Monday, August 13, 2018

Thinking in Four Colors

I attended a conference last week where one of the sessions was on the Hermann Whole Brain Model. Not familiar with it? It's another one of those HR assessments that labels the innate characteristics of individuals in an organization and, primarily by giving people a common language for discussing and understanding these differences, promotes better communication and collaboration.

For the sake of this blog post, let me oversimplify what the Hermann system says. Essentially, there are four ways of thinking: Analytical, Practical, Relational, and Experimental; which the system handily color-codes as Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow, respectively. See the attached graphic. And although everyone employs a subtle mix of all four colors, Hermann says that everyone is dominant in only one of these areas. By understanding your dominant way of thinking and the dominant ways of thinking of others on your team, everyone can learn to better communicate with each other and get more things done more quickly.

As part of the session, we attendees were all asked to self-assess and select the color that corresponded with our dominant way of thinking. Then, by seating us all at tables that intentionally contained a mix of colors -- that is, a group of people with a mixture of the dominant ways of thinking -- the facilitator led us through an exercise that demonstrated how the Hermann system could be practically applied in an organization.

Except there was one problem. The facilitator was a self-described Yellow. The graphic I included above associates the word Experimental with Yellow thinking, but other descriptive words she shared with us for her kind of thinking were Adventurous, Conceptual, Future-Oriented, and Big Picture.

And the exercise she led was exactly that. It was Yellow. Long on concepts and short on details. Its few instructions contained errors that seemed to contradict the very premise she had presented. Everyone around the table I was at were confused by it to one degree or another. But, interestingly, our reactions to it seemed to underscore the very concepts that the system was trying to communicate.

The Yellows, generally speaking, were much more on board with it, really liking the forest and not all that concerned about the trees that comprised it. The Reds were happy to use it as a springboard for talking about their feelings. The Greens worked really hard, first trying to understand and then trying to impose their own process on the exercise. And the Blues, like me, skeptically questioned the utility of the whole thing, not seeing the "bottom line" usefulness of either the system or the exercise.

It was, I realized, a interesting validation of the system itself. Here we were, a group of people with different ways of approaching problems, confronting a problem in each of our different ways, and doing it exactly as our color-coded areas of dominant thinking would have predicted.

So in this way, the exercise was a success. Except the purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how a mixed group like this could come together, understand and employ each other's dominant strengths, and then solve a problem. And this we absolutely did not do. By the time the session came to a close, the best we had managed to do was simply to understand and acknowledge the colors represented around the table.

Hmmm. Looking at it from the point of view of our Yellow facilitator, maybe that was the point.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

No comments:

Post a Comment