ENT 601 Week 6: “Whole Brain Approach in Management”

“Innovate or fall behind: the competitive imperative for virtually all businesses today is that simple. Achieving it is hard, however, because innovation takes place when different ideas, perceptions, and ways of processing and judging information collide. That, in turn, often requires collaboration among various players who see the world in inherently different ways. As a result, the conflict that should take place constructively among ideas all too often ends up taking place unproductively among people who do not innately understand one another. Disputes become personal, and the creative process breaks down.” (Leonard)

This quote sounds like it was written for the business climate of today, but it was not.  It was from an article in the Harvard Business Review, in 1997 by Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus.

That was 20 years ago, and the quote is as relevant today as it was then.  If Herrmann were alive today, he would tell you why the Whole Brain Functioning Approach to management is critical to the success of a company and its people. The 70’s would be considered a time when left mode dominant styles of management were the norm and whole brain techniques were not even acknowledged. (Herrmann) Herrmann contends if the right modes are not cultivated, then the left will take over the corporation with little to no innovation.  Remember the nature of what is going on in the D and C areas of the brain: artistic, imaginative, synthesizing, and talkative, to name a few.  Think about change—which side will do better with it.  We probably can all agree that the left brain will resist change while the right brain not only likes it, but thrives, welcomes, and deals with change effectively. (Herrmann)

Ignorance may play a big part in why don’t we use the Whole Brain Functioning Approach.  People may have some understanding of the left brain/right brain characteristics, but not when it comes to decision making. (Herrmann) Our frame of reference is another reason we may not use the Whole Brain Management approach.  Frame of reference is what we know and what we are comfortable with, this is where you may hear at work “if it’s not broke, why fix it.”  If people are content with how decisions have been made and think things are being done well, they will see no reason to change.  The last reason the approach may not be used is because departments may have always been operating against each other. These departments may also be made up of right and left mode employees.  Think sales versus operations.  Sales promises the world at times and operations must make it happen.  This creates tremendous conflict and little room for working with each other’s preferences.

With those obstacles facing a company, is it possible to create the proper climate for innovative productivity using the Whole Brain Approach to Management? Herrmann has three suggestions to get the process started:

  1. Know your own and the entire top management group’s mental preferences. (Herrmann) One must know these preferences very well. Working towards creating an innovative environment requires commitment.  It will not be easy to embrace different styles and the “uncomfortableness” from the different styles that comes along with it. As the leader, you will need to be firm in your commitment of embracing the Whole Brain Functioning Approach or risk returning to the old style of management and it becoming even more one-sided.
  1. Show the team your personal commitment to whole brain functioning. It cannot be “do as I say” and then stand back and watch what happens.  This is where recognizing everyone publicly with praise for their individuality and uniqueness is important.  Consistently recognizing these behaviors demonstrates your commitment to the new approach.  Herrmann would say: model the behavior you want to see in your management team and in everyone else within the company.
  1. Find the areas within your corporate culture that are working against heterogeneity and change them. This sounds simple, yet if you think of your company, is heterogeneity encouraged by management?  The opening quote in this blog would not sound so relevant to the business world today, if this was easy.  As mentioned in week five’s blog, homogenous teams do not lend themselves to creativity; often the brain dominance patterns are similar, leaving little room for innovation–particularly if they are more left functioning.

Creating change in any company — big or small — is difficult.  Perhaps before you try the Whole Brain Functioning Approach at work, you should start at home.  When you live with others, Herrmann’s suggestions can be initiated.

  1. Know your preferences and the mental preferences of your entire family. Sit down and talk with them about how the brain functions and what you are trying to do. Tell them how you want to try a Whole Brain Management Approach experiment at home and you need their help.
  1. As the people at home work on the Whole Brain Approach, let them know how you appreciate their uniqueness and always remember to praise in front of others.
  1. Are there areas at home which work against being creative in the way things are done? What can you do to change it?

I have opened this discussion within my own family and it has made for interesting discussions and a limited number of behavior changes.  Although we have not taken the HBDI assessment (I’m working on arranging that), we are thinking my preferences are in the C/D quadrant and his preferences are in the A/B quadrant.  Are you feeling my pain or his?  I guess it depends where your preferences fall.  Regardless, it is opening lines of communication and I think Herrmann would say I’m on the road to approaching life through the lens of the Whole Brain and not just right or left. That is progress, though sometimes “uncomfortable.”


Herrmann, Ned. The Creative Brain. North Carolina: The Ned Herrmann Group, 2008.

Leonard, Dorothy and Susaan Straus, “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work.” Harvard Business Review, July August 1997, hbr.org/1997/07/putting-your-companys-whole-brain-to-work. Accessed 17 February 2017.



7 thoughts on “ENT 601 Week 6: “Whole Brain Approach in Management”

  1. I think it is great you are talking about the whole brain approach with your family! My father always told us “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it”. That is the way I operate. If there is change it comes from someone else. As I have gotten older I have tried to open myself up to think and look at other options. Sales versus operations working as silo departments is such a classic example. Especially with these 2 departments who desperately need to work together to realize the big picture.

  2. It is really interesting to take into account how people view things! I love that you are talking about this with your family too. I did an exercise at the beginning of the year in our teams where you pick the shape that most appeals to you from circle, squiggle, triangle, square and rectangle. Which shape you picked relates to your personality. It does really help to know this information about your teammates– it makes it easier to work with them because you know that it’s not personal it’s just how their brain works.

  3. Reading this post was like reading a snap shot from the book i’ve based my own blog series on. Kriegel and Brandt comment on all of these topics without ever mentioning whole brain functioning. The major tenant of their book hinges on the fact that most businesses, especially the large ones, are resistant to change and that creating a “change-driving” environment is key to limit the stress of change on employees. The section where you say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the opposite of their philosophy. They insist upon breaking it and driving the trends as opposed to responding to them. They refer to these change averse habits as “sacred cows” and they have one that addresses the expert mind. Basically the expert mind does things in the same old antiquated way. They cite examples of companies that reassign all their major positions just to have someone new thinking about the problems at hand. This is just one of many cows they “hunt down” to reduce the push back to change and heterogeneity, as you say. Great post!


    1. This is awesome because I really enjoy both of your blogs, Heather and CeCe. Your books are very interesting. It’s unique that they are both coming from two different schools of thought with this topic. I like the disruptive nature of the cow school of thought, and I also like the idea of the, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” way. I like that we can take from both and make the best decision based on a particular scenario. Very interesting. Thanks for the posts.

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