Whole-Brain Thinking

Miami University students learn how "brain dominance" leads to preferred ways of thinking.

Whole-Brain Thinking

HOW DO YOU THINK? Are you analytical and detail-oriented, or do you tend to make creative decisions by going with your gut? How does your style mesh or clash with the styles of the other people on your team—either in the classroom or at the office? If you develop a better understanding of how people think, will you be a better team player?

At Miami University’s Farmer School of Business in Oxford, Ohio, students learn the answers to some of these questions when the school screens them for “brain dominance.” For more than a decade, the Farmer School has been using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) to assess whether students prefer ways of thinking that are analytical, practical, relational, or experimental—and then organizing them into groups where all types of thinking are represented.

“Research shows that diverse brain groups are 67 percent more effective than homogeneous groups in solving problems,” says Jim Friedman, White Family Clinical Professor of Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the Farmer School. “Being aware of their own brain preferences also helps students communicate their thinking styles and provides them with an appreciation for how other people think and react to situations as well.”

In the past, the Farmer School conducted the HBDI assessments primarily with students in upper-level entrepreneurship and marketing courses. However, when the school introduced a new core curriculum in August 2016, HBDI assessments were made mandatory for all first-year students.

To discover their dominant thinking preferences, students first complete an online assessment exercise the week before classes begin in August. Then, they are required to participate in an in-person, 75-minute debriefing that helps them gain a clear understanding of their individual results. They also are encouraged to download an app that helps them track their strengths and weaknesses and provides feedback on how to make improvements.

“It’s important for students to understand that just because they are dominant in certain areas doesn’t mean they don’t possess some skills in other areas,” says Friedman. “If they’re low in one quadrant, they should work harder in that area—or, when they’re managers, they should hire employees with dominance in that quadrant.”

Once they determine their individual thinking styles, freshmen are placed into “whole brain” groups that represent all types of thinking. Within these groups, they will complete a semesterlong assignment as part of the new curriculum. Friedman expects that groups will change several times over the next four years, depending on the courses students take. The goal is to expose students to the many different perspectives they will encounter in the workplace and help them learn to manage colleagues who have different modes of thinking.

It’s too early to tell how helpful it will be for underclassmen to operate within “whole brain groups,” but when such groups have been deployed in upper-level courses, projects were measurably better, says Friedman. “What I hear from students is that once they understand their own strengths and can articulate to others how they communicate, they often organically fall into roles that best suit them and the group,” he says. “Not only does this help move projects along most efficiently, it also ensures everyone feels good about the process and outcomes.”

Friedman expects students to benefit from an understanding of brain dominance once they’re in the workforce. First, they will be more aware of the way they think and work. Second, they’ll be more aware of how their preferences may be viewed by others. And finally, they’ll be able to assess the strengths and communication preferences of those around them more quickly.

Says Friedman, “There are clues that people leave behind— the way they dress, the way they stand, the way they decorate their offices—that students are taught to notice. By recognizing how others think, they are able to more effectively and efficiently work with different types of thinkers.”

For information about HBDI, visit www.herrmannsolutions.com or www.herrmannsolutions.com/what-is-whole-brain-thinking-2. For more details about how HBDI has been used at the Farmer School, email Friedman at friedmj2@miamioh.edu.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2017 print issue. If you have comments or feedback on its content, please contact us at bized.editors@aacsb.edu.