Herrmann's Whole Brain® Model

Maximizing Your Thinking Power

Herrmann's Whole Brain® Model - Maximizing Your Thinking Power

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Discover how to maximize your full potential.

Imagine that you've just finished giving a presentation.

Although you had little time to prepare, you feel that your speech provided a compelling call to action for an issue that you care deeply about. You think that you did a great job illustrating what might happen if the board doesn't act, and you're confident that your emotions came through clearly.

The problem, as a trusted colleague later points out, is that you relied almost entirely on feelings to get your message across. You used few facts and statistics to back your message up, your slides were a bit disorganized, and you didn't analyze any risks.

In short, your presentation focused entirely on creative thinking and emotion, and ignored logic, facts, and specific detail, meaning that the board is unlikely to act on your suggestions.

All of us are naturally drawn to one particular thinking style. However, relying entirely on this style can expose your weaknesses and lead to both poor decisions and missed opportunities.

In this article, we'll look at Herrmann's Whole Brain® Model, and discuss how you can use it to understand your dominant and less-preferred thinking styles, so that you can capitalize on your strengths and improve the areas that you're weakest in.

About the Model

In the late 1970s, artist and researcher, Ned Herrmann, became interested in the nature of creativity. Picking up on Roger Sperry's Left Brain/Right Brain Model, Herrmann integrated it with Paul MacLean's Triune Brain Model, to develop his Whole Brain Model. He published this in his 1996 book, "The Whole Brain Business Book."

Herrmann's Whole Brain Model combines these models to create a metaphorical "whole brain," with four quadrants. His belief is that creative thinking relies on using all four quadrants, or thinking styles.

The model also argues that each of us has a different thinking preference. For example, we might rely on one or two thinking styles regularly, and ignore the other quadrants, and this can severely limit our potential.

The Model Explained

The Whole Brain Model is shown in figure 1, below, which shows Herrmann's quadrants:

  1. Analytical (Quadrant A).
  2. Sequential (Quadrant B).
  3. Interpersonal (Quadrant C).
  4. Imaginative (Quadrant D).

Figure 1 – The Whole Brain Model

Herrmann's Whole Brain Model Diagram

Let's look at each of these thinking styles in greater detail.

Quadrant A: Analytical Thinking

Quadrant A, located in the upper left hand corner of the model, represents the Analytical thinking style, which depends on facts and logic. You rely heavily on these when making decisions in a rational and methodical way.

This thinking style is also referred to as the "Rational Self." Preferred activities with this thinking style are: collecting data, analyzing information, judging situations or ideas based on facts, and using logical reasoning.

Quadrant B: Sequential Thinking

Quadrant B, located in the lower left of the model, represents thinking in a highly organized and detailed way. With this thinking style, you rely on procedure and accuracy to complete work on time.

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Some people call this thinking style the "Safekeeping Self." Preferred activities with this thinking style involve detail-oriented work, problem solving, organizing, and following directions.

Quadrant C: Interpersonal Thinking

Quadrant C, represented by the lower right hand quadrant of the model, is focused on participation and teamwork. With this thinking style, people and their feelings are your biggest asset, and they always come first. Emotions, senses, feeling, and spirituality are also involved.

People sometimes refer to this thinking style as the "Feeling Self." Preferred activities involve listening, looking for meaning or connection, and working in groups.

Quadrant D: Imaginative Thinking

Quadrant D, located in the upper right of the model, is spontaneous and unstructured. This thinking style is adventurous, and, when you're using it, you love to take risks. If you rely on this thinking style, then you might try several approaches to a problem at once, instead of one at a time. You might also rely on your intuition more than you rely on analysis.

Another name for this thinking style is the "Experimental Self."

Preferred activities in this thinking style are: experimenting, looking at the big picture, challenging established procedures, engaging in creative problem solving, and taking initiative.


After developing the model, Herrmann also created the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument®, or HBDI. This test, comprising 120 questions, determines which of the model's four thinking styles you prefer. You can be dominant in up to two styles (for instance, analytical and sequential thinking) and weaker in two (interpersonal and imaginative).

If you'd like to discover your dominant thinking style, you can take the test here.

