What Color is Your Brain?

Do your members realize that "all of us are smarter than each of us" -- if we master the ways to team up effectively? This dramatic exercise can demonstrate that to a group of 5, 50, or 500.

Imagine your conferees creating a little profile of how their own brain works at its best, seeing for themselves how it compares with everyone else in the room, and then learning new ways to team up to maximize their productivity.

Here's how it works: At the start of the session, conferees take a brief quiz which quickly ascertains their preferred ways of using their brains. It probes their "multiple intelligences," measuring their chief strengths: analytical vs. intuitive, introverted vs. extroverted, etc.

Then, it's play-time! Each conferee gets a page of colored dots and an outline of the human brain with the major functional areas marked out. Each quickly creates a map of his or her strengths by putting the right dots -- red, blue, green, or yellow -- on the appropriate areas of the brain. Each color represents a major mental "style," and the number of them they place on the brain represents how strongly they prefer that mode of thinking.

Now, each participant has his or her own colorful "brain map" which can be readily seen and interpreted by others.

Lively discussion ensues -- in dyads, triads, or at rounds -- as conferees compare and contrast their strengths.

This discussion makes it clear why "all of us are smarter than each of us" -- if we find ways to work together productively, instead of getting in one anothers' way.

Depending on the learning objectives of the session and the climate we want to create, an option at this point is to have participants share two-minute stories from their lives or careers. They focus on critical incidents in which they displayed the strengths they have just identified for themselves. I ask them to note, as they listen to the stories of their colleagues in the group, which of the other people in their group are most like them, and which are most different.

At the end of this segment, I like to have them point to a person in their group with whom they could make such a profitable partnership. "Whose strengths would complement yours? Who could make up for your less-preferred, weaker functions -- and thereby make a Duo that's more capable than either of you alone?"

But the best is yet to come. After some discussion, I ask everybody to hold up a colored dot that represents their most strongly preferred strength -- the way they most like to use their brains.

Instantly, everyone in the room can look around and get a direct read-out of the "style" of their organization or profession. (I ask people in all four corners of the room to report on what the color-pattern looks like from their perspective, which increases both the accuracy, the involvement, and the drama.)

The results are always keenly interesting to the participants -- and often quite surprising.

An association of Health and Safety officials from across the state of Alabama, for example, assumed that its members would be sharply skewed in the direction of following correct procedures, compliance with regulations, etc.

But a swath of colored dots clearly showed great strengths in...risk-taking and imagination! These were qualities which have been traditionally neglected or scorned in this field devoted to compliance and conformity with rules.

In the discussion, the group came to realize that those qualities of enterprise and innovation might be extremely valuable in the future they face. Many of them, it turned out, are being challenged to become more entrepreneurial. So the members with strengths in those areas saw a new future for themselves -- and so did everyone else in the room.

For the rest of the 5-day conference, conferees could be seen comparing their colorful brain profiles, over drinks, coffee, or meals.

With smaller groups -- up to 50 -- I add another stunt which really dramatizes the fact that "all of us are smarter than each of us" -- if we use our brains well together. I collect the individual profiles and have someone run them through a copier to make transparencies. Then, I stack up the transparencies on a projector -- and of course the composite image shows everyone's dots on one brain. "This is the power of your 'Group Brain,'" I point out. "This is a picture of the total brainpower in this room."

Everyone can see how this "Group Brain" is stronger in each of its four quadrants, than any single participant's profile. "How can you organize yourselves to more effectively tap this reservoir of strengths in your group as a whole."

That challenge motivate the conferees to learn some powerful new techniques for teaming up for peak performance.

 Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross