TAZ! profile background information

TAZ!® Thinking and Action Zone profile helps identify one’s preferred style and mode to think and act

TAZ! -Thinking and action profile® is designed to help individuals and teams to reflect and gain in self-awareness. Identifying one’s habitual patterns of behaviour is not always simple and easy. Identifying one’s strengths and blind spots is likewise not easy. TAZ® profile is designed to help persons identify and understand how they prefer to receive, process and store information and what might be their preferred style of making decisions and solving everyday problems. Moreover, what impact their preferred cognitive style might have on communication, collaboration, completing various tasks, facing changes, motivation and stress. Work, sports - and everyday life for that matter - are all about processing information and creating shared meaning in dialogue. The purpose of the TAZ® profile is to offer a framework and vocabulary to enable shared reflection on and discussion about such complex processes that have an impact on our behaviour.

We cannot easily detect cognitive diversity from the outside. It cannot be predicted or easily orchestrated. The very fact that it is an internal difference requires us to work hard to surface it and harness the strengths of diversity. (Reynolds and Lewis, 2017) TAZ! ® -profile is a tool to facilitate surfacing one’s cognitive style. (The term ‘style’ usually refers to a set of habitual patterns). It is not the diagram itself that has so much value than the process of self-reflection, that TAZ! -profile® provokes and triggers. TAZ! ® -profile helps people reflect on their style and mode of thinking and doing, also and especially, when the person is not accustomed to self-reflection.

We acknowledge the “decades of research in this field, which has shown that the strongest predictor of behaviour is the environment or situation in which the behaviour occurs.” (Ross and Nisbett, 1991) This is why we ”.. suggest that cognitive styles represent heuristics an individual uses to process information about this or her environment.” (Kozhevnikov, 2007). And having experienced first-hand how TAZ® profiles have proven useful in enhancing self-awareness needed in successful self-leadership.

TAZ! ® -profile is a tool that facilitates self-understanding and understanding of others. After one understands his own preferred mode or style of thinking and acting, it is easier to understand and thus learn to appreciate that of those, whose mode or style is very different. Research shows that people with differing cognitive styles often struggle to get along—creating communication, trust and productivity issues. Therefore, team members need to know, understand and learn to appreciate each other’s cognitive styles so they can leverage each other’s advantages and supplement each other’s disadvantages at all stages of work. (Kirton, 2003)

Recently, the skill to lead oneself has become a topic of interest. Self-leadership posits that even though behaviour is often supported by external forces such as a leader or coach, actions are ultimately controlled by internal rather than external forces. Self-Leadership consists of mainly three types of cognitive strategies. Behavioral strategies include self-reflection, setting objectives and rewarding or punishing. Their purpose is to heighten self-awareness and thus help lead oneself to do tasks that are not meaningful or pleasant. The second category encompasses rewarding strategies. One strategy helps to consciously look for the ‘brighter side’ or benefits in the above-mentioned tasks that are not meaningful or pleasant. Another helps an individual shift focus from the unpleasant or negative aspects of the task to the positive ones. Their purpose is to strengthen individuals perceived self-efficacy and determination to do the task. The third category encompasses strategies that encompass constructive and solution-oriented thinking. One strategy is to identify unconstructive and limiting beliefs and assumptions and replacing them with constructive ones. Another is to learn positive and encouraging self-talk. Their purpose is identify thinking and action patterns that aren’t productive and thus are in the way of leveraging individual’s full potential. (Neck and Houghton 2006) In hands of a skillful coach the TAZ® profile can be a one of the tools in the toolbox to develop self-leadership strategies.

The four styles of TAZ®

TAZ!® -profile is not to be used as any kind of assessment or metrics. Instead it is designed to be used in personal or team development processes. TAZ!® -profile is a combination of four basic styles. The styles are called Yellow, Red, Green and Blue. The names of the styles are chosen to have no value-load of good or bad. This is the foundation of the profile. It is not be used for assessment or evaluation.

Styles are not etched in stone at birth. They are largely a function of a person' s interactions with the environment, and they change through education and socialization. An individual with one style in one task or situation may have a different style in a different task or situation. Moreover, some individuals may have one preferred style at one stage of life and another preferred style at another stage. Styles are not fixed, but fluid.

We insist on all styles being equally good. However, in some tasks and situations a specific style can help one succeed more easily. TAZ!® -profile helps us identify what is our preferred style that we employ in a sort of ‘autopilot’ manner. When we become more conscious of our style on ‘autopilot’, we can lead ourselves better and deploy a style that suits better to the task or situation.

