ned Herrmann, recognized as the founder of Whole Brain® Technology, revealed through this research that diversity of thinking styles exists in any organization, even one as small as 100 individuals.

Applying Whole Brain® thinking through the HBDI® profile leads to a better understanding of the natural styles we use to process information. These styles impact our perception of the world as well as the way we approach problem solving, the effectiveness of our interaction with others and how we get things accomplished.

Ongoing applications include leadership and management development programs for global organizations that deliver results such as increased speed and effectiveness of com- munication, greater innovation, improved team processes and leveraging the possible return on intelligence (ROI®) of all contributors in the organization.

V- Taking different preferences into account

The HBDI® allows participants to become conscious of their own mental preferences and thinking styles. This understanding allows individuals to be more at ease with themselves and more perceptive and effective with people who think differently.

For example, Left mode dominant people may feel more at ease in a technical job, one that requires organization, operational planning and administration.

Those with more Left mode preferences would rather reason logically, study verified facts and adopt a systematic approach. They would tend to avoid fantasy, and resist going off on a tangent, preferring to remain focused, rational and rigorous.

Right mode dominant people tend to enjoy new ideas and interpersonal involvement; they ma y communicate symbolically rather than by pure reason. They may think in pictures rather than words. Abstract concepts and hypothetical issues are interesting to the Right brain dominant person.

By all evidence, these aspects of communication and perception are opposite, yet complimentary. Difference is the norm: the HBDI® profile data spans 81 main preference codes or ‘families’ of profiles. The top 10 profiles represent 78% of the population. Through the awareness achieved with the HBDI® profile data, you now can take into account how you can be more effective in a wide range of applications: communication, teams, problem solving, decision making, career development, management development, creativity, teaching and learning, and strategic planning.

VI - Two different ways to solve problems

Everyone has their own particular way to face and solve everyday problems. Right mode dominant people proceed in a start and stop mode with periods of insight and incubation. They may take a step back and see the ‘big picture’ with all the relationships between varying elements. They think and understand by metaphor or analogy by making connections between elements which at first glance seem remote and unrelated, things that would appear illogical to a Left brain dominant person.

In contrast, the Left mode dominant person prefers a more methodical approach, step by step, beginning with detailed observation of the facts before continuing to form a judgment. This approach often appears sterile and boring to the Right mode dominant person who would have difficulty even playing along.

The HBDI® can help individuals and teams understand how they prefer to approach problems. In a true–to–life way, their awareness is raised to demonstrate that their own way of thinking is not the only way, and that some approaches to problems require different types of thinking. Ned Herrmann insists, “Each person is unique; people interact spontaneously as a function of their thinking preferences.”

VII — Preferences and team effectiveness

The distinctions between scientists and artists, engineers and sales people are as old as the human race. Statistical studies of HBDI® profiles have identified typical profiles for different careers, fields and job descriptions. A study of hospital personnel revealed preference differences among the varying jobs: Specialists (A quadrant); Administrators (B quadrant); Nurses (C quadrant); Psychiatrists (D quadrant). Is it any wonder that sometimes there might be tension in the hospital environment?

HBDI® research has also demonstrated that directors and CEOs are most often multi–dominant — even with three or four dominant quadrants, as opposed to single or dual dominant specialists.

An individual’s work approach can certainly be linked to their mental preferences. A team will work more effectively if the individual members appreciate the differences in their thinking styles. In fact, thinking diversity will also lead to more creative outcomes. Research using the HBDI® Team profile has shown that team effectiveness can be up to 66% greater in diverse teams.

VIII — Improving communication

All of us communicate. Effective communicators who understand thinking styles will tailor their presentation to fit their audience while being sure to communicate key points in all four quadrants. For a group of engineers or technicians, you might cite plenty of facts and figures, and emphasize logic and methodology showing the potential results of practical application. To a group of artists, teachers, or sales people, you would most likely emphasize innovative aspects and point out ways to improve communication and instruction. Which presentation appeals to you the most? Doesn’t your answer reflect your thinking style?

Communication is easiest between people who have similar preferences. They ‘speak the same language’. Communication is quite easy when people share preferences in the same mode, Left (A and B) or Right (C and D).

