Six Thinking Hats

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Meetings are great places where ideas flow readily and everyone has a great time. Except for the fact that most meetings are not that… at all. 

Every company has a different flow to their meetings, but the overwhelming consensus on meetings is they’re unnecessary, unproductive, too long, or somehow miss the point they set out to achieve. One way to change that is to introduce the six thinking hats, a strategy developed in the 80’s by Edward de Bono. At a high level, the purpose is to encourage thinking from multiple perspectives; each hat representing a particular point of view. It also helps eliminate the fear of saying something dumb- being assigned a hat, or perspective, rather, means you have a duty to look at the topic in a particular way. No more fear of contradicting a boss, no more fear of being judged for raising concerns, no more waiting for someone else to have all the ideas. Let’s take a look at the actual hats; 

  • White hat (I prefer orange. More on that later): If you’re wearing the white hat, your job is to focus on available data. If the topic at hand is expanding your business to a new geography, you’d be responsible for looking at relevant data. Maybe that’s demographics of the proposed geo(s), climate, surroundings, resource availability, etc. Regardless of your job title or day-to-day work, your job in the meeting is to be the data perspective. Point out what is known, unknown, and look for data-backed trends. 
  • Red hat: This is the emotional perspective. Try to look at the topic through the lens of varying emotions. Could the topic make someone angry? Sad? Elated? What might the response of the public be if your company announced a decision surrounding the topic at hand? Again, using a new geographical expansion as the example, would there be an emotional reaction to going to a particular area? If so, what?
  • Black hat: This is the negative-nancy hat. The person wearing this hat is specifically looking for reasons the idea at hand will fail. This person needs to test every assumption, poke holes in all the reasoning, and ultimately is trying to kill the idea. If the idea withstands a beating, it’ll be much more thought out had there been no opposition. This hat also provides a bit of protection in an office where no one will say “no” to a higher up. 
  • Yellow hat: The opposite of the black hat. The wearer of the yellow hat is looking to find every reason an idea would work. If the black hat is the devil on your shoulder, the yellow hat is the angel (or other good natured divine being of your choice). 
  • Green hat: This is arguably the hardest hat to wear. The green hat is all about creativity and identifying as many alternatives as possible. No judgement can be levied at the green hat wearer. More ideas will spark more ideas which may lead to the best idea. 
  • Blue hat: The operations, process, and next steps advocate. The person wearing the blue hat is responsible for running the meeting a lot of the time. They’re responsible for determining a concrete action plan. If the meeting gets to a standstill, the blue hat points out who should chime in next. Maybe calling for more ideas from the green hat, or maybe asking for one more reason the topic at hand is a good idea. 

How to implement this?

Great question! Implementing can happen in a couple ways. Ideally, the roles are defined ahead of time, or on reusable slips of (colored) paper. At the beginning of the meeting, literal hats, or colored flags, or maybe colored paper with role definitions are handed out randomly. The random piece is important to ensure the same people don’t play the same role all the time. Another great way to implement this is with colored markers, when there is plenty of white board space available for everyone. I mentioned above that I prefer the white hat to be an orange hat- the markers concept is why. It’s pretty tough to write with a white marker on a white board. Really, though, any other color is fine so long as the role definition is the same. 

Once roles have been defined, the person who called the meeting can kick it off as usual- bring up the relevant topic and start the conversation. From there, the blue hat can jump in to pick out who should take over. Maybe the data is already compiled and having the white (or other) hat jump in with that. Maybe it’s best for the creativity hat (green) to offer as many options as possible. If you want to get really crazy, assign everyone the green hat for the first 10 minutes to get as many ideas as possible.  

*Note, it is totally possible to use this strategy on your own. If you have ideas that need to be tested, try looking at the ideas from all of these perspectives.

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