The How of HBDI

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Ned’s research stemmed from an interest in the brain and his premise was that the brain must be fundamental to who we are, what we do and why we do it. He was specifically interested in two theories at the time. Roger Sperry’s Split Brain research and Paul McLean’s Triune Brain. 

Right and left hemispheres

Sperry’s research found that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are specialised in their functioning. The left hemisphere processes information logically, in a linear fashion, literally. Whereas the right processes through images, intuition and meaning – requiring contextual information.

Limbic and Cerebral 

Paul McLean’s model described the evolution of the brain and how we have a limbic system driven by the need for emotion, order, instinct and action whereas the cerebral system is driven to reason, adapt and perceive information in the environment.

Ned discovered that if you combine the left and right theory with the cerebral limbic theories of brain functioning. What emerges is a framework or architecture that can describe different ways of thinking.

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ABCD framework

Ned described these different ways of thinking as quadrants and labelled them as blue, green, red and yellow, A, B, C, D.

Whilst his research began as a physiological understanding of the brain it transformed into a metaphor, describing ways of thinking, when no definitive physiological links between the quadrants and brain regions were found. 

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Ned, even in his early development, said “the Whole Brain® Model is entirely a metaphor which divides into four quadrants of thinking. Determining precisely which part of the brain was doing what was looking less and less important.

This metaphor for thinking resulted in the development of the instrument from a self-report survey. This survey has 116 questions developed to measure our Whole Brain® Thinking Preferences.

Here is a snapshot of a profile provided here. This profile is the most commonly found profile in our database and represents around 18% of the 2.5 million profiles globally. Our statistics reveal that only 5% of our population have a single dominant preference (one quadrant as preferred); 58% have a double dominant preference (two quadrants preferred); 34% have a triple dominant preference (three quadrants preferred) and 3% have a quadruple dominant preference (four quadrants preferred). As previously mentioned there are no better or worse profiles however, there are consequences for each of us. For example, a consequence for a quadruple dominant thinker could be that they take more time to make decisions.

The difference between the HBDI and the Whole Brain® Model is that one is the instrument and the other is the premise or model upon which the tool is based.

The Whole Brain® Model is like a map and the HBDI is like the GPS locator. You can guess your profile before receiving your report to predict how your thinking preferences may manifest.

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A Whole Brain Model 

HBDI is the model for the way our brain thinks, describing four quadrants. Each thinking style has its own behaviours demonstrably associated with it. Remember the way we think, drives our behaviours.

Whilst we all think in each of these quadrants, what ned has found is that we all have a sequence to our thinking and certain areas in this model that we naturally prefer to think in. These areas are ‘easier’ for us, and typically use less energy when we think in them.

The upper left A quadrant typifies logical processing, and therefore, the colour chosen to represent this quadrant is cerulean blue—clear and to the point. 

The lower left B quadrant—the structured and organised quadrant—was designated as green because green suggested groundedness.

With its emotional, feeling and interpersonal orientation, the lower right C quadrant was assigned red because of the emotional passion implied by the colour.

The upper right D quadrant, with its imaginative qualities, was assigned yellow because of that colour’s vibrancy.

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Typical thinker profiles

Let’s imagine the quadrants as four different types of people. For the purpose of this section, we are very much stereo-typoing here.


  • The blue quadrant is about facts, logic problem solving and technical thinking. A word that summarises the Blue quadrant is FACT
  • A historical figure representing the blue quadrant could be Isacc Newton an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, who said I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.


  • The Green quadrant is about organisation, planning, safekeeping and detail. It focuses on getting things done. A word that summarises the green quadrant is FORM
  • A historical figure representing the green quadrant could be Julius Cesar was a roman politician and military general who said Experience is the teacher of all things.


  • The Red quadrant is about people, feelings, emotions, communication and intuition a work that summarises this quadrant is Feel
  • A historical figure representing the red quadrant could be Mother Teresa a saint and nun of the roman catholic church said Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.


  • The Yellow quadrant is about ideas, the big picture, taking risks and seeing possibilities. A word that summarises this quadrant is FREE.
  • A historical figure representing the yellow quadrant could be Leonardo Da Vinci, inventor, painter, sculptor, drawer who said “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return”.

These four personalities could typify the 4 thinking quadrants.

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Dominate Thinking Quadrants

Preferences are thought to develop from our genetic predispositions but also be highly influenced by the environment in which we live.

For example, if we were encouraged not to use our left hand we became right-handed. We have preferences so that we don’t have to exert as much energy when completing our daily tasks and it makes us more efficient.

Preferences can change over time due to environmental factors, contextual factors as well as a willingness to change. Sometimes, however, our preferences remain the same and we learn to operate with competence with our less-preferred hand. Both options are equally valid.

Within each of the quadrants, we have a preference for thinking for various clusters, this explains why we can appear different to someone who has the same preferences as ourselves. 

Think about someone who would only exhibit characteristics from one quadrant, e.g. blue:

  • What were their school preferences? What subjects did they prefer?
  • What’s their occupation? Job preferences
  • When buying a house what is important?
  • When solving a problem what do they do first?
  • What could their hobbies be?