Whole Brain Creativity

Are you a right-brain person or a left-brain person?

Right brain folks are more artistic, feeling, intuitive, and creative — they like to find solutions by making connections and trusting their intuition. Left brain folks are more rational and logical — they like order, data, facts, guarantees, and reliability.

But there is more than just left-brain or right-brain types of people. There are actually four types of thinking (or learning) styles.

The two researchers in this are that I’m most familiar with are Ned Herrmann and Anthony Gregorc. Gregorc created what he calls the Mind Styles Model. Herrmann created what he calls Whole Brain Thinking.

If you break the two hemispheres down even further, as Ned Herrmann, Anthony Gregorc, and many others have done, then you get the four quadrants of the brain. Each of us has a dominant quadrant that we think and learn from — a way of thinking and percieving the world that is most natural to us. But each of us can use all four quadrants.

Herrmann - Whole Brain Thinking

Herrmann uses colors to define the four quadrants: Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow. Gregorc’s quadrants each have a name based on the way people perceive and order information: Abstract Sequential, Concrete Sequential, Abstract Random, and Concrete Random.

Gregorc’s AS, CS, AR, and CR quadrants correlate to Herrmann’s Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow quadrants pretty easily.

  1. Blue (Abstract Sequential) is where logical, analytical, and technical thinking happens. Blue thinkers are the ones making sure we don’t value form over function because they are rational and care about performance and analytics. They are objective, thorough, quantitative and technical. They’ve probably got a mental calculator ready to go, which is why they tend to be engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

  2. Green (Concrete Sequential) is where people are detailed, organized, administrative, reliable, and structured. They are tactical, and tend to be project managers, bookkeepers, and administrators because they value control, structure, reliability, and tradition.

  3. Red (Abstract Random) is where you find emotional, expressive, interpersonal, and spiritually-minded people. They are compassionate, perceptive, and sensitive. They care deeply about people, and they have the ability to read the emotional temperature of a room right when they walk in. They tend to be teachers, trainers, charity workers, and musicians so they can help others and frequently connect on a personal level in and through their career.

  4. Yellow (Concrete Random) is where creative, artistic, and conceptual thinking happen. These people are usually visionary and risk taking and tend to become entrepreneurs, artists, and strategists. They value spontaneity, risk, beauty, design, and fun. They are also excellent at recognizing patterns, and have a strong ability to form connections between two or more seemingly contrasting ideas.

If you’re at all familiar with these (and other) styles, then you know that I’m grossly oversimplifying the science behind these things. And I bet Gregorc and Herrmann wouldn’t be too happy with me comparing their two models so closely. (But I can’t help it. I’m a strong Yellow thinker, so I like connecting ideas and finding patterns.)

But I’m not here to do a deep dive on the science of learning, thinking, etc.

What strikes me about the whole brain model is that it highlights the different joys and challenges of creativity.

Each of us are dominant in one of these four quadrants. You, dear reader, have some strength and some weakness of all four quadrants of learning and thinking style, but one of them is your most dominant. Do you mostly thrive on: Facts and logic? Form and Safety? Feelings and relationships? Or future ideas and concepts?

However, for us to do our best creative work — work that matters — we have to operate out of all four quadrants.

Operating out of all four quadrants looks different for everyone because everyone has one or two quadrants that they are strongest in and then a few quadrants they are weaker in.

If you are a strong “Yellow” thinker, then having visionary creative solutions is probably a natural part of your everyday life. But you may have trouble when it comes time to execute on your ideas.

Or if you are a strong “Green” thinker, then you can whip up a plan while the coffee is still brewing. But you may have trouble seeing the big picture, or understanding it’s significance.

We will always naturally operate out of our dominant quadrant. But our best creative work must flow out of all four quadrants. We need to have a desire to problem solve (Blue), we need to have enough structure and organization in order to show up every day (Green), we need to have empathy and emotion toward others and a desire to help them (Red), and we need care about creating and making (Yellow).

In addition to our own individual need to think and work using all four quadrants, we can also benefit greatly from having people around us who are dominant in different areas. If you are a strong red thinker, then get someone who is blue to work beside. While you may have friction at first (you will see them as being cold and calculating; they will see you as being too talkative and sentimental), you will actually bring some healthy balance to one another and make more progress as a team.

The challenge is to operate out of the areas of our brain that don’t come naturaly to us. Are your creative solutions intuitive? Do they solve a problem? Are you able to show up every day and do the work? Are you trying to serve and delight others?

To do work that matters, answering ‘yes’ to just one or even two of these is not enough.

In the same way that our best creative work flows from all four quadrants, it must also flow to all four quadrants for it to be effective in reaching others.