By Wendy Sarubbi | February 3, 2015 1:02 pm

The latest College of Medicine Diversity Lunch and Learn session focused on the diverse ways we learn, describing the brain as four unique quadrants that are used in different ways by different people. The Whole Brain® thinking model is the product of behavioral researcher Anne Herrmann-Nedhi and her North Carolina-based consulting firm, Herrmann International.

“My focus is on cognitive diversity, and really understanding how people think and learn,” Herrmann-Nedhi said during her January 27 address to medical school faculty, staff and students. Many people think of diversity in terms of race, gender, and other physical characteristics, but Herrmann’s model addresses the diverse ways people think and learn and ways to make the work environment more inclusive for different style learners.

whole brain thinkingHerrmann’s four quadrants are Performance, Process, Possibilities and People. “Performance” (A) thinkers are more analytical and numbers-oriented. “People” thinkers (C) are motivated by emotions and personal connection. “Process” thinkers (B) thrive in an organized, “take action” environment where things are accomplished with specific, defined steps. “Possibilities” thinkers (D) are moved by innovation and risk-taking.

While each type of thinker has different motivations, a strong team incorporates the strengths and approaches of people who think in different ways. “Almost any project of any breadth requires whole-brain thinking,” Herrmann said. She offered an example of planning a big event, and how each type of thinking is needed to make it successful – from the logistics (Process), to the budget (Performance), to the guest experience (People) and the overall vision of the event (Possibilities). “The consensus is that difference is good. When you bring together different ideas, new ideas are born. It’s a powerful message,” she said.

In relation to medical education, Herrmann explained how doctors can use the Whole Brain® model to offer the best patient care. “Physicians don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re in an ecosystem of functions within the healthcare world,” she said. She detailed how doctors must deal with patients and how they feel, administrative rules, software systems and other medical professionals. This requires them to use every quadrant of the brain. “We’re going to see a push for more agile thinking for physicians. Not only being an expert in the subject matter, but also being able to effectively deal with patients,” she said.

During the Lunch and Learn discussion, Microbiology Professor Dr. Diane Jacobs asked how the Whole Brain® model could be used to help students increase their abilities to use all four quadrants, depending on the situation. Herrmann cited a study at a South African university where dental students were struggling with a tough “Tooth Morphology 101” course. After teachers realized that most students fit into the “Performance” quadrant, they gradually began to encourage them to use qualities from other quadrants. They did this through group activities that required students to create treatment plans and tap into their creativity to learn source material. “You start with the student’s primary preference, and honor that, because that’s going to create some comfort,” Herrmann suggested. “Then move them towards areas of adjacent preference as part of the learning experience.”

Herrmann and her team also took a tour of the College of Medicine campus, analyzing the building for aspects that cater to a certain learning type. She observed that the overall architecture caters to “People” thinkers who strive for personal connections. “The building clearly invites you in, from the sheer design of it,” she said of the medical education building, which is sometimes described as a “hug” because of its open circle shape. She pointed out information screens and displays inside, some catering to the “Performance” thinkers who seek numbers and figures, while others point to innovation and plans for the future, which draws in “Possibilities” thinkers.

At the end of the Lunch and Learn session, Herrmann offered all attendees an opportunity to determine their thinking preference profile by taking The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) assessment free of charge. She reiterated how each thinking style is vital to building truly effective teams. “The way we process information is another dimension that really creates an opportunity for more collaboration and innovation,” she said.

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