Have you ever tried on a hat, just to see what you look like?
Next time you do, try seeing what it makes you think like.
It’s a simple, if slightly odd sounding concept but if you grew up with any kind of dressing up kit at your disposal, you’ll understand the power of a piece of clothing to spark imagination.
If you are lucky enough to have grown up watching Mr Benn – we’re talking anywhere from the 1970s to the 2000s – you might remember seeing the bowler hatted businessman escape the boredom of everyday life by spending his day as a clown, a knight, a spaceman or a roman gladiator. Look it up on YouTube if you’re bored of cat videos. It’s clear where Jeff Bezos got his inspiration.
Who knows if Dr Edward de Bono, lateral thinker extraordinaire who died in June of this year, was influenced in the writing of his Six Thinking Hats technique by Mr Benn? I like to think so.
De Bono’s legacy to teachers, students and business leaders was the idea that creativity could be applied in life by anyone and everyone.
He firmly believed that lateral thinking – a manner of solving problems using creative approaches that are not immediately obvious – can be taught.
To prove it, he applied just as much rigour to structuring creative thinking as you might to a spreadsheet or a Total Quality Management process.
During his writing career, de Bono gave us books and books of tools and techniques for children and adults to try out. In so doing, he demystified the creative problem-solving process and gave us winning strategy-setting tools like the Six Thinking Hats.
De Bono’s 6 hats exercise is a very practical method of asking people to look at an issue from multiple perspectives. It’s a great way of seeing past your own viewpoint to take in crucial details you might have overlooked.
The Six Thinking Hats
The blue hat is for big picture thinking. For the visionary in you.
White is for facts and information – what is our evidence base, what do we know to be true?
Red is for feelings and emotions. With this hat on, you can share your gut reactions.
With a black hat you can only talk about the negatives of the issue or idea under review.
With a yellow hat, only the positive aspects.
And the green hat is for new ideas. No judgement allowed.
All these new bits of thinking get written up for future reference, even if they don’t get carried forward now.
Depending on what you are trying to achieve with your team, these proverbial hats can be applied in several ways to bring group discussion forward in a helpful way.
The traditional ‘black hats’ in your group can try being a ‘green hat’ for a while. The creatives in your team can try their hand at disproving their own brilliant new ideas. The point is that as a whole team or sub-team, you all wear the same hat colour at the same time. So, you all push in the same direction as each other, rather than fighting for air space with competing suggestions whilst digging into an entrenched position.
Using this kind of technique stops a team falling into traditional ‘well you would say that’ potholes of debate. It gets you out of a rut and towards solutions that the whole team are prepared to try.
At Groundswell we know that creative problem-solving isn’t something only creative types can do. We have years of evidence that the right tool kit generates strong shared strategy, in corporates and small independent companies alike.
Winning new ideas, be they business models, products or incremental process improvements, are there to be devised by all comers. All comers that is, who are prepared to put on a different hat.
So, cheers to Mr Benn and cheers to Dr de Bono. They’ve saved us from a lifetime of thinking and acting just like the next man.
Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono, author, doctor and consultant, born 19 May 1933; died 9 June 2021