Are you an adventurer or a logician? An extrovert or an introvert? Type A or Mr/Mrs Easygoing?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been lured in by more than one online test that will tell you “who you really are”. You’ll be promised “spookily accurate” results that’ll define your entire personality and guide you through every future decision from what field you should be working in to what color underpants are right for you. Every consultant around seems to have their own test, their own methodology for helping you find the key to your character. I bet you’ve tried at least one of them…

So, tell me — after you completed the assessment did you alter your behavior? If you took the assessment as part of a team, did it change how your team interacted?

Probably not.

For the record, I’m an ENFJ; a red, yellow, green; and a Protagonist archetype. I’ve taken the Myers Briggs, Insights, StrengthFinder, and Predictive Index…as well as other leadership and team building assessments. I’m continually drawn to these tests because I see the value in them; how we think, how we communicate, what motivates us, why we behave the way we behave is fascinating stuff and a deeper understanding of what drives us is worth knowing and tapping into as we navigate our lives and careers. But there are limits.

The problem with the box…

For me, the problem lies in the absolute nature of these assessments, the “either/or” approach to personality types. They put you into a neatly-labeled little box and there you remain, whether or not you feel comfortable there. Time and again they fail to take into account the myriad differences that separate you from every other person that shares your box.

I have worked with and in technical teams for over two decades — without a doubt, typical personality tests would have lumped my colleagues into the same category. Data-driven, scientifically-minded, technical, non touchy-feely types for sure. Yet is that enough information to really define a person? To determine how they should behave, the decisions they should make? To help you, as a leader, decide how to communicate and work with them?

Not in my experience.

As the only female in a five-person partnership (as well as the only non-engineer), I had a clear view of my colleagues. And as similar as they were in some respects, by the time you add layer upon layer of difference — relating to education, background, introversion, extroversion, and so on — you quickly realize that those clearly-labeled boxes could never contain the breadth of personality my colleagues brought to the team. I lost count of the times that we were all taking part in the same discussion but hearing completely different messages.

No, I don’t subscribe to the “either/or” philosophy that lies behind so many personality tests. We’re far more complex and complicated than that.

So, I got curious. Because I really do think that such tests can be helpful as long as they don’t place too many limits on us, as long as we can break away from the “either/or”, “black/white” school of thought. And as long as they provide ways for us to actually act upon the information the tests reveal.

I figured there had to be a tool out there that would help me understand how my clients, my employees, and my fellow partners were thinking, without consigning them to a “one size fits all” definition.

Then I came across Ned Herrmann’s HBDI.

The “Whole Brain” theory.

Ned, a technical engineer and inventor by day and a talented guitarist by night, certainly couldn’t be put into a neatly-labeled box, and that piqued his curiosity. He wanted to discover the scientific explanation for his creativity, the answer to the “paradox” of being a data-driven, practical personality who was also intensely artistic.

He found his answer: it’s possible because we have a whole brain. Because we use different areas of our brain for different functions. And sure, that seems obvious when I just blurt it out like that but we’re all so used to limiting ourselves by personality type, by defining ourselves as one thing over another, that opening ourselves to the shades of grey can be mind-blowing.

When conducting his research, Ned discovered that our thinking preferences, and as a consequence, our behaviors, are the result of how we use our brain. He then broke the brain down into four simple, memorable quadrants making his theories easy to apply to our everyday life.

The quadrants are organized with color and word signals.

  •       Quadrant A – Blue – What. Logical, analytical and data driven.
  •       Quadrant B – Green – How. Ordered, sequential, process driven.
  •       Quadrant C – Red – Who. Interpersonal, feelings-based, kinesthetic.
  •       Quadrant D – Yellow – Why. Holistic, big-picture, integrating.

When you take the assessment you’ll likely discover that you come out in favor of one quadrant over another. When it comes to determining your communication style and your behavior, one section of the brain (or two at most) will tend to dominate the weaker sections. But the difference with HBDI is that this isn’t set in stone. The test doesn’t reveal what a person can’t do rather it shows how they prefer to think, how they process information, and how they best communicate. And, the assessment will likely reveal preferences in all quadrants because we have a whole brain.

Where you, and your team, go from there is up to you.

When you understand which brain quadrants are currently “in charge” of you and your teammates, you can alter your communication and work styles accordingly. Not only that, you have the power to operationalize the results to benefit your team; workshops, games, books and programs can all be used to strengthen the less preferred quadrants and encourage greater “brain balance”.

The changing brain.

You may be pretty convinced about who you are, your character, and your preferred methods of communication and usual behaviors. We often decide early on that we’re one type or another and feel distress when we suddenly struggle to conform to the traits we expect to come naturally to us.

That’s another problem with standard personality testing: the failure to take neuroplasticity into account. Your brain is constantly changing, reacting and forging new pathways depending on internal thought patterns and external experiences. And when it comes to altering your ability to think, to process information, and to communicate, stress is a significant factor. This is why HBDI provides an “everyday” profile as well as an “under stress” profile. The fact that one of my clients recently commented, “the “under stress” profile should be the “everyday profile” speaks to just how important this distinction is to teams working under near constant pressure to perform!

HBDI and PointNorth.

I think I’ve gained something from every personality test I’ve taken — a little more insight, a few clues to why I react to certain situations the way I do, why I make the decisions I make. But I’ve yet to find another test that is scientifically-validated but so easy to understand and that so comprehensively caters to the way our brains actually work. It’s unusual to find a test that can be applied to all human interactions and situations.

So yes, we too are joining the ranks of consultants sharing comprehensive leadership and team building assessments. I love that I can apply the knowledge I’ve gained through HBDI to my own leadership profile, my behavior, and communication style, but I’m even more excited to bring this knowledge to you guys: my clients and my teams. Particularly those of you who can relate to the comment above about stress being an everyday state of affairs!

If you’re as curious as I was about HBDI and the positive impact it could have on you and your team, get in touch. We’re proud to be the only certified HBDI facilitator in Oregon and Washington and we’d love to talk to you about providing a team HBDI assessment.