Group think, the meeting after the meeting, and being either a Pollyanna or Debbie Downer negatively impact our ability to have productive and meaningful group discussions to move our organizations forward. Edward de Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats provides one tool to combat those forces. The core of his argument is to encourage people leading discussions to have everyone adopt the same perspective at the same time. There are 6 perspectives he introduces, which he refers to as hats:
- Blue- frames the conversation, 10,000 ft view
- White- facts
- Red- emotions
- Green- new ideas
- Yellow- benefits
- Black- downsides
The idea of “wearing a hat” provides a low-stakes way to enable participants to adopt a different perspective. As Bono argues, each of us has a hat or two we’re more naturally inclined to use to frame our thinking and contributions in a group discussion. However, by wearing the hats it becomes easier to see the issue or topic from different perspectives. Above I’ve given a very brief explanation of each hat. In his book, Bono writes a chapter for each hat to explain when best to use it and how best to deploy it.
I’ve found that by introducing this concept and asking different people in a group (for me this is my leadership team of 6 people) to each present about one hat, provides a common foundation that we can then use when discussing thorny issues. For example, we used this tool when doing space planning to create space for our growing instruction program.
Using the tool effectively requires a strong facilitator, who first provides the “blue hat” thinking or the 10,000 ft view of the issue. That person’s job is to keep the conversation moving through each hat as needed, and to keep everyone using the same hat at the same time. Bono recommends to begin and end with blue hat thinking, then white and red, then green, then black and yellow, and finally red before closing with blue. This enables members of the group to start with a shared understanding of the facts, share their emotions or gut reactions to the issue, brainstorm new ideas, then discuss downsides and benefits to particular options, and close with sharing a second round of emotions and gut reactions, and finally next steps. Such a methodical approach helps to keep the discussion focused and about the issue at hand, rather than solely about someone’s feelings about the issue or concerns tangential to the issue at hand.
How might you use the 6 Thinking Hats method???