Thursday, September 10, 2009

Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono is a Thinking Guru, I suppose you could say. An intelligent fellow who has done lots of thinking about the practice of Thinking. His fundamental insight is that if people think in thoughtful ways rather than merely jumping all over, they'll get better results. He has developed various techniques to help them do so.

I recently read his Six Thinking Hats. It's a short book, a couple-hour read. He tells us there are six types of thinking, each of which he has tagged by color.

White hat thinking is about facts. It's neutral, often numbers: sales are up by 12.3%, unemployment is down to 2.4%, investments in the stock of XXX have had returns of 14.6% annually for the past 18 quarters. (Remember those days?) White hat thinking does not allow for opinions ("I expect the economy to boom forever"), but reporting the fact of other people's opinions are allowed ("Senator Such-and-Such says the economy will boom so long as he doesn't get unseated").

Red hat thinking is purely about emotion. "I think that idea you just carefully presented is pure bunk. My proposal is superior in all ways." De Bono's point is that if a group sets aside a specific segment of time for articulating emotions (red hat), it will be legitimate to put on the table all the ulterior messages that inevitably cloud any discussion.

Black hat thinking is by far the most pervasive. It is giving all the reasons why something won't work (with the exception of the emotional reasons, which were given legitimacy under the red hat). Your idea may be worthy, but it will be too complicated, too expensive, no-one will buy it, the Bad Guys will ride it's coat-tails and screw us, the boss will never let us get away with such a scheme, the voters won't either, the voters will love it but we're a company not a democracy..... and so on. We all excel at this type of thinking.

Yellow hat thinking is the section of the discussion where all participants must think sunny positive thoughts. (If not they'll be shot, I expect). So while you detest the promulgator of the idea (red hat), and you're convinced it will swallow all available resources for a decade with no possible return on investment (black hat), and you recognize there are dry facts in favor of it (white hat), yellow hat is the part of the discussion where everyone offers happy thoughts about all the good things that could happen if only...

I imagine some people might not easily participate in the yellow hat part of the discussions, but maybe that's just me.

Green hat thinking is the part where folks have to be original and innovative. Where they offer new ways of looking at things, new possible solutions, new ways out of a bad situation. (Names of potential new bosses to replace the bastard we have - ah, sorry about that). Actually, Jews tend to do this very well, after a couple thousand years of living by their wits in less-than-optimal conditions, but I'm here to report that the ability to come up with new ideas of value is not easy. Some folks know how to do it, others don't, and I'm not certain how you train people. To give him credit, de Bono has some concrete suggestions.

Blue hat thinking is what the project manager does. He (or she) runs the process, tells everyone else when it's time to switch color and ensures compliance; the blue-hatter also thinks about matters such as meeting deadlines, running logistics, ensuring quality and all those edifying things.

It's an interesting way of looking at the world and how we get things done in it. It's also quite irrelevant to many parts of the human endeavor. Listening to music, for example. Interpretating history. Writing a novel. Falling out of love (well, there's red hat thinking there).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

here is de Bono in a half hour interview
while I am all for imposing some kind of order on meetings just to save energy on those geniuses who mix fact and fantasy with such skill that just to demix/debunk them eats up all the time I got more and more uneasy about de Bono's claim on how we have been doing the thinking all wrong for 2000 plus years and he is the one coming up with the salvation
- he mentions Israel of course with a his own oh so "brilliant" "oh so simple idea of bringing the whole area to heel ... (simple financial incentives will do the trick) i.e. de Bono is going to save and heal the entire world
- but what got me really weary was his hinting/implying that being from Malta equips you with some special faculties - what are those if they have to be older than 2400? years? Dolmens or whatever Maltese prehistoric stuff is called? - PLEASE!!!