An Interview with Ann Hermann: Whole Brain® system and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®)

Apr 22, 2013 by

logoHIAMichael F. Shaughnessy – 

1. Ann, can you tell us about your title, and a bit about your education and experience?

I’m the CEO of Herrmann International, a company that focuses on helping organizations and individuals understand and apply what we know about how we think and learn to get better results in everything we do.

The company was founded by my dad, Ned Herrmann, who originally developed the Whole Brain® approach while he was in charge of management education at General Electric. You could say I literally grew up on Whole Brain®Thinking. At a very young age, I participated in some of his early brain-related experiments. I used to come home from school, get wired up to the EEG for testing, and invite my friends over to help him as he began to understand and look at the various aspects of how we think and learn.

I found the work fascinating, but I also wanted to go out and discover my own path, which led me to France. And it was as a businessperson there that I really began to connect the dots between what I had grown up on—understanding how people think and learn—and some of the challenges people face in business and education. I started the French company to build usage and application of the work in France. It was kind of an interesting trajectory from being wired up as a child, to getting away from it, and coming back to it with a deep understanding of the applicability aspect of the work.

After seeing my keen interest, my father invited me to come back to the U.S., excited about having someone who could continue on the work. I’d spent 15 years in France so it was a significant decision for me. It was a treat to work side by side with him and look at ways that we could further the work and take it to the next level.

I’ve now been involved in the work for over 30 years in one way or another. I have been actively involved in more recent years focusing on how we can further apply Whole Brain® Thinking to critical business and learning priorities.

2.Now, what exactly is this “Whole Brain® system” and who should be using it? When is it indicated? Who would it help?

The Whole Brain® system is a powerful framework around which you can describe how you think and how you learn, which you can then apply to be more effective in your everyday activities—whether you’re an educator, a student or a business professional—and even in your personal life. Thinking is something we often take for granted, but how we prefer to think has vast implications on our lives: It impacts how we interact with others, what we pay attention to, what subjects and careers we’re attracted to, how we teach and learn, and how we go about making decisions and solving problems.

As a metaphor for how the brain works, the Whole Brain® Thinking Model depicts the four thinking styles (A-upper left: analytical, B-lower left: organized, C-lower right: interpersonal, D-upper right: visionary). We all have varying degrees of preferences for each of the four styles. What I think is key to recognize is that the Model also shows we each have access to our whole brains—we just tend to prefer certain styles over others.

So, this isn’t about pigeonholing someone into a “type.” Instead, it’s about understanding where our preferences are, how our least-preferred styles could become “blind spots” for us, and how to stretch outside our preferences when necessary. It’s an eye-opening experience for many people because they can see new possibility and potential within themselves. They also begin to understand why it’s easy to connect with certain people while they can’t seem to “get through” to others.

There is a plethora of research out there about the brain, but sometimes the science overwhelms the practicality. The Whole Brain® system is a way to make it quickly accessible and usable so we can quickly benefit from it. It gives us a language and tools for organizing and applying our thinking.

3.A follow up question—what exactly is The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®). Is this a test, a survey, and is it computerized ?

The HBDI® is the thinking styles assessment tool at the core of the Whole Brain® system. It is a 120-question assessment, again based on the research my father conducted at GE, that evaluates and describes the degree of preference people have for thinking in each of the four brain quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. It can be taken online, and the full HBDI® Profile Report, which includes an in-depth interpretation of the results, reference material about the Whole Brain® Model, comparison data, and activities for further exploration and development, can be delivered either through an online course or by an HBDI® Certified Practitioner. More than two million people around the world have taken the HBDI®, which encompasses individual assessments as well as assessments for pairs and teams. We also have tools for assessing the thinking styles of written text, like articles or other documents, and we can use the methodology and our existing data to understand the thinking behind such things as processes, course descriptions, advertising—you name it!

4. What kind of scores would one get?

First, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the HBDI®; it’s just a reflection of preferences. The scores show degrees of preferences within each of the four quadrants, using a numerical system: 1 for a strong preference, 2 for medium, 3 for low. So someone with a 1-1-3-2 score would have strong preferences for the “left brain” A- and B-quadrant modes of thinking, a low preference for the C-quadrant, interpersonally focused style of thinking, and a medium preference for D-quadrant strategic, “big picture” thinking.

5. While I write with my right hand, I do play guitar and piano with my left. What would this HBDI® tell me ? And does it provide any recommendations?

