Monday, February 14, 2011

Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats method is pioneered by Edward De Bono. The uniqueness of this method is that it prescribes systematic thinking as against prevalent argumentative Western thinking. In argumentative thinking, people put forward their points haphazardly and make counter arguments as soon as a point is made by the other party. These consume considerable amount of time and result in poor, suboptimal outcomes. De Bono says that the Six Thinking Hat method will result in quick solutions. It can be applied by all be it individuals, corporate or lawyers. Some of the companies which use this method for business decision making are NASA, IBM, DuPont, NTT, Shell, BP, FedEx etc.

The basic tenet of the method is that it forces all participants to simultaneously think in a particular way about a topic at a particular time. Six hats are represented by six colors and the colors define a particular way of thinking.

White Hat: White hat is neutral and objective. It talks facts and figures. So when the participants wear the white hat they present hard data. For example, if the meeting is about finding out why the sales are down, the participants will provide the sales figures supporting their argument.

Red Hat: The Red hat encourages the participants to express their emotional viewpoints. In normal thinking process, people mix-up objectivity with emotion. Wearing the Red hat give them an official way to express how they feel emotionally about a topic or solution to a problem being discussed.

Black Hat: Black Hat is cautious and evaluative. When the participants wear the black hat, they identify the possible reasons why a particular solution might not work. In other words, participants with Black hats become Devil’s advocate.

Yellow Hat: Yellow hat is optimistic. It encourages participants to think about positive aspects of a particular solution. When the participants wear the yellow hat, they think of possible benefits of an idea or action. For example, if increasing advertising to increase sales is the idea put forward by somebody, participants, wearing Yellow hat, will ponder about how increasing advertising could be beneficial.

Green Hat: Green hat encourages coming up with alternative solutions. For example, when the participants wear the Green hat, they might come-up with a solution, for example, to tap a new market in order to increase sales (as against increasing advertisement).

Blue Hat: Blue hat is synonymous with control and organization of the thinking process. This hat is generally worn by the meeting leader or coordinator. The leader might first give the brief description of the problem to the team under a Blue hat. Then, during the meeting, she wears it time to time to warn the participants in case they deviate from the agreed upon thinking process. Finally, the leader summarizes the meeting under the Blue hat.

These colored hats are symbolic (though participants can wear/change them physically). The hats can be worn by any order and in any number of times during a meeting. An example will illustrate the process.

Suppose a meeting is being conducted to decide whether to buy a rival company. Each of the participants agreed to follow the Six Thinking Hat method. The leader started off the discussion giving a brief description of the issue. He might say “Hi guys. For this meeting we will follow the Six Thinking Hats method. So let me first wear the Blue hat and give you the brief about the problem in hand. Our (Company X) rival company Y, though small in size, is increasingly luring away our customers. This is being reflected in our top line for the last three quarters. Hence, we are pondering over the possible acquisition of company Y. Now can we have some White hat thinking on this? I mean, can we have data about our revenue and that of company Y”.

Following this the participants pull up revenue figures of company X and Y for last five quarters. They also bring-up data about customer demography, shareholding pattern of company Y etc. After sometime, the leader might say – “Now would you please wear your Yellow hats and suggest how we should benefit if we go ahead with the acquisition.” Following this, participants might say that it will increase company X’s absolute customer base, it will result in more premium customers etc. The leader then might say, “Well, we saw the benefits. Now let’s see if we would encounter any problems if we go ahead with the acquisition. Would you please wear your Black hats?” Again the participants give their point of views. People might opine that, acquisition will result in substantial monetary outlay. Some may say that it will violate competition laws etc. Then the leader might say, “I see. So let’s wear your Green hats now and give me some alternatives (to acquisition).” The participants think of other ideas like forming JV, moving to another untapped market, making superior products to company Y’s etc. Next, the leader might say, “We have heard your objective views. Now tell me without any hesitation, how you feel about this idea of acquisition. Give me your Red hat thinking”. Some participants might say, “I don’t like the CEO of the company”. Other can have their feelings as well. The important thing is that they are not required to say why they feel the way they feel. The discussion may proceed and the hats may be re-worn again and again until a solution emerges. Finally, the leader summarizes it under the Blue hat. The leader might conclude saying, “Let me wear the Blue hat and summarize what we have discussed and our conclusion.”

As we can see, this method is very structured. It forces the participants to think in a particular way at a particular time. People are prohibited from making a Black hat comment (disagreement) while Green hat thinking (alternative idea generation) is going on. She has to hold her comment until the time comes. These result in more disciplined and fruitful meetings. In addition, it cuts down the meeting time lost in futile arguments and counter arguments.

For more details read the book – “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward De Bono.

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