Article by Scott Timmins

Just the other week my Mother-in-Law was standing in the isle at Bunnings trying to decide what hose to buy for her garden. Whilst Bunnings has a wide array of hoses my Mother-in-Law was perplexed as to why they didn’t have the hose she wanted. ‘Surely it can’t be hard to get a plain green 20-meter Holeman hose can it?’

For many of us this may seem a little over the top, surely in the world of hoses, functionality over aesthetics. Yet as Ned Herrmann explains we all have preferred ways for thinking, communicating and working, it just happens to be that my Mother-in-Law is all about the detail.

She had very specific requirements for her hose and was really struggling to understand why Bunnings didn’t cater for this. Bunnings stock a lot of hoses in lengths of 15 meters and 30 meters but not 20 meter lengths which is the length she needed. To be totally honest there was one that was 20 meters but that came with a reel and was blue. ‘Why would they not make a 20-meter hose in just plain green’ she exclaimed to the young Bunnings attendant. When the young man pointed to another hose she said ‘No, that one has a yellow stripe on it, I’m after a plain green hose’.

Now something you may like to know is that my Mother-in-Law doesn’t have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), she has CDO. It’s the same thing except the letters are in order the way they should be. In her mind everything has its place, and there is a place for everything. She is very particular and tries hard to make things look perfect.

I knew that if we didn’t solve this problem soon, we would be at Bunnings for another hour discussing the pros and cons of hoses and how they would match the houses colour scheme. My wife, god bless her, came up with a suggestion, ‘Hey mum why don’t you just buy a 30-meter hose and Scott can cut it to length’. Brilliant idea and one that would get us home in time to watch the Cowboys. ‘But then I would have to find a place to store the 10 meters of extra hose’ she stated. It was going to be a very long afternoon. It’s not easy being Green.

What my Mother-in-Law was displaying was her preference for making sure things were perfect. She is not alone as we all have preferred ways of doing things. Our preferences are a combination of both our nature (genetics) and nurture (our environment). The concept of preferences was something that Ned Herrmann believed could be used to help us understand how we prefer to think, communicate and operate. Through his extensive research during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and with the application of fMRI’s, Ned was able to develop his metaphorical depiction of a whole brain in order to create his HBDI instrument designed to identify personal preferences. Before we explore his model further and how it relates to ‘Hose-gate’ as we have now named it, let me explain the concept of ‘preference’.

The best way that I can demonstrate preference is by asking you to cross your arms. Now try and cross your arms the other way. How did you go? Did the first way feel natural and minimal thought required? Did the other way seem a bit awkward and you had to really think about it?  That is preference in a nutshell.

Through his research Ned identified that not only do we prefer to cross our arms a certain way, we also have a preference for how we think, solve problems and communicate. Take maths for example: When Ned’s researchers put participants into fMRI’s and asked them to do math, they found that whilst the same regions of the brain were active, for those who found math easy, there was more neural horse power being dedicated to that area of the brain than those who found it challenging. Let me put it another way; those who had a preference for math, it was like driving a V8 Supercar up a steep hill, they got to the top faster and with less effort. Those who didn’t have a preference for math, were riding a Vespa scooter. They got there, but the engine had overheated and it took them longer to make it to the top.

This was one of the first neuroscience-based instruments designed to measure your preferences in relation to how you prefer to think, work and communicate.

What Ned had confirmed was an organising principle for preferences into 4 different quadrants.

The four-coloured, four-quadrant graphic and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.

A – Facts (Blue) – Those who are Blue thinkers use logic and critical analysis. They know how things works and are great self-directed learners. Often, they are good with numbers and figures. They critically analyse situations and have the ability to distance themselves from the emotional impacts of decision making. They often don’t like the drama that comes with dealing with people.

