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De Bono’s ideas of thinking hats go back over 25 years but is still seen as relevant as much today as back then.
The idea allows for different modes of thinking, allowing a problem to be seen from different perspectives. It encourages you to choose a deliberate focus during a discussion that suits the needs of the discussion.
The model can be used in meetings, workshops or brainstorming activities, and can also be used by individuals. Each different coloured hat refers to a different mode of thinking. You can ask all people in a group to ‘wear the same coloured hat’ or you can encourage different people to ‘wear different colours’.
De Bono distinguishes the colours as follows:
White Hat: Factual – With this hat, you focus on specific, available data. You analyse the information and see what can be learned from it. You identify the information you have and what further information you need
Red Hat: Emotional – With this hat, you consider the situation with intuition and emotion. How do you respond emotionally to the situation? How would others respond?
Black Hat: Critical – With the black hat, you see the downside of the situation, cautious and defensive. You highlight the weak points, the downsides, the pitfalls, reasons why it might not work
Yellow Hat: Positive – With this hat, you think positively, highlighting an optimistic point of view, looking at the advantages, being opportunistic, watching for the benefits
Green Hat: Creative – Here you create solutions to problems with a free way of thinking. You look for possibilities, growth, new ideas, new initiatives
Blue Hat: Process control – Here you take control of the thinking process of the group. Normally worn by the meeting chairperson, the blue had manages communication, focuses on the main points, creates conclusions, summarises and deals with action points
You can see that, when used creatively, it can be a very useful model to encourage different thinking styles whenever you’re stuck for ideas or find yourselves always going down one particular line of thinking.
If you feel the concept of coloured hats wouldn’t go down well with your team, simply use them in your own mind, and drive the discussions down the specific avenues of gaining facts, using intuition, creating new ideas, seeing the benefits and disadvantages of certain ideas and keeping control of the development of ideas. That way, you have all issues out in the open with the chances of missing key information greatly reduced.
This is a great idea if you want to generate ideas quickly. It encourages divergent thinking among your team, as they collectively address issues facing your company.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure it works effectively:
1) Explain the process you will follow: Encourage the group’s input, while a recorder lists the ideas up on a board. There are no rules or judgments in this phase; people should be allowed to keep an open mind, freewheel, generate as many ideas as possible, building on the ideas of others, and make sure all ideas are visible to everyone.
2) Ask for ideas to generate the thinking: number the suggestions for ease of reference later. Don’t discuss the ideas yet, leave it till later.
3) Synthesise similar ideas: when all ideas are exhausted, identify ideas that are alike or similar. Then compile a statement that incorporates these points into a single idea, removing the superseded ideas from the list.
4) Group the ideas: Many people group the ideas into three levels – the impossible (very little can be done with these) – the unlikely (can’t be ruled out) – the possible (those that can be addressed and given prime attention).
5) Give priority to the best ideas: place the best ones that will be the subject of further discussion in priority order.
6) Develop an action plan: address the problem under review with specific actions, allocated to various team members.
Our brainstorms here in the office have taken anything from five minutes to a week, and they have always proved beneficial, because all the team are involved and everyone has a chance to input. Make sure you encourage divergent thinking and then convergent thinking to get the best results. Our next blog will go into more detail.