All people have the ability to think and act in all styles. All people have the potential to think and act in ways typical for all styles. For some reason (work culture, education, personality, experience, etc) one often is ‘used to’ thinking and working in a particular mode. Our brain creates routines to reserve mental energy to overcome any sudden threats that the environment might impose on us. To expand one’s zone of preferred thinking and action (comfort zone), one must first recognise what it currently is and then decide whether and how to expand it. The person must think and decide the direction of development himself. It might be to leverage more on current strengths or to develop styles that are currently only partially in use. In team context, it is often to learn and appreciate cognitive diversity in the team.

Each profile is a unique combination of four basic styles. In each profile, some styles are ‘stronger’, i.e. having more or more often impact on how one thinks and acts, and some styles are ‘weaker’, i.e. having less or only rarely or partially impact on how one thinks and acts. Moreover, the impact of the four basic styles on one’s thinking and actions is dependent on the kind of combination of strong and weaker styles in the profile. The characteristics of each style are manifested a bit differently depending on the combination of all the styles in the profile.

There is no straightforward interpretation of the profile. Instead, there are hypotheses that the person needs to think through- preferably with the help of a professional coach. This is why we call the profile a ‘tool’. It simplifies extremely complex processes and gives easy to understand hypotheses to assist self-reflection and to lead in better self-awareness. With the help of the profile one can make a good attempt at understanding oneself a bit better. With good guidance, it is an excellent tool to help one learn something new about oneself. The hypotheses help first identify current strengths, because we believe in strength-based development. But also, perhaps discover what is in one’s ‘blind spot’ (Johari window). As a result the person is able to reflect on his self-leadership strategies and how to make them such that lead to meaningful behavioural patterns.

Below we make a reference to some findings in the research of cognitive styles, which are a basis for the four basic styles in TAZ!® -profile. The styles might have some link to personality traits, but we leave that out of the framework. Grigorenko and Sternberg (199/) claim that cognitive styles might represent a bridge between what might seem to be two fairly distinct areas of psychological investigation: cognition and personality.

Our goal was to make an as simple tool as possible so that the application in practice would be easy. We want to give an easy to use tool to recognise one’s strengths and those of others. Thus it is a tool and does not give any answers. It gives hypothesis for the individual and his coach to explore and elaborate.

Research on cognitive styles

Despite declining interest in cognitive styles among cognitive scientists by the end of the 1970s, the number of publications on styles in applied fields have increased rapidly in the recent decades. This reflects the practical necessity of understanding individual differences in mechanisms of cognitive functioning.

Although many theoretical and methodological problems accumulated in the field, research on basic cognitive styles clearly established robust differences in the way that individuals approached cognitive tasks. Cognitive styles represent relatively stable individual differences in preferred ways of organizing and processing information that cut across the personality of an individual.

Messick (1976) reviewed the literature of the active research period and concluded that

cognitive styles represent consistent individual differences in preferred ways of organizing and processing information and experience .... They are not simple habits . . . they develop slowly and experientially and do not appear to be easily modified by specific tuition or training . . . . The stability and pervasiveness of cognitive styles across diverse spheres of behavior suggest deeper roots in personality structure than might at first glance be implied by the concept of characteristic modes of cognition. (pp. 4–6)

Messick (1976) defined cognitive styles as stable attitudes, preferences, or habitual strategies that determine individuals’ modes of perceiving, remembering, thinking, and problem solving. Cognitive styles “appear to serve as high level heuristics that organize lower-level strategies, operations, and propensities – often including abilities – in such complex sequential processes as problem solving and learning” (Messick, 1976, p. 9).

Cognitive style has been defined as describing the “underlying dispositions toward the treatment of information, the selection of alternatives, and the evaluation of consequences” as well as “the subjective process through which individuals organize and change information during the decision-making process” (Laudon and Laudon, 1998, 134).

McKenney and Keen (1974) describe two ends of the cognitive style spectrum that are very relevant to this study: systematic and intuitive. Systematic individuals tend to structure problems according to a formal method, and gather and evaluate information using this structured approach.  Intuitive individuals tend to use multiple methods or approaches and prefer to avoid using a structured or systematic approach to solving a problem or making a decision (McKenney and Keen, 1974).

Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, and Cox (1977) characterize cognitive styles as individual differences in the way people perceive, think, solve problems, learn, and relate to others.

Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith, Bem and Nolen-Hoeksama (1996) define personality as the distinctive patterns of thought, emotion, and behaviour which define an individual’s style of interacting with the social and physical environment.

Riding and Rayner (1998) defined cognitive style as an individual’s preferred and habitual approach to both organizing and representing information.

In the field of industrial and organizational psychology, cognitive style is considered a fundamental factor determining both individual and organizational behaviour (e.g., Streufert & Nogami, 1989; Talbot, 1989)

Cognitive styles represent heuristics that individuals use to process information about their environment. These heuristics can be identified at multiple levels of information processing, from perceptual to metacognitive. Cognitive styles have an adaptive function: They mediate the relation between an individual and his or her environment. Although styles are generally stable individual characteristics, they may also change or develop in response to specific environmental circumstances (education or profession, for instance).

It is useful to distinguish between style and strategy. Style probably has a physiological basis and is fairly fixed for the individual. By contrast, strategies are ways that may be learned and developed to cope with situations and tasks, and particularly methods of using styles to make the best of situations for which they are not ideally suited. (Riding, 1997)

Labelling cognitive styles

The early research (Witkin, Lewis, Hertzman, Machover, Meissner, and Wapner (1954); Witkin, Dyk, Patterson, Goodenough, and Karp (1962)) and later studies resulted in theories that generally assumed a single dimension of cognitive style, with an individual’s style falling somewhere on a continuum between the extremes of this dimension. The first attempts to organize the array of cognitive styles revolved around the idea that there is a unified structure based on an analytical–holistic (or analytical–intuitive) style (e.g., Allinson & Hayes, 1996; Hayes & Allinson, 1994).

These two extremes are also described in general terms by McKenney and Keen (1974), and Botkin (1974): the analytical or systematic style is associated with logical, rational behaviour that uses a step-by-step, sequential approach to thinking, learning, problem solving, and decision making; in contrast, the holistic or intuitive style is associated with a spontaneous, holistic, and visual approach.

Dimensions found in studies attempting to organize cognitive styles:

  • Relationship orientation <-> Matter Orientation
  • Stability orientation <-> Exploration orientation
  • Impulsivity <–> reflectivity
  • Holist <–> serialist
  • Verbalizer <–> visualizer
  • Adaptation <-> innovation
  • Intuitive <–> analytical
  • Tolerance for ambiguity <–> intolerance for ambiguity
  • Sequential <–> random processing,
  • Concrete <–> abstract

Several researchers sensed that many labels are only different conceptions of the same dimensions. After reviewing the descriptions, correlations, methods of assessment, and effect on behaviour of more than 30 labels, Riding and Cheema (1991), concluded that they could be grouped into two fundamental cognitive style dimensions. These dimensions they termed holist–analytic and verbal–imagery (i.e., whether one has the tendency to represent information during thinking verbally vs. in images). This view was confirmed in a further review by Rayner and Riding (1998).

Miller (1987) states that most cognitive styles are subordinate to, and reflect, a broad stylistic difference that represents a long-established distinction between contrasting cognitive styles. The first cognitive style is commonly described using the terms analytical, deductive, rigorous, constrained, convergent, formal, and critical. The second cognitive style is commonly described using the terms synthetic, inductive, expansive, unconstrained, divergent, informal, diffuse, and creative.

There is evidence that the style dimensions are independent of one another and unrelated to intelligence and personality. (Riding, 1997).

The earlier assumption that dimensions like analytical – holistic are related to the hemispheric lateralization (e.g., the left hemisphere processes information analytically, whereas the right hemisphere processes information holistically) is not accurate in light of current theories in neuroscience. Nevertheless, many researchers have claimed that the degree to which behaviour is global–holistic or differentiated–analytic is a key element in differences among individuals. The analytical style has commonly been described in the cognitive style literature as convergent, differentiated, sequential, reflective, and deductive, whereas the holistic style has been described as divergent, global, impulsive, intuitive, inductive, and creative.

Cognitive styles at work – applied psychology

Cognitive styles, although relatively stable, are malleable and adapted to changing environmental and situational demands. They interact with the external environment and can be modified by life experiences. Individuals “often stretch outside the borders of . . . preferred operating modes if the conditions are right and the stakes are high enough” (Leonard & Straus, 1997).