Uses and Benefits

Herrmann's Whole Brain Model is most useful in making you aware of the thinking styles that you tend to prefer. Your dominant thinking style develops your preferences, which determine your interests and strengths, and these often influence the type of work or career that you choose.

When you understand your dominant thinking style, you can then see which styles you're weakest in. With this insight, you'll be more motivated to develop your weak areas and improve your thinking capabilities.

You shouldn't necessarily strive to think with a perfectly balanced approach, but you should aim to use all four quadrants. The model's purpose is to help you strengthen your weakest thinking styles, so that you're not limited in situations where it'd be best to use these styles. Like the Myers-Briggs personality test, you can use the Whole Brain Model to develop personal understanding and initiate growth.

Understanding these thinking styles will also help you understand other people's strengths and weaknesses better, which will improve your team leadership.

Applying the Model

Even without taking the HBDI assessment, you probably already intuitively know which thinking styles you prefer, and which ones you are weak in. When you're aware of your weaknesses, you can then work on strengthening them, so that you can use your whole brain to think and solve problems.

Developing Quadrant A (Analytical Thinking)

To strengthen your Quadrant A thinking, start by developing your critical thinking skills.

For instance, spend time daily solving a problem logically and analytically. While doing this, try to balance your intuitive and creative thinking with analysis and fact checking. Or, you could strengthen your analytical skills by reading – and making sure that you understand – a budget or financial report.

You can also strengthen this thinking style by looking closely at your short- and long-term goals. Clearly define your work goals for the next quarter, and make sure that you have personal goals that emphasize this thinking style.

Developing Quadrant B (Sequential Thinking)

To strengthen your Quadrant B thinking, make an effort to get more organized. This includes organizing your personal workspace, files, and schedules. People who are weak in Quadrant B thinking often run late or miss deadlines, simply because they don't have good time management skills. Create more time in your day by using a to-do list, by saying no (politely) to unimportant requests, and by delegating when you can.

Next, take a more conservative, balanced approach to decision making, and look at all sides of an issue before you make a decision. The Six Thinking Hats is a useful tool for examining problems from multiple perspectives, and tools like the Simplex Process and Hurson's Productive Thinking Model can help you solve problems in a disciplined way.

If you often rely on Quadrant C or D thinking styles, you might have trouble following directions. Make it one of your goals to carefully read, and re-read, directions for each project that you're responsible for. Before you approve any project, go through the directions one last time to make sure that you've fulfilled every request.

Developing Quadrant C (Interpersonal Thinking)

To strengthen your Quadrant C thinking, start by giving your time to others. Practice random acts of kindness with colleagues – even if all you do is listen, you're still showing others that they're worthy of your attention.

Next, work on your emotional intelligence. You can do this by developing
empathy, showing humility, and giving credit to others before you give it to yourself. You can also make a positive difference by offering to help a colleague who's behind on her work, or by collaborating with others on decisions.

Also, take time to get to know your colleagues and team members on a personal level. If you can, put aside time every day to chat with someone who you don't know well.

Developing Quadrant D (Imaginative Thinking)

To develop your Quadrant D thinking style, work on your creativity skills. Instead of approaching every problem logically, have fun thinking of creative solutions. Use creative problem-solving tools such as Brainstorming or Provocation to generate unique solutions. Set aside time each day for idea generation, and for creative thinking.

Next, work with your imagination, and use Visualization to picture yourself achieving your goals. You can also use your imagination to come up with ideas for new products or processes for your organization.

Last, take your intuition into account when looking at situations and making decisions. While you shouldn't rely on intuition alone, it can be a useful guide to help you make better decisions.

Key Points

In the late 1970s, artist and researcher Ned Herrmann developed the Whole Brain Model. The model offers a metaphorical look at four quadrants, or "thinking styles," of the brain. These four thinking styles are:

  1. Analytical.
  2. Sequential.
  3. Interpersonal.
  4. Imaginative.

This model is useful for several reasons. Understanding the thinking style you're most drawn to allows you to see the thinking styles that you're weakest in. This, in turn, gives you insight into where you need to improve, in order to maximize your thinking potential.