Last Tuesday, I wrote about lateral thinking. Though the article isn’t necessary to understand this one, it might ease the process so I recommend you give it a look.
Today, I want to explain one of my favorite technique to explore an idea and push it one step further; de Bono’s Thinking Hats. When I notice something wrong as I edit a story, I often rely on this technique to pinpoint the problem and find the best possible solution. The Six Hats are perfect to funnel creative energy toward a particular problem and force a lateral thinking process.
Our brains enable us to think in a variety of ways. We can critic, wonder, analyze, appreciate and whatnot. And we can do several of them at once. We think in parallel.
Lateral thinking is the process through which we jump from one trail of thought to another seemingly unrelated one. Parallel thinking is a form of lateral thinking that focuses on accessing each trail in turn, in a controlled manner, until a problem has been thoroughly examined.
The number one tool to achieve this are the Six Thinking Hats.
The Core Concept of Thinking Hats
When it comes to solving problems or analyzing a situation, each of us have a go-to “hat”. Some are emotional. Others deal with facts. There are optimists, pessimists, etc. The Six Thinking Hats are basically six possible approach of a problem, six ways of thinking. The idea is that when we’re “wearing” a specific hat, we stick with the related way of thinking and avoid the other lanes entirely. By focusing on a particular approach, that may not be our go-to one, we revisit the problem with fresh eyes.
The inital purpose of this concept is to manage meetings more efficiently and encourage each member to participate in a meaningful way. Typically, each hat is assigned to one person then we go around the table, noting ideas. Once we’re done, people switch hats for another round.
Another common procedure is to call a hat and take ideas consistent with that trail of thought for a given amount of time before forcing the group to change view-point by calling a new hat. The idea remains the same; everyone gets to express ideas related to each of the six possible ways of thinking.
Obviously, this process can be accomplished by oneself too! But more on that later. 😉
The Six Thinking Hats
The Blue Hat likes the big picture. It’s usually the first and last step during which we focus on objectives, organize the thinking process and confirm chosen ideas serve the project. It devises the overarching strategy and applies it. The Blue Hat thinks about thinking.
The White Hat approaches problems with facts. It’s the usual second step; gathering intel. The sole purpose of the White Hat is to deal with information. It doesn’t criticize, analyse or get otherwise involved; it lists facts and points out the information that is missing.
The Green Hat creates. Its purpose is to spurt out ideas. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t filter. It creates for the sake of it. It goes outside the box and use different roads to get there. The Green Hat often reacts to the Black Hat to find creative ways around problem areas.
The Red Hat is all about emotions. It’s the gut feeling, the instinctive response to an idea. The Red Hat doesn’t deal with “why”. It’s the typical child going “yay or nay”. Ok, more complex feelings are allowed too but rational thinking isn’t. 😉
The Yellow Hat, as its sunshiny color indicates, focuses on the positive. It looks for arguments why an idea is good. Don’t see it as blind optimism though. The Yellow Hat is the analytical process that searches the good aspects of each idea.
The Black Hat – guess! – focuses on the negative. It opposes the Yellow Hat. It arguments why an idea will not work. You will notice that the Black Hat is the only one that allows you to be critical and search for the obstacles and barriers that may hinder the project.
Using The Thinking Hats Alone
Personally, I grab a nice stack of paper and a set of six colored pens. I’ve seen people dedicate one sheet per hat or use colored post-it notes (which is also one of my favorite methods). Excel spreadsheets also work. Once you’re ready to dive in, the process is fairly simple.
First, figure out the big picture and the best way to reach your objectives (Blue Hat). Establish the order in which you should “wear the hats” and how much time you will spend with each one. You can also opt for the “until I’ve exhausted that view-point” option. If your big picture already includes potential solutions, sometimes it’s better to use your gut feeling (Red Hat) to sort them out before you begin. Other times, you’ll need to research a bit (White Hat) or jump straight to creation (Green Hat).
The only thing you must absolutely do is go through all the hats before you call it a day. Because we all have go-to ways of approaching a problem, some hats are harder to wear. However, these unusual approach of the problem will often reap the greatest rewards. 😉
The Six Thinking Hats are great to force lateral thinking and find solution to apparently unsolvable problems. I’ll try to post an example of spreadsheet soon to complete my explanations.
In the meantime, please ask any question you might have and tell me about your experience with the Thinking Hats (if you’ve tried it).