Studies in applied fields expanded the concept, describing individual differences both in low-level (mostly perceptual) cognitive functioning and in more complex cognitive processing. These studies made it clear that cognitive styles are not simply inborn structures, dependent only on an individual’s internal characteristics, but, rather, interactive constructs that develop in response to social, educational, professional, and other environmental requirements. (Kozhevnikov, W. 2007)

Our innate abilities such as abstract-logical reasoning or spatial visualization may lead to an interest in mathematics and science, which then may result in the development of particular cognitive styles, e.g., analytical. In turn, cognitive styles support the development of some intellectual abilities and personality traits but might slow down others. From this perspective, cognitive styles can be viewed as patterns of adjustment to the world. They “develop slowly and experientially as a result of the interplay between basic individual characteristics (i.e., general intelligence, personality) and long-lasting external requirements i.e., education, formal–informal training, professional requirements, and cultural and social environment”. (Hayes & Allinson, 1994; Hayes & Allinson, 1998; Leonard & Straus, 1997).

Adapting to changing environmental and situational demands can take the form of learning. Kolb (1984) viewed learning as a holistic and continuous process of adaptation to the world. We continuously modify our existing knowledge through experience and by new information. Learning requires not only “cognition or perception but involves the integrated functioning of the whole organism –perceiving, thinking, feeling, and behaving” (Kolb, 1984). Perceiving i.e., the means by which people grasp information, can be concrete or abstract; and ordering i.e., the ways in which people arrange, systematize, and use information, can be sequential or random. These two axes were the foundation for Kolb’s basic learning styles. They form four different channels that have in impact on our ways of receiving and expressing information: 1.) concrete–sequential (conventional, and accurate), 2.) abstract–sequential (analytic, objective, logical), 3.) abstract–random (sensitive, compassionate, imaginative), and 4.) concrete–random (quick, intuitive, and instinctive).

Gregorc (1982, 1984) suggested that cognitive styles can be understood in terms of two basic dimensions: use of space and use of time. Space refers to perceptual categories for acquiring and expressing information and is divided into concrete (or physical) and abstract (or metaphorical) space. Time is divided into two different ways of ordering facts and events: sequential (i.e., in a step-by-step or branchlike manner) and random ordering (i.e., in a weblike or spiral manner).

The Gregorc Style Delineator (Gregorc, 1982) classifies individuals into four basic types: concrete-sequential --people who focus their attention on concrete reality and physical objects and validate ideas through the senses; abstract-sequential--people who prefer logical and synthetic thinking and validate information through preset formulas; abstract-random--people who tend to focus their attention on the world of feeling and emotion and to validate ideas through inner guidance; and concrete-random--people who prefer intuitive and instinctive thinking and who rely on personal proof for validating ideas, rarely accepting outside authority.

TAZ! ® -profile has been created using the frameworks of Gregorc (1982), Kolb (1984), Riding and Cheema (1991) and Miller (1987). ‘Green’ style is concrete, sequential and verbal. ‘Blue’ style is abstract, sequential and analytic. ‘Yellow’ style is abstract, random as well as holist and imagery. ‘Red’ style is concrete, random as well as holist and imagery.

The dimensions identified by early research form the basis of TAZ!® framework as follows:

The way TAZ!® -profile presents the four styles is not founded on the idea that the styles are bipolar dimension. Instead we regard them as independent style families or modes. Each profile (each person) has some characteristics of each style, it is not an either-or description. The profile gives a diagram indicating or suggesting how strongly or often each style is descriptive of one’s thinking and actions. It is easy enough to be used as a tool to assist self-reflection to learn more about oneself.

This underlying framework has been elaborated to address domain specific thinking and actions, for example dealing with change and stress as well as profile for identifying preferred style to exercise.

TAZ!® self-report questionnaire

Introspective self-report measures have known inherent weaknesses. These include the respondent’s

(i) possible inability to report his behaviour accurately and objectively,

(ii) unwillingness to make the necessary effort to respond accurately and

(iii) bias due to the pressure of social desirability in making responses.

Nevertheless TAZ!® -profile has proven to have acceptable degree of validity and reliability to be used as a tool to facilitate self-reflection and appreciation of cognitive diversity in a team. TAZ! ® -profile has been in the Finnish market since 2010. There are some 10 000 profiles produced and feedback from customers has been favourable, 94,7 % saying that the profile helps them in their self-reflection, and they find it accurate enough to help them reflect in a meaningful and insightful way and gain in self-awareness.


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