Monday, November 10, 2008

Thinking Effectively: Six Thinking Hats

(Click on the mind map image above for a bigger view. Once open, move your mouse to the image and your mouse cursor will change to a magnifying glass. Then click on it. Otherwise, use your browser's zoom feature. Was not able to follow the hat color in the mindmap creation process - sorry.)

(Updated - first version of this post was published in October 2005.)

While catching up with a good friend in October 2005, I got the chance to buy a copy of Edward De Bono's "Six Thinking Hats."

I'm so happy in finally getting the chance to get a copy of this book. It is a good compliment to books like Blink (by Malcolm Gladwell) and Thinking for a Change (by John Maxwell). However, I consider it more of a wrap-up as reading this alone won't be enough in developing good thinking skills.

In meetings and in communicating with people, face-to-face or e-mail, we usually encounter weird reactions. Some, instead of seeing a communication as a straight request for facts, will see it from a negative point of view, perhaps from prejudices, lack of trust, among others. This usually hampers us from getting things done. That is why there are some who will just vent in frustration, "can't we all just get along?"

No matter how much we try to learn in enhancing our thinking process, we have to go to the next level and set the tone of thinking with our peers too. This coincides with the 8th Habit of Stephen Covey, where one has to take the initiative of sharing knowledge and empower peers to think better and eventually lead effectively.

Misunderstanding and arguments often stems from looking at things in a different point of view concurrently. As a result, one will be very optimistic, the other takes the stand of a devil's advocate, another will just be plain obnoxious for personal reasons, among others. In this set-up, hardly anything gets achieved. Although Stephen Covey's 8th Habit taught us about Ethos, Pathos and Logos and the Think Win-Win concept, it is easier said than done.

The Six Thinking Hats method intends to make us broad-minded and multi-discipline in analyzing a situation being presented to us. In looking at a specific situation, everyone gets asked to wear a particular hat at a time, therefore allowing everyone to discuss thoughts at a specific point of view, where participants are on the same page, looking at the same thing.

For every situation or discussion we encounter, where a resolution must be arrived at the end, it is good to take the following pattern:

  1. The discussion leader wears the Blue Hat. This is the control hat that organizes the thinking needed to explore the subject at hand. Like a conductor of the orchestra, the blue hat thinker calls for the use of other hats. Although peers can also give comments and suggestions in this context as well.

    He or she defines the subject, sets the focus, defines the problems, and shapes the questions. He or she is responsible for summaries, overviews, and conclusions. The blue hat thinker monitors the thinking, stops abusive use of other hats, and insist on map type of thinking.

  2. The meeting or discussion is started by putting facts on the table. The person providing this information wears the White Hat. The white hat thinker is (or strives to be) neutral and objective, much like a computer, when processing and displaying information. No personal interpretation or opinion is provided. However, another person's interpretation or opinion can be mentioned, putting it forward as a fact. Two types of facts are presented by a white hat thinker. The first are the proven, checked or validated facts. The second are believed-to-be facts or likelihood that have not been checked or validated.

  3. It is ideal at the start and before ending a meeting or discussion, or whenever necessary, participants put the Red Hat. This gives the participants the right time and chance to vent their feelings about the subject matter without requiring or voluntary giving any form of justification to explain it. These feelings can vary from strong (fear, dislike, positive euphoria) to subtle emotions (suspicion). It also includes complex judgements type of feelings such as hunch, intuition, sense, taste, aesthetic feeling, and the non-visible justified types. The red hat thinking process allows participants to see if there is a change of perception at the start to end of discussion.

    I believe that wearing the red hat at the proper time, putting it under control, will give all participants greater level of productivity as they had to think through properly and take the necessary self-control of their feelings.

  4. Perhaps the most important hat is the Black Hat, as the thinker is concerned with caution and being careful. The black hat thinker considers risks, dangers, difficulties, obstacles, potential problems, and the downside of a suggestion. He or she checks if the suggestion put on the table fits the organization's past experience, policy, strategy, ethics, values, resources, known facts, and the experience of others.

    Black hat thinking should not be allowed to degenerate into argument. As its being cautious is the basis of a project's survival or success.

  5. If black hat thinking is considered as negative assessment of ideas being presented onto the table, Yellow Hat thinking is positive assessment. The yellow hat thinker probes and explores for value, benefit, logical fit, practicality, dreams, vision, speculation, opportunity seeking, and hopes. It is constructive and generative, resulting to concrete proposals and suggestions (creative new ideas are not included). He or she is concerned in making things happen or operational, effectively.

  6. If red and black hat thinkers are not controlled, green hat thinking hardly prospers. Green hat thinkers are the creative thinkers. The green hat is not only worn by the person presenting the creative output, but the listeners as well. The green hat thinker is in constant search for alternatives. The green hat thinker does not base one's decision on judgement but the movement resulted by an idea, as a provocation. Things that we see online and offline today that are totally or partly new, but very interesting, that caused us to act or adopt, can be seen as an output of those who were never afraid taking things further using the green hat.
The Six Thinking Hats can work in one organization if everyone is familiarize with it and will strictly enforce it during discussion. On a personal level, it also allows us to see beyond what is initially presented to us, triggering us to wear our red or black hat immediately and solely. We have to wear the six thinking hats to see things clearer and better.