Six Thinking Hats – Looking at a Decision From All Points of View

Ed BurghardHow To Make Better Decisions

Ever have challenges making the right decision in complicated situations? Ever wish there was a way to increase your odds of success and minimize the probability of a bad decision?

‘Six Thinking Hats’ is an interesting and powerful technique to help improve decision-making. It is used to look at decisions from a number of critical perspectives. This 360-degree approach forces you outside your repetitive thinking style, and facilitates a more robust assessment of a situation.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono and is described in his book “6 Thinking Hats.”

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. Rational thinking is easily understood and conclusions are generally well accepted. Often, though, while comfortable rational decisions are not the best. In many cases, this is the thought process fails to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean rational, optimistic decision makers underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.

Similarly, pessimistic people can be excessively defensive. If driven by emotion alone,, they may fail to look at decisions calmly and rationally.

If you assess a problem with the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, you will be looking at it through all possible lenses. Your final decisions and plans will be an effective blend of ambition, skill in execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.

Using the Tool:

You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own. In meetings it has the benefit of blocking the confrontations that happen when people with different thinking styles assess the same problem.

Each ‘Thinking Hat’ is a different style of problem assessment.

  • White Hat:
    Wearing this hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information on hand, and determine what you can learn from it. Look for knowledge gaps, and either fill them or assess the decision risk associated with them.
  • Red Hat:
    ‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. You also need to try and think how other people will react emotionally. Brainstorm the potential responses/reactions of people who do not fully know the reasoning behind your recommended solution.
  • Black Hat:
    Black hat thinking, is all about looking at the negative aspects of your decision. Look at it objectively and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in your plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to minimize their impact. It is cheaper to fail on paper than in the market. Many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for execution challenges.
  • Yellow Hat:
    The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that allows you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to stay focused on the end goal despite setbacks in implementation.
  • Green Hat:
    The Green Hat is all about creativity. This is where you develop “out of the box” solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, with no criticism of ideas.
  • Blue Hat:
    The Blue Hat focuses on process control. This is the hat worn by people running meetings. When difficulties arise because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.

Example:

The economic development professionals in a community are looking at whether they should exhibit at an upcoming industry event. The budget is available, but there a number of other projects that could be considered for investment should the decision be to skip the event. As part of their decision they decide to use the 6 Thinking Hats technique during a planning meeting.

Looking at the problem with the White Hat, they analyze the data they have. They examine the impact of exhibiting at past events and find very few real leads have been generated. They anticipate that in light of the tight capital loan market, there will be even fewer near-term opportunities than ever before. Current government projections suggest banks should begin lending in earnest again beginning third quarter of 2010, right about the time any lead from the event would be in a position to make a location decision.

With Red Hat thinking, some of the ED professionals believe competition will be exceptionally strong at the event with many communities investing significantly more money for fewer possible deals.

When they think with the Black Hat, they worry that government projections may be wrong. The economy may be about to enter a ‘cyclical downturn’, in which case the ability of any potential lead to get capital funding will continue to be limited and communities will need to offer bigger financial incentives to help encourage a decision. Given the budget challenges of the community, increased incentive dollars will force difficult choices to maintain the budget.

With the Yellow Hat, however, if the government projection is right, the assets of the community could look very attractive, and with the recent plant closing there is available skilled labor for a company to capitalize on. Now would be the optimal time to take advantage of the labor pool and get these men and women back to work.

With Green Hat thinking they consider whether it might be a better long-term investment to accelerate the completion of the fiber optic network and make the community even more competitive for the type of work recent graduates of the local are seeking.

The Blue Hat has been used by the meeting’s Chair to move between the different thinking styles. He or she may have needed to keep other members of the team from switching styles, or from criticizing other peoples’ points.

It is well worth reading Edward de Bono’s book 6 Thinking Hats for more information on how to effectively employ this problem solving technique.

Key questions (please leave a comment with your thoughts):

  • Given the scenario above, what decision do you think the ED team should reach?
  • Have you ever been involved in a decision where, in retrospect, the 6 Thinking Hats approach might have led to a better decision?
  • What are the challenges you see in implementing the 6 Thinking Hats approach to decision making in economic development?

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