Friday, January 6, 2012

How to use the Six Thinking Hats

Suppose your project is reaching a point where you have to decide if you're making or buying part of your project results. Probably, you were taught as I was that the thing to do is to do is cost benefit analysis and you naturally start gathering the costs and benefits associated to each scenario - making or buying. The problem with this is that you tend to focus on the facts (and just the facts) and when you do that you loose other costs and benefits that would arise if you could only look at it in a different perspective. It could be that keeping that knowledge in the organization is crucial or that people would be de-motivated on making it in-house because they find it boring or the opposite: people would be highly motivated by making themselves these project results. The point is that you should look at this type of decisions in different perspectives to give you a full picture of impacts of your decision. And this is where the Six Thinking Hats can help you.

What are the Six Thinking Hats?
The Six Thinking Hats is a technique used for parallel thinking that was created by Edward de Bono. His idea was to implement a way to force people thinking in pre-defined different directions thus giving them insights that would be out of reach otherwise. You can use this technique individually or in groups, as required. And you can use it for different objectives such as:
  • Decision making
  • Cost benefit analysis and
  • Problem solving
The Six Thing Hats is a bit like the 4-ears model in the sense that it forces you to go through different perspectives but the purpose is different: the 4-ears model allows you to understand better what is being communicated while the Six Thinking Hats helps you making decisions with a broader view of the problem at hands.

How does it work?
It's very simple, really. You discuss a topic or think about a solution for a problem using a hat. Each hat (yes, you can imagine you're wearing it, you don't have to actually buy and wear the hats) forces everyone participating to discuss or think within certain restrictions and you go from one hat to another until you wear all the 6 hats and this way get the different perspectives of the problem. Edward de Bono offers the following description for each of the 6 hats:
White Hat - The Information Hat
The White Hat calls for information known or needed. "The facts, just the facts." (from Edward de Bono)
Dealing with facts and data doesn't have to be a narrow perspective. Although you're focused on the data available you can look for gaps and ways to fill them. And you can also use historical data to build trends or other forms of data analysis whenever it's worthwhile.
Yellow Hat - The Positive Hat
The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. (from Edward de Bono)
The Yellow Hat is particularly useful in difficult scenarios as it forces you to look only for positive stuff, the benefits and the value in the particular context. This is the hat you wear when you're looking for the opportunities hiding somewhere so you can explore them later.
Black Hat - The Negative Hat
The Black Hat is judgment - the devil's advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused. (from Edward de Bono)
The Black Hat is the hat you wear when you want to check out what can go wrong. The idea in exploring what can go wrong is to get a better notion of the risks associated with your scenario so you can deal with them later on.
Red Hat - The Emotional Hat
The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates. (from Edward de Bono)
This is the people hat. You should explore how people feel about the problem you're considering. Intuition, gut feeling and emotions are the approaches you must use with this hat. Like the example I gave in the beginning of this article, would people feel motivated with your decision?
Green Hat - The Creativity Hat
The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It's an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions. (from Edward de Bono)
The objective of this hat is to get ideas out in the open without criticism - in fact this is the only rule with this hat, no criticism. Much like brainstorming, you shouldn't worry about the quality of the ideas but the number of ideas.
Blue Hat - The Thinking Hat
The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It's the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed. (from Edward de Bono)
This is used for control of the process - to think about the thinking. If you think about someone chairing a meeting, this is the hat they have on: their concerns are with time keeping or with keeping the discussion going. In this process, this hat is needed to control the hat use: if people are using the Green Hat but running out of ideas it's time to move on and put another hat on.

Thinking Hats in project teamsSome of the advantages of using the Six Thinking Hats in project teams are the following:
  • Make use of the potential thinking capital of the team
  • Make each individual look at all sides of the issue
  • Loose part of the organization hierarchy
  • Force the participation of the ones that are more reserved
  • Force people that are more extroverted to focus
You probably don't want to use the Six Thinking Hats the all time because its a bit time consuming. But give it a try when you have a tough decision to make with a group. I'm sure it will put in the open all the opportunities and risks associated allowing you to make a decision in better grounds and having a larger picture.

Thinking Hats for the individual
I use it a lot by myself. When walking the dog (although I actually don't have one) I end up using the Six Thinking Hats most of the time. The main advantage for me is that I'm forced to look at things at different perspectives, which is many times insightful. I'm a very logical kind of person so I wear the White Hat every time I have to deal with something as it is what's natural for me. But sometimes you can't get to the best solution based on information alone. Sometimes you can have a better solution using some creativity or make people feel a lot better about it simply because they play a role that is better for them. And these things can make a difference.

In the end...
It's all about having the right tools for your needs. And this is one more tool in your toolbox that may come in handy - I know it comes in handy for me... So, give it a try either for yourself or your project team, and see how well it work for you. Who knows when it may come in handy?

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