Workforce & Workplace
Whole Brain Thinking: Skills Sets for the New Conceptual Age
Mark Bickford
Mark Bickford
Corporate Services
Sodexo North America

History teaches us a great deal about building a workforce that can get the job done.

As civilization progressed from the agricultural age to the industrial age to the information age, the modern workforce evolved from farmer to factory worker to knowledge worker. Over time, our focus shifted from produce to production to productivity. Today, we are moving from the information age into a service-based economy, and a whole new set of competencies are required, including the integration of soft skills with design thinking.

Throughout every era, the ability to innovate is the common thread driving transformational growth. But how can we measure or predict a person’s ability to innovate and create new solutions?

Not so long ago, we tied success and achievement to a person’s IQ or intelligence quotient, which measures the ability to solve problems, understand concepts and process information. But today’s world is more complicated.

More recently, scientists began assessing how awareness of one’s own and other people’s emotions affects the ability to think and direct behavior. They discovered that EQ, or emotional quotient, is a key element to understanding and leading people.

However, IQ and EQ alone are not innovation drivers and cannot guarantee success, especially in today’s hyper-competitive, entrepreneurial business environment where we are grasping to process big data. And so a third element is now being assessed—your synchronized quotient, or SQ, which focuses on creativity and sustainable innovation.

According to the 2015 Workplace Trends Report, SQ is an amalgam of IQ and EQ and introduces three new primary drivers that power work effectiveness, creativity and innovation:

  • Empathy – To walk in another person’s shoes, to take on their point of view, experience and context. To have compassion and unconditional understanding
  • Pattern Recognition – To see new meaning that others cannot see, to see the extraordinary rather than just the trend, and make key associations and connections
  • Synthesis – To be the resourceful “chef,” who imagines something entirely new based on new associations and connections and creates elegance out of chaos

Steve Jobs is a great example of a person with high SQ. His game-changing innovations were the result of seeing through the lens of consumers and having empathy for them. He understood their unmet and unexpressed needs even before they did. Jobs found inspiration from hackers, music pirates and extreme users. He recognized patterns, was able to synthesize and process data, and combined existing technologies to create revolutionary solutions.

Significant innovations are rarely the result of customers asking for what they want. No one was desperate for a new search engine before Google reimagined one. But innovators like Google, Starbucks, Facebook and Apple have the ability to understand their customers, process information and design and deliver paradigm-changing solutions.

As we enter the conceptual age, we can learn much from these successes. Employees who want to innovate and show real value at work should set their sights on developing their SQ skills. And organizations must learn to leverage the power of their employees who have empathy and the ability to recognize patterns to turn insights into actions.


Mark Bickford is President, Business & Industry Solutions for Sodexo.

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