When I worked in Televison I really admired Chris Westerkamp. He was the station manager with all the best ideas. Later I got to work for Chris as he ran sales at Third Age Media. The experience was amazing and I learned that his great ideas came from forcing himself to shift thinking styles.
Recently Chris shared with me a review he'd just put together of an amazing book which I am a HUGE fan of....Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats.
I'll let Chris introduce you to this work but as you read think about the people in your Universe and the style of thinking they live in. How can we shift them onto a new plane?
How Does Your Company Think?
A review of the Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
By Chris Westerkamp
If you are cruising this site, chances are you’ve worked in the middle. Chances are you’ve experienced strategic planning as implemented in the US and the western industrial nations. The company’s management team holes up in the conference room or if the company is more serious about enlightenment, the meetings take place off-site at a splashy resort away from the distractions of the office where they can get to the heart of the company’s issues and challenges and plot its future growth. The subplot of these meetings: teambuilding, motivation and buy-in. In addition to bagels, fresh fruit and turkey sandwiches there will be a big white board. On that white board will go an assessment of the company’s position in the market and a parade of ideas about what the future should be.
This strategic planning meeting format is pretty standard and a necessary ritual designed to improve the company’s thinking. If properly executed such meetings provide critical direction and a consensus within the management team.
However earnest the effort, many plans fall short because they failed to take into account important factors which later causes everyone to hit their foreheads and remark, “how did we ever miss this one?” Or how did we underestimate X,Y or Z. Or how did we ever think we could compete against – you get the picture.
While the strategic planning process may be sound, the thinking that goes on in them is flawed. At least that is the opinion of Edward De Bono, author of The Six Thinking Hats and a slew of other management books, widely used all over the world (but not so much in the U.S). De Bono is the leading proponent of a different system of thinking known as parallel thinking. His Six Hats method is designed to improve the way organizations think.
De Bono’s theme is this: important decisions affecting the future of a company are often determined not by the best evaluation of facts and steps that should be taken but by who in the company happens to be better at arguing their side of the issue. The prevailing method of thinking through issues is to argue two or more views of it. On every management team different individuals are typecast in roles that put them on the opposite sides of issues.
There’s the optimist that sees the possibilities and the pessimist that always sees trouble ahead and shoots down ideas. If one point of view prevails, so goes the fate of the company.
In contrast the Six Thinking Hats method is designed to neutralize the struggle of opposing sides that inevitably exist in every organization.
Mr. De Bono explains parallel thinking with a simple illustration paraphrased as follows:
Four people are on different sides of a house talking to each other on walkie-talkies, each describing what kind of house it is, based on what they see. Each person is confident that their point of view is the correct one; after all, it’s right in front of them. The Six Thinking Hats method makes a simple change to the process by having them view each side of the house together and then decide what kind of house it is.
In practice, De Bono’s method is more sophisticated but its underlying simplicity gives it power. He identifies six different modes of thinking, not different types with labels like conservative or liberal, smart or not as you might expect. De Bono’s modes represent how people view the world and process information. In many ways the six modes of thinking mirror the personality types identified by social researchers like the Meyers Briggs.
The colored hats are designed to delineate the modes of thinking; red, blue, white, yellow, green and black. The Red Hat represents emotions that are evoked by the issue or topic under discussion. The Green is concerned with growth; Yellow indicates positive thinking. The Black Hat is about being cautious and avoiding risk, while White Hat thinking seeks to uncover facts without opinion or emotion. The Blue Hat’s function is to oversee and facilitate the Six Hats process.
Many stories of business success are evidence of certain modes of thinking as defined under the Six Hats method and arguably many more failures can be traced to their lack of use.
• When General Motors launched their snappy new Nova in Mexico they were lacking sufficient white hat information, failing to discover that “Nova” in Spanish translates to a body function that is best not mentioned here.
• The story of the dot.com bust was not only one of greed and hubris but a serious denial and suppression of black hat thinking.
• The most famous soft drink blunder, the “New Coke” resulted from a failure to employ red hat thinking to understand consumer’s emotions about messing with their brand.
• A triumph of yellow hat thinking; building FedEx from a business plan that received a failing grade in business school.
• Brewing growth; Starbucks is everywhere and their logo is green.
