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Six Thinking Hats

hatsIf we’re trying to make a decision, how do we stop the most critical person being the one who gets all the airspace?

Have we really considered all the angles when we make decisions?

What questions should I ask in a meeting?

These are questions we get asked a lot by business leaders, HR professionals and anyone who is questioning the value of the time we all spend in meetings.  Based on the concept of Six Thinking Hats, our experience and our focus on keeping it simple, we have developed an approach that works for making decisions, reviewing an idea and a wide range of other contexts.

This is an overview of how it works and how you can do it yourself.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Edward de Bono revolutionised the way we consider decision making and thinking overall.  He highlighted that since the Greek philosophers we have celebrated critical thinkers.  It is the most critical person in a meeting who gets the most airspace.  And what is the outcome of too much critical thinking? A lack of action.

De Bono highlighted the importance of more balance in our thinking, challenging us to yes be critical, as well as positive, creative, data driven, emotionally open and structured.

So how does this work in practice?

For meetings to be effective we need to be thinking in the same direction.  How often do we waste hours in meetings playing the tennis of,

“I agree with Richard, but I’m not convinced that will work here.”

“Well I disagree with that, we’ve got early data telling us it does work.”

“Yes but that was only in the area of…” and so on.

This is thinking in opposing directions which is unproductive.  De Bono showed us a simple way to all think in the same direction, which takes disciplined facilitation and works extremely well.

The six hats represent six types of thinking – and we can all put on every single hat.  Some people take this to the letter, have people wearing coloured hats and stick to the structure very strictly.  We like keeping it simple, so we tend to simply ask the questions that we find helpful under each hat – and if someone goes off topic, we remind them we’re only looking at this angle at the moment.

Totem Lollipops

We’ve listed some of the questions we find most helpful here under each of the topics or hats for decision making and considering a challenge:

Positive

  • What is good about this idea?
  • What are the benefits of this approach?
  • What could be a potential benefit of this?
  • What are the positive features?

Critical

What is not so good about this?

  • What are the risks?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What experience tells us this might not work?

Creative

  • What could we do to make this better?
  • What new ideas could grow out of what we have already discussed?
  • What else could we do to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks?
  • How could we overcome barriers to doing this or things that have stopped it from working before?

Data-driven

  • What information do we already have to help us make a decision?
  • What further information do we need to make a decision about this?
  • What data will we want to monitor our success?
  • What other data might be interesting to look at?  What might that tell us?

Intuitive

  • We’ve talked rationally about this, now let’s just acknowledge that we’ll each have an emotional or intuitive reaction to the idea as well. How do you feel about it / what does your gut tell you?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are your fears?
  • How might this affect you personally ?

The final topic or hat is the process or structure of facilitation itself.  You might use this in your own preparation time, thinking about how to best structure the meeting, or it may be that you use the concept of structure to end the meeting with questions like:

  • What have we agreed?
  • What will happen next?
  • Who will do that?
  • When will we review that?

You can find out more in Edward De Bono’s frankly amazing book, click the picture and be whisked away!