six thinking hats

How to improve brainstorming through SIX Thinking Hats Method

If you never change your mind, why have one? – Edward de Bono

I

had the chance to learn something about and to experiment the known “Six Hats method” during some brainstorming sessions. I’d like to share with you some of this experience.
 

What is this?

According to the author Dr. Edward De Bono, it is “a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats. “Six Thinking Hats” and the associated idea of parallel thinking provide a means for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively.”
 
The method is copyrighted by Dr. Edward De Bono and do exist a specific certification path for trainers. Nevertheless it is possible to find various documentation describing the method outside the official training path. Principally the method has the aim of strengthening the coherence of thought of a workgroup collaborating in problem solving, brainstorming, or other collective actions.
 
Dr. De Bono found six “habits” or hats can be worn to drive the collective thought, and each person of the team is invited to think at the problem from the same point of view, which is one of the six “hats”. This is indeed the meaning of the term “parallel thinking”, in that each person thinks synchronously with the team.
 
This way conflicts are avoided by not evidencing (or limiting in my experience) the natural attitude of the people of wearing a particular point of view as preferred and encouraging a positive collaboration.

What are the hats and how do they work?

The six hats are identified with a specific color. Each hat is a point of view, a perspective. At a time during discussion each person is invited to make and answer questions “as if” her/his perspective were the one declared with the hat.
 
Wearing a specific hat is a game limited in time, and for each hat the leader should encourage the discussion with the proper questions and stimuli. As an example, for the green-creativity hat the questions should provoke and open to investigation, whether for red hat the leader should give a short time frame in order to avoid rational thinking.
 
Dr. De Bono underlines in his book that because some of the hats can be confused with a particular attitude of a person (e.g. black for conservative people, red for emotional people, etc.), attention should be paid people are not categorized with hats. Hats are the directions to point together, not clusters of people. One more time the training and the skills of the leader are crucial to get things done correctly.
 
six hats
 

Critical choices: time and order

The method enhances the coherence and eases the sharing of ideas by reducing conflicts due to different perspectives of the team members, being them aligned. Nevertheless the results of the teamwork are not necessarily objective, in that the way the method is applied influences the output.
 
In particular, the order by which the hats are chosen, and the choice to use all or part of the hats, is important to obtain the best outcome, since the results are influenced by it.
 
A common approach is to start with the blue hat. At the end of the game the blue hat can be used a second time, too, in order to sum up the results. This is because the group has to manage objectives and goals and has to deliver results by coming to an agreement.
 
Timing matters, too: no one can wear uncomfortable habits endless. The game should be played with a clever leader. We have to remember that asking someone to wear a specific habit could result in a feeling of uncomfort and stress for the people, and the leader should have the skills to manage that.

Comments

The main advantage in teamwork is that the “Six Hat method” brings conscious the viewpoint. Let people know which is the “dress they are wearing” is effective.
But for example, if a person is more risk-adverse than another, this will influence the outcome also when “wearing” the yellow hat, i.e. seeking the benefits.
 
Dr. De Bono talks about “spaghetti thinking”, whenever a topic is discussed “incoherently” by a team following their habits: for example a rational person speaks for his own, a risk-adverse for his own, a risk-oriented for his own, and so on. I agree this can be confusing but maybe it allows immediate identification of issues and advantages, because by exploring the idea of each team member, a track record of pros and cons can be drawn from the leader.
 
Much depends on the leadership: in both cases engaging and encouraging the team is needed, whether using or NOT using “Six Hats”. The leader should recognize behaviors, patterns and thoughts of each of the team member anyway. The negative claim “spaghetti thinking” is not necessarily a negative one.
 
“Six Hats” is effective. The fact that it is quite straightforward to describe and remember thanks to the hats and colors paradigm does not mean it simple to implement, though. There are many variables that influence the outcome, including the kind of questions are used for each hat “round”. It is not an “out-of-the-box” howto method that can lead to satisfactory results without study, training consciousness and leadership.




Conclusions

The “Six Hats” method is powerful and the aim of avoiding useless contrasts by aligning the point of view (parallel thinking) enhances collaboration and effectiveness.
 
There are some cons, though, and as other collective thinking methodologies involving human behavior, the team will work in comfort and effectively depending on the collaborative aim and the choices the leader is able to encourage.
 
Some aspects are somewhat contradictory in my experience, too. The effectiveness of parallel thinking as defined by Dr. De Bono depends on the level of openness and collaboration of team members. But wearing a specific hat could be very uncomfortable for people, unless the leader and the team let.
 
He talks about “spaghetti thinking” the way of brainstorming in which each person wear her/his own habit, without declaring it, and simply states her/his opinion. But why is this not “parallel thinking”? I personally find useful to drive a parallel thinking with questions and without declaring what kind of tags or hats are we using.
 
Why is not parallel thinking to discuss the same topic with its own habits?
The feeling of comfort necessary to think collaboratively and effectively can come from the freedom to be herself/himself, and a skilled leader could find a way of integrating different opinions without turning into conflicts.
 
Those are in my thoughts pros and cons are the following:
Pros: focalization, simplicity in figuring the steps, coherence, unconflictual outcomes
Cons: effectiveness depends on self-consciousness, will, and leader skills, as much as other thinking methods
 

Livio Paradiso

Manager in the ICT services industry, he works in the B2B sector as a Project & Service management team leader since 2008. Passionate PMI volunteer, besides best practices follower he is a supporter of the “human factor” in projects, where empathy and attention to other people’s ideas are the key to achieve project objectives, to support at best Clients and to gain trust, respect and leadership. With a specific education in innovation management, he is interested in new trends in business, sharing his findings with the community.

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