How the Hats Are Used
The idea of using hats to identify different modes of thinking came from the expression “put on your thinking hat”. It’s easily understandable and in itself an example of clear thinking.
The facilitator outlines the purpose of the meeting and sets the stage; what issues are to be discussed, the goal of the meeting and the order in which the Hats will be used. The blue hat says De Bono “is like the conductor of an orchestra.”
There is no set order to introducing the hats. It depends on the nature of the topic at hand. Often, but not always, the first hat is white; start with just the facts that are known and perhaps more important, what isn’t known? (The Chevy Nova)
To open the group up to the idea, the next hat would be yellow. What are the possibilities and what might be achieved? The yellow hat is for jamming on ideas and pushing the envelope. It looks for possibilities that are positive. It’s important that ideas are not shot down or discouraged.
Assuming the optimism is warranted, what are the possibilities for growth? Green hat thinking helps the group assess the long and short term ramifications of different actions that might be taken.
Black hat thinking makes everyone focus on what might go wrong. What are the risks? Does the company have the resources to take the idea forward? Would this new direction, product or venture distract the company from its core business?
Emotions are not often a topic of discussion in business meetings but under De Bono’s the red hat it’s required. The consumer’s emotions are important to gauge as discovered after the “New Coke” was introduced. The red hat also looks at how people in the company will feel about changes brought about by management’s decisions. The saga of Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal is the most recent example of that. And finally the facilitator needs to assess the group’s feelings about the meeting thus far. Is there an elephant in the room or a hidden agenda?
Enter the blue hat
If there is an elephant in the room, the facilitator has to address it. It is the job of the blue hat to say what are we missing? Give me your red hat thinking. Are we asking the wrong question? I have been in many a meeting where new information or the introduction of a new idea changes the scope of the discussion. Suddenly the group has to consider bigger issues than first expected. At that point the facilitator might say, “Okay, let’s put on the red hat and see how we are feeling about this.” If the scope of the question is bigger, perhaps it’s a good time to do some white hat thinking to gather more information and redefine the goal of this meeting.
The blue hat must point out when the discussion is getting off track. The essence of the Six Hats method is underscored by the fact that someone is thinking about how the group is well, thinking.
De Bono points out that there tends to be a disproportionate number of people who wear black hats because it’s easier and safer to criticize than offer or support a new idea. However, black hat thinking is important and black hat discussions while seemingly negative can have a positive influence on outcomes.
Success depends on everyone contributing and following the rules. If you’ve ever been in a meeting where an aggressive opinionated participant thinks they are there to exercise their ego, the Six Hat method stops that behavior in its tracks. It seems ego and arguments have a symbiotic relationship. The Six Hats eliminates arguing and the method forces everyone to play a specific role under the colored hats at the same time.
By eliminating arguing, egos are kept in check and meetings take less time. Without the need to prove someone else wrong, different points of view are less threatening and a better assessment of the facts is possible.
I suggest that the greatest benefit of De Bono’s Six Hats method is reducing the amount of time people spend in meetings. While meetings are a necessary part of business, it has been estimated that managers in the U.S. spend about forty percent of their time in meetings.
The yellow and green hat environment fosters creativity, imagination and intuition. When was the last time you were asked, “What does your intuition tell you?” Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book, “Blink” does a marvelous job of demonstrating how the truth can be uncovered feelings and intuition. This is strange territory for many business people but a necessary trip for growth. When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 the company started on a slide which some attributed to the lack of “Steve Jobs” thinking in the company. Since his return, Apple has grown significantly beyond everyone’s expectations. Can you say iPod?
Yellow hat thinking encourages people to use their intuition and imagination. After 9/11 Condoleezza Rice said it was a lack of imagination in the country’s intelligence community that kept people from foreseeing the attack. Soon Hollywood creative types like Jerry Bruckheimer were brought in to consult
The great appeal of Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method is its ability to reduce conflict while, empowering employees and increasing productivity. It is one of the few business books that provide a sharp tool that can immediately change how a business thinks through challenges and opportunities. The Six Thinking Hats method is truly anathema to the rigid top-down management model that still exists in dark corners of the business world. This book is a must read for all in middle and upper management.
Six Thinking Hats
By Edward De Bono
Little Brown & Company
Get it Now on Amazon by Clicking Here