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Smarter, Efficient Decisions with Six Thinking Hats

(The following article was first published in Metro India, an English daily newspaper from Hyderabad, on March 4, 2014, and is being reproduced here with their kind permission)

When it comes to decision-making or finding solutions to problems, most people resort to a very rational and positive outlook when thinking. What one often fails to take into account are emotions, hunches, intuitions, creative leaps of imagination, the pitfalls, and contingencies in any situation that confronts one. Some may do the opposite. Consequently, one does not take a holistic look at a situation, and the decisions so made are bound to be non-optimal. Six Thinking Hats method seeks to rectify these defects in the thinking process used in decision-making and problem solving.
 
The Six Thinking Hats method is applicable to both individuals and group or team situations like meetings. It was developed by Edward de Bono, the guru of lateral thinking, in 1985, and detailed in his book “Six Thinking Hats”.  These hats are coloured metaphorical (sometimes literal) hats, each coloured hat representing a particular mode or approach to thinking on an issue. The colours of the hats are white, red, black, yellow, green and blue.
When you don the white hat (metaphorically or literally) it is a signal to your mind to unemotionally look at just the facts and data on hand. Evaluate the data and see what you can learn from it. If there are any gaps in the information or knowledge, take account of it or fill the gaps. This phase of thinking would involve such things as analyzing past trends, and forecasting future trends by extrapolating from past data.
When you ‘wear’ the red hat, you should allow your gut feelings, emotions, hunches and intuitions to kick in. You should also foresee other peoples’ emotional reactions, particularly when they are not conversant with your line of reasoning.
Black hat signals you to be more critical and play the devil’s advocate by looking for what all can go wrong either with the situation you are facing or any decisions that are open to you. You have to adopt a cautious and defensive approach by paying attention to any weak points in a plan, and make contingency plans. This way you can spot and avoid fatal flaws and risks in your undertakings.
Yellow hat lets you be more positive and optimistic in your outlook and assessment. You should look at all the benefits possible from a decision and what their value is. This mode of thinking brings some cheer into your mind if the situation seems difficult and gloomy.
Green hat calls you to be as creative as you can be in thinking up all the possible alternatives open to you. You can indulge in a freewheeling no-holds-barred way of thinking by suspending your critical thinking for a while.
Blue hat allows you to manage the process of thinking being done by others. Typically, it will be worn by the facilitator or moderator of the discussion, such as a person chairing the meeting. Blue hat licenses you to intervene if the thinking deviates to a different style, direct the thinking into a different coloured-hat style, or mediate if any contentious discussion arises.
Every meeting or individual session of thinking can begin with the white hat, followed by other hats, each for a few minutes. Because red hat stands for gut reactions and intuitions it should be allotted less time, say 30 seconds, so that your reasoning does not have a chance to kick in. What the coloured thinking hats strategy does is it introduces parallel thinking in the same direction together by the individual members of a group or team. You will be forced to look at an issue from different angles and not just your customary style of thinking or approach.
Once this method is learned, it can be applied immediately. Engineers to HR professionals and product developers to marketing executives can use it. It can be used in various scenarios – from problem solving and running meetings to strategic planning. Its use can make your individual or team decisions more clear, creative, objective, systematic and holistic.