Life can be difficult. Whether we’re talking about business or home life, some days are steady, relaxed, easy, the ‘norm’. But other days we’re faced with the unknown; decisions to make, problems to solve, dilemmas to navigate, and sometimes it’s hard to know how to tackle whatever is ‘thrown’ at us.
Have you ever stopped and thought about the processes you use to tackle life’s ‘difficulties’? Do you have a process? Perhaps you are a risk-taker, throwing caution to the wind. Perhaps you deliberate, procrastinate and end up with the same fear as you started out with in the first place.
Knowing how to deal with a problem or decision is a massive step in getting the end result you want. Having more than one perspective on a situation will also increase clarity.
Edward De Bono, prolific author, physician, psychologist and consultant (and also the originator of the term ‘lateral thinking’) devised a type of thinking tool, named the ‘Six Thinking Hats®’, which has been used for many years in business for decision making, problem solving and creative thinking.
He identified that the human brain thinks in a number of different ways, and came up with six areas, represented by coloured hats:
• blue – what’s the subject? What’s the goal? Can we look at the big picture? The blue hat is concerned with control, the organisation of the thinking process and the use of the other hats. This could be termed as the managing style of thinking
• white – what actual information is available; what are the facts? White is neutral and objective and is concerned with only factual data. This hat could be termed as the information and data style of thinking
• red – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling. Red suggests anger (seeing red), rage and emotions. It signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat, you can express emotions such as fears, likes, dislikes, loves and hates, so this one could be classed as the emotional style of thinking
• black – identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative, practical and realistic. Black is sombre, serious and very careful. This hat points out the weaknesses in an idea and spots the difficulties and dangers; in other words, what could go wrong. This is a discerning style of thinking
• yellow – identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Seeing the brighter side of situations. Yellow is sunny and positive. The yellow hat covers hope and positive thinking. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. So, this is using an optimistic style of thinking
• green – provocative and investigative; seeing where a thought goes. Green thinks creatively, outside the box. It signifies vegetation and abundant, fertile growth. This colour indicates possibilities, alternatives and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions, and is the creative style of thinking
The coloured hats are used symbolically, as a thinking direction. The idea is that using a structured sequence of thinking ‘styles’, dependent on the issue at hand, may help with finding suitable solutions.
For a general rule of thumb, each and every scenario should start and end with the blue hat style of thinking. Since the blue hat style is concerned with managing the process, it needs to both initiate the process, and round it off with an action plan.
Some people are naturally inclined towards one particular style of thinking on a day-to-day basis! In a group discussion to brainstorm an idea or solve a problem, a room full of black hat thinkers will yield very poor results, in a similar way to a room full of red hat thinkers! However, the whole idea behind the Six Thinking Hats® is to encourage group discussion where all participants are thinking from the same perspective at the same time, then swap colours and repeat.
At Rambutan we can, for instance, use the different thinking styles when designing a programme for a client requiring help with improving their culture and employee engagement.
We might use the blue hat to determine what the client wants to achieve and start the thinking process. Then we would collate all the data we have gathered with our white hat on. The design process for the whole project would involve green hat thinking. Asking questions in employee surveys would use red hat techniques (How does it feel to work here? What do you feel about your peers?) etc. We use our yellow hat to highlight what’s currently great with the company and the positive aspects of working there; then the black hat would go on to determine what isn’t so good and might need a little work. The whole programme design would be ‘rounded off’ with our blue hat, with an action plan for design, timings and logistics. The real work would then begin!
The Six Thinking Hats® can also be used personally. In my ‘real’ life I must admit to being disproportionately ‘red hat’ style. My gut instinct drives me probably way more than it should. So, being aware and actually using De Bono’s thinking styles when faced with a decision, may well help me constructively with my life:
• do I get a dog for company at home? Will it improve my life? (blue)
• I have the money to afford one, and I like walking, especially in the summer. I am not allergic to dogs. (white)
• I’d LOVE a dog to pet. It would make me HAPPY! (red)
• I do work part-time, so can’t be at home with the dog all day every day. I could get someone else to pop round during the days when I’m not home, but that puts responsibility on others, and might cost me more money (black)
• but I’d LOVE a dog, particularly a rescue dog that needs a forever home! And it’d love me for rescuing it! (red again)
• having a dog would help to get me fit! (yellow)
• if I got a dog, I might meet other dog owners while out walking, and maybe a like-minded male dog owner, perhaps the man of my dreams, so having a dog may improve my love life (green)
• I will keep my eyes open for rescue dogs, but not necessarily get the first dog I see (blue)
… you get the idea.
So, do you have a decision to make, a problem to solve, or a work issue that needs addressing? How are you going to tackle it? Which hat are you wearing currently, and can you swap hats to help with your thinking and gain a bit of clarity? Your thoughts, please, with whichever hat you choose!