Left brain, right brain

Years ago, when I worked for Nissan, I attended a management off-site where everyone had to take an assessment called the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument.

Left brain, right brain

Years ago, when I worked for Nissan, I attended a management off-site where everyone had to take an assessment called the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument.

This might sound like a torture device, but it was actually a fascinating look at how people think and process information.

According to Herrmann International, the questionnaire "evaluates and describes the degree of preference individuals have for thinking in each of the four brain quadrants." I was skeptical.

The results, however, were amazingly accurate. For example, mine showed I was a heavy-duty right-brain guy, meaning my operating style was "holistic, intuitive, interpersonal and feelings-based." Guilty as charged.

My polar opposite on the management team was our VP of parts and service, an impressive executive named Jerry, whose results showed him to be an extreme left-brain guy.

Jerry's operating style was "logical, analytical, organized, and sequential." Makes sense for a guy who had to oversee the shipping, inventory, stocking, and pricing of literally hundreds of thousands of parts daily.

Jerry always surprised me with his perspective on issues. One year we were required to encourage ride sharing among employees. I created a number of promotional campaigns to educate our staff on the benefits of it.

Our sales head suggested we provide incentives to carpoolers, including front-row parking spaces, gift certificates to restaurants, even a few days off. None of it worked.

Jerry wasn't a bit stunned. "If you want compliance, it's simple," he quipped, "Charge them for parking." I was flabbergasted, but stunned at the simplicity of the solution. If you charged non-carpoolers $25 a week to park in the lot, compliance would go through the roof.

Another of my favorite Jerry-isms was: "You want something done - give it to a busy man."

He required everyone in his department to keep a clean desk. Employees weren't allowed to clutter the workplace with plants, tchotchkes, or excessive numbers of framed photos of pets, friends, or family. One afternoon he visited my department, took a look around, and said to me in my office, "You've got a house-keeping problem on this floor."

Jerry was an enigma to me, but brain assessment explained it all. The two of us were simply wired differently.

A colleague of mine brought it all into focus one afternoon. We were in a meeting when he announced he had to leave early to attend his kid's Little League game. "I have snack duty today. I pray I get to work the grill this time," he said. "What are your other choices?" I asked him.

"Well," he said, "there are only two choices. You either work the grill or you work the counter. And I hate manning the counter."

I thought about this for a minute and was puzzled. How could one possibly prefer the job of standing over a sizzling, smelly, smoking grill on a hot afternoon? So I asked why.

"Are you kidding?" he replied, "I'll do anything to get out of selling stuff to little kids who can't decide what they want. It stresses me out."

I was dumbstruck. Helping kids select candy and snacks sounded easy to me. Sweating over a hot grill and cooking the perfect burger seemed daunting.

But every person has his or her natural strengths. That was the whole point of the brain dominance exercise - recognizing the strengths of every team member, no matter how diverse or different they might be. 

Don Spetner has served as CCO for Nissan North America, Sun America, and Korn/Ferry International. He can be reached at donspetner@gmail.com.

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