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Six Thinking Hats
by Edward de Bono
Using case studies and real-life examples of his "six thinking hats", de Bono shows how each of us can become a better thinker through deliberate role-playing.
"Now it is time for us to put on the Green Hat," the chairman of the focus group says. The "Green Hat", of course, has nothing to do with choosing a headgear. It is a method of thinking introduced by Dr. Edward de Bono.
Edward de Bono is widely regarded as the leading authority in the field of creative thinking. He is renowned for his development of the Six Thinking Hats technique and the Direct Attention Thinking Tools. His instruction in thinking has been sought by corporations such as IBM, Shell and Microsoft.
The Six Thinking Hats
What is the "Six Thinking Hats" method? "Six Thinking Hats" is a simple, effective, parallel thinking process that helps people to be more productive, focused and mindfully involved. De Bono teaches us to separate thinking into six functions and roles. Each hat is a direction to think rather than a label for thinking. The method adopts a role-play approach to thinking. The use of the hat metaphor is to enable the user to switch to a different perspective of thinking at a simple command for change, while the "colour" of the "Hats" is to enable the user to visualise the thinking process. The "Six Hats" are-
White Hat - is concerned with facts and figures. Wearing the "White Hat" allows us to present information in a neutral and objective way.
Red Hat - signifies emotion and feelings. It urges us to give an intuitive response. Wearing the "Red Hat" enables us to unleash the part of our mind that is hidden in the background of the thinking process.
Black Hat - seeks a cautious approach and identifies the weaknesses in an idea. We try to see why it might not work and consider its downside. The "Black Hat" thinking helps us to highlight the weak points in a plan, so as to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.
Yellow Hat - is the optimistic viewpoint that helps us to see all the benefits of an idea and the value in it. The "Yellow Hat" thinking helps us to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
Green Hat -is the hat for creativity. It asks us to be creative, to break away from habitual thinking, and to seek alternatives even if the alternatives do not seem to be logical at first glance.
Blue Hat - stands for process control. The "Blue Hat" represents the discipline of the "Thinking Hats" and draws us back when we are expressing something inappropriate to the "Hat" we are wearing.
Some Insights to Share
As I read on, I became very impressed with the ideas introduced by de Bono. In the course of our EO postings, it is almost inevitable that we are put in jobs that require us to deal with hundreds of loose ends and work with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. This thinking method provides us with an effective tool to manage complex issues and resolve conflicts. I have selected some key points about this thinking method for general sharing.
Looking at a Decision from All Points of View
A thinking pattern based on rationality is important. There is nothing wrong with it at all. But it is not sufficient. We need to look at a decision from a number of different perspectives. This forces us to move outside our habitual thinking style. These days, EOs are often tasked with responsibilities to act as change agents in the departments they are working for. The traditional wisdom of being a good gate-keeper in the department may no longer suffice. We need to think outside the box and explore different perspectives towards a complex situation. By applying "Six Thinking Hats", our decisions and plans will ensure a mix of practical analysis, skill in execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.
Working as a Team
The "Six Thinking Hats" process asks the participants to wear the same "colour thinking hat" at the same time. This encourages participants to think in parallel - discussing together the positive aspects of an idea, engaging in objective fact-finding together, and exploring risks and disadvantages collectively. This focuses the group on thinking in the same direction and not at cross purposes. People who feel that they are part of the process are more likely to accept or even buy into the outcome. In managing an organisation with staff of diverse backgrounds and interests, this may be a useful method to solicit co-operation.
Mechanism for 'Switching the Gear'
The use of the "Six Hats" approach provides a polite means to control the negative response from difficult counterparts or staff. If a person at a meeting has been persistently negative, that person can be asked to take off the "black thinking hat" and put on the "yellow thinking hat". This is a direct request to be positive. In this way, the "Six Hats" provide an idiom that is definite without being offensive. What is more important is that the idiom does not threaten a person's ego or personality.
Confusion is the biggest enemy of good thinking. The problem is that we always try to do too many things at the same time. The method of "Six Thinking Hats" allows us to deal with one thing at a time. Instead of having to take care of emotions, logic, information and creativity at the same time, we are able to deal with them separately.
The above are by no means exhaustive. How to maximize the benefits of this thinking method depends very much on how frequently we make use of it. "Mmmm, this proposal does not fit our resources, our policy, our strategy, our ethics, our value, we have to give it upˇ" Does this sound familiar? Yes? Why not try the "Six Thinking Hats" before we come to this conclusion.