The HBDI® asks questions about hand dominance, but does not focus on handedness as it is not predictive of thinking preferences. The research may be of interest to you-90% of the population is right handed (most often defined by the hand you write with.) The right hand is controlled primarily by the left hemisphere and the left hand by the right hemisphere. Your example of writing with one hand and playing music with the other is a terrific demonstration of how we actually are “multi-dominant”: We have access to “less preferred modes” and will draw on preferences for certain activities we feel most comfortable doing, have practiced with and do often ‘without thinking.” The same is true for all of our day to day thinking functions.

The HBDI® helps you understand how those ‘default” preferences may be helpful, and what to do to make sure you do not become a “prisoner” of those preferences—which occurs when we encounter a blind spot in our thinking. A recent example was with a director of a social agency who has very strong preferences in the interpersonal red quadrant, and low preferences in the quantitative blue and compliance oriented green. Her board was looking seeking great quantitative data and a focus on compliance. Once she understood her HBDI® data, she no longer took the comments as criticism, but rather requests she could respond to by shifting her thinking.

6. Do you have any backup support data on the HBDI®? Validity, reliability, standardization and all that?

Yes. An HBDI® Validation study was conducted by C. Victor Bunderson, Ph.D., in 1980 and was prepared to answer questions that both lay users and professionals in measurement might ask about the HBDI®. The full report can be found on our website, but ultimately, on the basis of the investigations reported in the validation study and elsewhere, there is good evidence that:

Four stable, discrete clusters of preference exist.

These four clusters are compatible with the model.

The scores derived from the instrument are valid indicators of the four clusters.

The scores permit valid inferences about a person’s preferences and avoidances for each of these clusters of mental activity.

Furthermore, the use of the instrument meets high professional standards as it has so far been applied in learning, teaching, counseling, and self-assessment settings.

7. Would you allow universities or schools to conduct research on the HBDI® ? And what groups would it help?

Yes, educational institutions have incorporated the HBDI® into a variety of research projects. I’ll give you an example: Yale College, a secondary educational institution in Wrexhem, North Wales, in the UK, used the HBDI® and Whole Brain® Model as the foundation for a study in which the goal was to raise both learning and teaching quality from good to outstanding. They wanted to look at whether or not the Whole Brain® Model would be an effective model to use to achieve these objectives, as The Coffield Report on learning styles had suggested.

They found it helped teachers precisely identify the areas of thinking students might have difficulty with, discuss these difficulties with the students in an effective way, and implement specific teaching strategies to address them. As a result students learned more effectively and said they enjoyed the lessons more because they felt they had been included in the learning process—both student achievement and motivation went up across the board.

Another terrific example is work being conducted in South Africa by Dr. Ann Louise De Boer and her team at the University of Pretoria. One example is at the school of dentistry had a course with consistently low scores. By redesigning the program using a Whole Brain® approach, so that all learners were fully engaged, they brought the average grades up from high 60’s to low 90’s.

8.Do you have a web site where people could get more information?

9.Would it be possible for me to get a copy of HBDI®? To review?

Absolutely! You can complete the assessment online and get a debrief in a multitude of ways. We have a very engaging online simulation that walks you through your data; or a full color profile package which can be debriefed by an HBDI® certified practitioner.

10.What have I neglected to ask ?

One additional point I would make is that preferences aren’t the same as competencies. Preference for a given mode of thinking is a matter of attraction—it’s what you like, where you have passion—not always the easiest area when you have not yet developed skills. Competence to perform a task comes through training and experience. Just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you like it, and just because you like something, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. But the two are often linked because people tend to do best what they like best. We willingly repeat, and thus reinforce, those tasks we feel good about doing and that we can star in. It’s more difficult and less fun to strive for competence in activities we’d rather avoid, but we can all do it—I am sure you have examples of skills you have developed but do not particularly enjoy. For me, math is one of those!

This is something that has direct implications for how we teach. A student who has a preference for more left brain modes of thinking may need more energy, effort and motivation to excel in a creative writing class. Teachers need to recognize this because they can help students use their preferences in service of the activities they may find more mentally draining. If you want to motivate your students, first use a Whole Brain® approach in your own teaching and delivery to reach the broadest possible audience, and then help students leverage what they do like to get more comfortable with the tasks or subjects that fall outside their comfort zones.

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