“The day I met Ned Herrmann.” 30 Years of Whole Brain® Thinking at Work

It was 1979. I was off to a conference in Pittsburgh. This was before the days of non–stop flights to the US. I had to go from Sydney to Auckland, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland and finally to Pittsburgh. I arrived at my hotel at 2am after 32 hours of travelling. Not feeling much like sleep I went to the bar. I exchanged greetings with the few that were there, downed a ‘Bud’ and headed off to bed for the few hours that were left.

Getting up at 8am, not really awake, I stumbled into the conference room, determined to find a seat to fall into until morning tea. No sooner had I settled that I heard my name being called.

The keynote speaker (Ned, but I did not know it at the time) was asking for certain people to come up the front. I was one of them. We were split into 2 groups and each given the same task – to go into a breakout room for 15 minutes and answer 2 questions: What type of work turned us on and what were the common elements of that work?

I found myself in a room with 4 strangers. I was wrong. It turned out that 4 out of the 5 of us had been in the bar the night before! Needless to say we got on well. 45 minutes went by before we were dragged back into the conference room. It took another 5 minutes for Ned to get us back up the front. We were far from organised!

The other group was organised. They had come back after 15 minutes, had been waiting patiently for us to return and had a flip chart with bullets points and a nominated speaker. We had to be sent for, had not nominated anyone and had a hand drawn picture of a seagull on a crumpled bit of flip paper.

When asked for our answers to the 2 questions, ‘What type of work turned us on and what were the common elements of that work’, we replied that we had a problem with the concept of work. The nearest we could get to describing it was that we liked to ‘fly’ and we liked to help others ‘fly’. Hence the seagull after the then famous ‘Jonathon Livingston Seagull’.

The other group had responded in a much more grown up and professional way about work and what it meant to have a clearly defined job.

By now my head was clearing as I realised something special was happening. I realised that Ned had cheated! As pre-work he had got 300 people to complete the HBDI®. He had then picked the 5 people with the strongest scores in the B (green) quadrant and the 5 people with the highest score in the D (Yellow) quadrant. With a score of 155 in the yellow quadrant, I was in the D quadrant group.

No wonder we had a problem with the concept of work! No wonder 4 of us had been in the bar the night before.

What did sober me up and completely attract my attention was what Ned had done during the 15 minutes that the (Green quadrant) group was out of the room. Ned told 300 people exactly what was going to happen. He told them one group would come back on time, the other would not. He told them the words we would use, the way we would behave and the things we would laugh at (or not!) It was the predictability of it all that blew me away.

My D quadrant score is 155. Needless to say, I have a short attention span. Thirty years ago this Whole Brain® stuff caught my attention – and it will have in another 30 years!