Buying a BLUE Hose – For someone with a preference in the Blue quadrant when they go out to buy a hose they are looking at functionality over form. They may have done their research to identify which hose will meet their requirements e.g. size, capacity, longevity. If the last hose worked and was value for money then they may even get that same hose again. Once they have their hose they may be more inclined to go through the self-service register so they don’t have to engage in any social chit chat at the registers.

B – Form (Green) – Those who are Green thinkers are doers and have a strong focus on getting stuff done. They like detail and the why, how and what needs to be done. They tend to like order and predictable environments. They don’t like surprises or ambiguity. They are often the safe-keepers of a team ensuring policies and procedures are followed to the letter.

Buying a GREEN Hose – For someone with a preference in the Green quadrant when they go out to buy a hose they are looking for the perfect hose that meets their specific criteria. This may mean a lot of research on the internet before they can make a decision. If their last hose worked well, they may be likely to stick to the same brand of hose again. After all, why change to a new brand and risk it not being as good as the old brand. They may also want to know the return policy and warranty conditions in case something does go wrong. Once they have their hose they may be more inclined to go through the register so that they can ask any clarifying questions of the operator. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

C – Feelings (Red) – Those who are Red thinkers are our people people. The lead from the heart and put people first. They prefer to talk things out especially when there may be an emotional context. They have a tendency of knowing what’s happening in the team from a personal perspective. Red thinkers can find that they often overlook the facts when making a decision, rather focusing on the impact on people.

Buying a RED Hose – For someone with a preference in the Red quadrant when they go out to buy a hose it’s likely to be a family fun day out. The hose they choose may have a personal connection to someone like John who lives next door and personally recommended a particular brand. It could be that the sales person connected with them personally. It’s likely that the experience of buying the hose may be more important that the functionality. Once they have their hose they may be more inclined to go through the register as it’s a more personal interaction than the self-service checkout.

D – Future (Yellow) – Those who are yellow thinkers are our creators. They are big picture thinkers focussing on what could be rather than what is. They are often ideas people who speak in draft coming up with plans on the fly. They often embrace change and like the challenge it brings. The greatest challenges that Yellow thinkers experience is having to provide detail around their ideas and meet deadlines.

Buying a YELLOW Hose – For someone with a preference in the Yellow quadrant when they go out to buy a hose it’s likely to be a part of a bigger project. The hose they have at home may not even be ready for replacement yet but they have an idea bubbling away. When they start looking at hoses they may not even know what length they need or if they need any special adapters required. It’s not uncommon for them to change their mind entirely and the hose has evolved into an elaborate irrigation or water recycling system where they can reuse their grey water.  It may even be that they went in for a hose and came out with a brand-new BBQ.

The Whole Brain Model is a preference-based model which explores how we prefer to think, communicate and operate. We have all four quadrants with one often being preferred more than the others. It’s important to understand that this model doesn’t measure competence. I demonstrate excellent Green behaviours at work but it’s my lowest preference. I have learned to do this kind of work, but when I do it, I go home exhausted.

The great thing about Ned’s model is that it can be applied across every aspect of our lives. In a work setting we can use this model to explore how our team prefers to work and communicate. We can understand the needs of customers, allowing us to adapt our communication styles to meet their needs. It can also help team leaders in recognising individual and team strengths and how they can leverage off these within the team environment. From a personal perspective we can use the model to understand the different needs our partners and friends have in relation to communication and thinking styles, allowing us an opportunity to adjust our style to meet their needs as well as our own. My wife and I often use the colours to remind each other what we need at any given moment. Like ‘Scott I need a little more “Green” from you at the moment’.

Importantly it’s Ned’s model that has helped me empathise with the situation my Mother-in-Law was in. It allows me to see that for her ‘detail was everything’ and that the hose was an extension of the pride she took in making her home just right. Whilst it took a few more trips to Bunnings to get the right hose for her, we eventually got there, albeit with a few concessions along the way.

If you are interested in exploring how the Whole Brain Model can be used with your team, customers and across your organisation, contact me today to find out what your preferences are.