11th April 2016

What’s the Science Driving Your Productivity?

Over the past thirty years, science has uncovered a number of basic truths about how our brains function that are essential to enhancing your productivity. Understanding and applying these discoveries can go a long way in helping you escape the busyness trap to make your days less stressful, more productive, creative, and fun.

One size does not fit all when it comes to productivity. At the same time that neuroscientists have been studying universal patterns regarding brain functioning, they have also been exploring the significant differences among individuals when it comes to thinking and working. These researchers have developed varying definitions of what is often called cognitive style, and their findings about how it influences the way a person perceives, thinks, learns, solves problems and relates to others varies as well.

A 30-Second Science Lesson

One way of describing differences in cognitive styles that has captured popular thought is the right brain/left brain dichotomy. Beginning with the work of the Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Roger Sperry at the University of Chicago and Harvard in the 1940s and 50s, many scientists have studied the differing functions and activities associated with the right and left hemispheres of the brain. They have found that the right hemisphere is generally responsible for visual and spatial processing, and processes information simultaneously and holistically, while the left hemisphere is responsible for language and speech, and processes information analytically and sequentially. Based on these findings, a broader notion of hemisphericity gradually emerged, which suggested that individuals might rely on one hemisphere more than the other. You have probably encountered this concept in popular books, magazine articles, TV commentaries, and workplace seminars. You may have a strong sense as to whether you are mainly a right-brain or a left-brain type, and you may even have developed a tribal sense of “belonging” to one of the two categories.

However, more recent studies suggest that this simple two-sided division between right brain and left brain is overly simplistic and inaccurate. Most scientists now agree that particular brain functions involve both hemispheres to varying degrees and that cognitive style is a complex combination of multiple variables. There is no doubt that people differ enormously in their ways of dealing with information, but the differences cannot be categorized simply according to a single two-part dichotomy – left or right brain.

This growing consensus has led most researchers to move toward a multidimensional model of cognitive style, one that reflects more accurately the complexity of human thinking and behavior. In particular, one of the most widely-used and generally respected multidimensional models is the one developed in 1979 by Ned Herrmann, long-time manager of management education at General Electric. Herrmann’s Whole Brain Model is designed to examine how the brain perceives and processes information. The model is represented using four quadrants—A, B, C, and D—each illustrating the unique ways in which we perceive, comprehend, manage, communicate, and use information, all of which impact our productivity at work and in life.

The A quadrant cognitive processes are logical, analytical, quantitative, and fact-based. The B quadrant cognitive processes are planned, organized, detailed, and sequential. The C quadrant cognitive processes are emotional, interpersonal, feeling-based, and kinesthetic. The D quadrant cognitive processes are holistic, intuitive, synthesizing, and integrating.

Why’s All This Matter?

These four styles are not rigidly defined or mutually exclusive; most individuals have a cognitive style that represents a blend of the quadrants, though one quadrant generally tends to predominate. Thus, although you should not view this four-part typology as a simple, magic formula for diagnosing and treating your personal productivity challenges, it can unlock many mysteries for you. It can help explain why particular productivity strategies that work beautifully for others are actually counter-productive for you, and it can help you identify approaches you may never have considered that can dramatically boost your productivity—and your happiness.

The Real Magic

Here’s the real magic: You can find your style right here, right now with the Productivity Style Assessment.

I’ve tested the Productivity Style Assessment with thousands of professionals from many areas of the business world, from CPAs and financial analysts to human resource managers, sales people, consultants, and physicians. They have confirmed its value and usefulness as a self-assessment and coaching tool, based on both their intuitive sense of its accuracy in describing their own Productivity Style and the effectiveness of the working methods recommended to them based on the assessment’s findings.

So instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them.

Some easy next steps:

This is YOUR brain. Think about your brain. Yes. Seriously. Your brain tells you more than you realize; example: how fuzzy is your thinking or decision-making when you haven’t slept – are you good-to-go or are you agitated and difficult?

Bring it on. Bring the Productivity Style Assessment to your next team meeting – take ten minutes to figure out what everyone’s Productivity Style is on your team. Does anything surprise you? Now, how can you bring these insights into how you work right now?

Think about your partner’s brain. Or better yet – ask him or her to take the assessment. Are your Productivity Styles similar, different? How are they similar or different? How does your Productivity Style impact your personal relationships when it comes to decision-making like planning a vacation, signing the kids up for summer camps, or how you choose to spend time together?