Monday, January 9, 2017

Unlocking New Ways To Think and See -- Dr. DeBono's Six Hats

At some point in the nineties I was introduced to the ideas of Dr. Edward de Bono whose work focuses on the important skill of learning how to think. To this day I've frequently shared his PIN method with people, which is a thinking tool to keep us from automatically having knee-jerk reactions to everything. Essentially, he states that everything has a Positive, Interesting and Negative aspect. It’s a tool that helps short circuit automatic fight or flight responses, among other things. It helps us learn to react more rationally than viscerally.

Here’s an example of how I used the PIN method to assess the Dylan film He’s Not There.

De Bono’s methods aren’t just the stuff of ivory tower academics. They have garnered real world attention by the results they have achieved when put into practice. Here’s an example.

The De Beers diamond mines had a serious problem. There were a lot of fights down in the mines. As you know, when there is a fight, there’s a work stoppage. It's disruptive for everyone. They had about 200 fights a month, which means 200 work stoppages.

De Bono was hired to deal with this situation, and he did it by teaching the men algebra. (Just kidding.) He did it by teaching the PIN method or some other technique to break the cycles of automatic responses which were normally occurring. Think first, don’t react. The result? Work stoppages due to fighting were reduced to six a month.

To my way of thinking that’s impressive. And I've not punched anyone in the face since.

Dr. De Bono’s claim to fame is creative thinking, or thinking in alternate ways, getting outside and around the box and sometimes even above it or below it. One of the tools he has written about and shared extensively is his concept of the Six Thinking Hats.

Essentially it is a tool for group decision making. De Bono claims it reduces decision making time in meetings by 20 to 90 percent. I would guess it depends on how complicated the decision is, but for sure I can see how it would have been useful in a few situations I have experienced over the past two decades.

The key concept is learning how to examine a situation or decision from multiple viewpoints. Often we miss key information because we have locked on to one perspective and failed to take time to shift. Or, because of the personalities involved in the process, or politics, important information is ignored or neglected. As the name suggests, each hat represents a different point of view and the tool is designed to get us past these obstacles to good decision making.

The Blue Hat is the process coordinator who is operating from the bird’s eye view. Like the conductor of an orchestra, his job is to get the team on task, to lead the meeting, and to bring closure at the end. From this blue (think sky) perspective, he or she should be aware of the dynamics of the meeting in addition to its content and objectives.

The White Hat is neutral. Wearing the white hat means pointing out the facts that are known, eliminating emotional baggage, just seeing what is there, or what is lacking. Analysis of trends, historical data, etc. would fall into this category. "Just the facts, m'am," as Jack Webb used to say.

The Red Hat is intuition, gut reaction, emotion. Some people think this hat should not be worn till the end. The challenge of this hat is that the emotions and gut reactions may be very strong, and the subtle intuitive feelings may get run over and not heard. The intuition is often our most important ally and it takes special blue hat leadership to insure this voice is not drowned out.

The Black Hat is what it sounds like, a downer, the pessimistic perspective. Yet this is an extremely important hat because if your ideas or decisions do not stand up to scrutiny now, they will certainly be scrutinized later if things don’t pan out. This hat makes us more resilient, and actually helps increase our confidence when we can see and deal with the problems in advance. Confidence creates its own momentum.

The Yellow Hat is the optimist. The yellow hat view is upbeat. Wearing this hat gets us on track for all the benefits, the payoffs, the value of our decisions, commitments, etc. Keep your eyes on the prize!

The Green Hat represents creativity. This is where a little freewheeling and open-ended thinking and discussion takes place. No black hats should be allowed in the room till the green hat voices have all been heard. Being too quick to criticize the nub of an idea is a sure way till kill the inventive solutions that might have emerged otherwise. The excitement that one gets as an idea is shared, modified and modified again can be a truly invigorating experience. Often a relatively weak idea seed can go through multiple permutations to become a very cool, fruit-bearing idea which bears no resemblance to the original seed.

If you're a leader, Dr. DeBono's Six Hats can be one more tool for your leadership tool kit. Try it out sometime and see if it works for you. 

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