Walking the Brain

Guest Post by Steve Caldwell

Would you like to leverage the natural strengths of everyone on your team in creating your team’s success?

Have you ever noticed that different questions resonate more strongly with some of your team members than others?  Have you noticed some members remain quiet? Have you ever wondered why?

Different Questions connect with different parts of the brain and therefore resonate with different team members.  If you want to leverage the way each of your team member’s brains are wired you will have to ask all four types of questions!

There is a systematic way to cover all the bases, evoke response from each team member, and reach more effective conclusions. It is called “Walking the Brain.”

A field of study by Ned Herrmann relates these questions with thinking patterns of the brain. I was introduced to Herrmann’s work in the 1990’s at Coca-Cola and have applied his findings in corporate leadership, consulting, and academia with an exercise called “Walking the Brain”. Instead of me explaining this approach to inquiry, why don’t I illustrate “walking the brain” by applying it? This blog then becomes its own object lesson.

“What” is walking the brain?

“What” is the upper left quadrant of the brain that demands definition and analysis. What then is “walking the brain”? It is an intentional process of asking all four questions that the brain is designed to ask when exploring some topic or issue. Every individual has a brain pattern where each of the four quadrants has a particular intensity. If an individual primarily wants to know “what?”, we say they are blue brained. They may have a strong alternative quadrant also, such as yellow or green, but generally one is dominant. Occasionally someone has equal intensity across all four quadrants. This is called a “balanced” brain pattern.

“Why” walk the brain?

“Why” is the conceptual upper right quadrant. It represents purpose. The purpose of “walking the brain” is to make sure that every individual on the team has their brain itch scratched. This evokes information that a lesser power player on the team may otherwise withhold, especially if their dominant quadrant is a weak quadrant for the leader. The more diverse views brought to the discussion the better the decision.

“Who” is involved when we walk the brain?

“Who” is the lower right quadrant, and it demands answers to the questions about who is affected. Individuals who are red brained (“who” quadrant dominant) are interested in relational effects of the decision or action. These individuals want to know about people’s feelings as a result of what action is taken. Leaders with low green brain dominance can assume the details will get done. When the team does not sufficiently address how things will get done, the “doers” on the team will feel uneasy and frustrated.  When a leader “walks the brain” with a team, every member has “voice”, which has been found to be a major contributor to commitment of members to the team’s decision.

“How” do I walk the brain?

Finally, there are the green brain people. These are the lower left brain individuals that must know “how” things will get done. These are often the task oriented members who do not deal well with ambivalence. The process of walking the brain is literally taking the issue at hand and asking various questions for each quadrant, usually in the order of why, what, who and how. Covering the process questions may not be intuitive for leaders since leaders are taught to cast vision (yellow brain stuff) or do extensive analysis (blue brain). Highly relational leaders naturally like to stay in the red quadrant. Being intentional is the key.

I think you can see that “walking the brain” has a more substantial basis to it than just asking four questions. The discipline solicits the most information available from team members and generates a positive affective disposition of ALL team members. Systematically addressing all four quadrants of the brain will reduce gaps and randomness of outcomes that often are subject to the competencies of the leader.

In his book, “Great Leaders Ask Questions”, Bob Tiede shares four questions one consultant uses to make a six figure income:

  1. What is going well?
  2. What’s not?
  3. Where are you stuck?
  4. What needs to change?

Suppose that consultant was “Walking the Brain,” might he then have 16 questions that look like these:



Steve Caldwell


Steve Caldwell leverages 30 years of experience in the business world and 15 years as a PHD in Organizational Psychology to coach and counsel individuals. Dr Caldwell’s focus is to transform ‘sense-making’ so that people and organizations become more strategically effective at winning in a hostile environment.  You can follow Steve’s blog: ProfOnCall


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2 thoughts on “Walking the Brain

  1. Steve Morgan says:

    Great post Bob and Steve. I have been reading a couple of books on neuroscience and the effects of exercise and eating have on the brain related to aging, stress, habits, etc. The brain has amazing plasticity and ability to grow and make new connections! It make sense that different questions actually resonate with different parts of the brain for people. Walking the brain is a great way to make sure all the best questions and ideas get to the table.

  2. IRUSCC says:

    I appreciate your Audio book .

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