When people share preferences in the Upper (A and D) or Lower (B and C) mode, they may find common ground for communication. Most challenging may be communication between those who have preferences in diametrically opposing quadrants.

IX — Inside each of the four quadrants

The following model and paragraphs explain the characteristics of each quadrant, shown as clusters of preferred tasks, and style of functioning within each quadrant. A preference for a quadrant indicates an inclination for some or many of the clusters of tasks in that mode. This helps explain how two people with similar preferences can be different in the specifics of that preference. Keep in mind that you may only prefer one cluster in a quadrant while another individual with a preference for that quadrant may prefer a different cluster or clusters.

A Quadrant: Analyze

This quadrant prefers a cognitive and rational approach. When using this thinking style, you would be likely to approach problem solving in a logical manner and to take account of facts, figures, statistics, and other tangibles. You would prefer conclusions that are backed up by supporting data or by examples of precedent. You would like approaches that reduce the complex to the simple, the unclear to clear, and the cumbersome to the efficient. Your critical evaluation of ideas occurs in this quadrant; decisions or judgments are explained and justified by A quadrant thinking.

This style is logical, analytical and rational; it is engaged in feasibility studies, critical assessments, and any task that requires rigorous and focused research. Financial, mathematical, and technical matters are included in this mode. One individual may prefer rational, logical approaches, while another may be mathematical and quantitative. Which clusters do you prefer?

B Quadrant: Organize

This quadrant likes structure in a practical and procedural sense. A primary preference here would suggest you have a natural inclination towards organization, reliability, efficiency, order, and/or discipline. Tasks might frequently be prioritized; you would tackle them in a systematic and sequential manner and complete them; time is often managed effectively. This quadrant is mindful of logistical constraints and is methodical and attentive to detail. Skills of this quadrant include operational planning and the implementation of projects.

Equally, administration and maintenance are smoothly handled. B quadrant preferences may suggest you dislike chaos and confusion and have considerable skill and satisfaction in making order out of such a situation. Characteristics are caution, control, and conservatism. The degree to which ‘B’ quadrant tendencies are apparent will be affected by the ‘D’ quadrant score; a low primary or high secondary preference in ‘D’ would tend to have a balancing influence. Clusters in this quadrant may include safe-keeping for one individual vs. timelines for another. Which clusters best describe you?

C Quadrant: Personalize

A primary preference in this quadrant would suggest you are naturally in tune with and sensitive to other’s needs, mood, attitudes, atmosphere, or energy level. There is usually an attraction to people–related tasks plus an ability to relate to others and express yourself easily. Characteristics may include good interpersonal skills with an awareness of the feelings of others, ease of communication, and often skills in teaching/training facilitation or group leadership. ‘Sensory intuition’, in the form of gut feelings or hunches, may be given credence. Spiritual awareness and musical interest are largely ‘C’ quadrant features.

People with preferences in this quadrant may be emotional and highly sensitive. For some, spiritual aspects represent a significant ‘cluster’ for this quadrant. For others, interpersonal aspects play a key role. Which clusters represent your preferences in this quadrant?

D Quadrant: Strategize

With a D quadrant preference you can usually handle several mental inputs simultaneously, make rapid connections and feel comfortable with abstract concepts.

An initially holistic approach to problem solving may be preferred; various facets are assessed simultaneously, ‘mental jigsaws’ are made and conclusions are reached in a spontaneous rather than a studied manner. Such operating could be called intuitive in an intellectual sense. Lateral thinking takes place in this mode and inspires imaginative, innovative and original ideas.

This quadrant could be described as the catalyst for the creative process. Strategic thinking is an activity that draws heavily on D quadrant thinking. In this mode you welcome positive change (particularly when occurring with a considerably lower ‘B’ score) and may have an inclination towards adventure, experimentation, and risk. This quadrant often thrives on the excitement of new ideas, variety, incongruities, and possibilities. The risk–taking aspects of this mode may be in contrast to or balanced by the B quadrant safe–keeping modes. Some prefer the ‘artistic’ cluster while others might select ‘metaphorical’. Which clusters represent your D quadrant thinking?