6hatsI have been using the six thinking hats in an action learning set with a client and have challenged the team leaders to consider using this tool with their teams. A question that was posed was “Could we use this without actually mentioning the six thinking hats, or using the props?”

What a great question and it got me thinking…as great questions often do…

I imagined a scenario in a team where the team leader prompted the team members to “get creative’ and come up with some ideas. Whilst doing so, it reminded me of some of the blank faces I have seen when asking people to do just that. It also reminded me of how easily we can slip into judging without even realising we are doing it…….”that will never work here” or some equally idea crushing eye rolling…..

If this happens, the team leader could invite them to put their scepticism away and get back to “being creative”. After a few minutes they get back into the swing, the ideas start trickling in and then there is a snigger… the biggest creativity killer. “Come on lets give Jim a chance, that was a great idea” the team leader says, only half convincing himself. And so it goes on. Switching to critical (or black hat) thinking, the ideas are torn apart and the safe option is chosen. When the team leader asks for them to look at all the positives and benefits of a solution, they switch back to critical thinking all too easily.

So how would using the 6 hats explicitly make this better? I believe that we all like rules but that we find it hard to take on board new ones immediately, like “Lets get creative”, unless we are very practiced! In familiarising ourselves with what the 6 hats mean, we overlay in a situation, the rules we are going to use to act out the scene that follows.

Games are something that we grew up with and we knew that that not following the rules would be met with disapproval from the other players. Having explained the purpose behind de Bono’s parallel thinking concept, the rules are simple – you only use the mode of thinking that the leader has instructed you to use, otherwise the process breaks down. If we use the process a few times, then people start to believe it will work and then the rules become even more important, but less explicit. It becomes far easier to wave the prop (a correctly coloured hat) about and say “Come on guys this is meant to be white hat thinking, we have not moved onto red hat thinking yet”, because we know that white hat thinking is good for a while, but we will get a chance to move onto red hat thinking later.

I suppose my point is that the “game” of using the 6 hats, allows us in a fun way to enforce the rules and stick to the parallel thinking principles. This process then becomes quicker, the more practiced we become at switching hats, until we get to a point where the “rules” need never be spoken in a team where the process gets results.

Just as a last thought…. I asked the action learning set “In what order should we use the hats?” That was a very interesting answer and ………….another blog for another time………

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