Organisational creativity exercise
Six Thinking Hats
Brief description of creativity technique
The Six Thinking Hats is a role-playing model developed by Edward de Bono in 1986. Each hat represents a different lens or perspective on a particular issue and is an insightful activity that prevents narrow thinking. It serves as a team-based problem solving and brainstorming technique that can be used to explore problems from various perspectives in order to uncover options that might otherwise be overlooked. The basic concept of the six thinking hats is that in order to process information and to reach the best conclusions in problem-solving sessions, people need to look at issues from a variety of perspectives.
Exercise for skills at the level of:
Learning objectives of the exercise
As well as improving the quality of your decisions, the Six Thinking Hats technique has some other benefits to offer:
- More organized thinking. You can be confident that you have considered every angle, and it helps you to weigh up the information you obtain efficiently and accurately.
- Improved creativity. It gets you to step away from your default positions and approaches. And comparing or combining different perspectives can sometimes spark novel thoughts.
- Better thinking skills. It’s a great way to strengthen important skills such as curiosity and critical thinking.
- Stronger interpersonal skills. It encourages you to practice listening, questioning and answering. So it can also make you more persuasive, better at spotting when others need support, and more confident to resolve conflicts when they arise.
Greater inclusivity in teams. It requires people to set aside any preconceptions and to focus on seeing things from the same perspective for a while. Debate still happens, but it’s based on shared understanding – which can help everyone to feel included.
Skills developed/enhanced by the exercise
In person: 1-2 hours
Online: 1-2 hours
How many people are needed?
In person: whiteboard/flipchart/paper and markers, table, chairs, six thinking hats template, six hats
Online: six thinking hats template
Instructions for conducting the exercise
Step 1. List the questions that represent the hats
List a set of questions on the whiteboard to represent the hats. You can do this either at the start of the meeting or when you hit a sticking spot.
Step 2. Walkthrough each question as a team
Walkthrough each question as a team. This is the key. Rather than debating each other, you are now collaborating.
Step 3. Modify the approach.
If it is not working, change the approach. For example, you might find that you started with the wrong “hat” or question. See if switching to another question or hat makes a difference.
This is not a heavy handed approach. Instead, it is a subtle shift in strategy from free-for-all debate to focusing and coordinating your team’s thinking power in a deliberate way.
This lets everybody get heard as well as really bang on a problem from multiple angles in a teamwork sort of way.
Case study from desk research
The directors of a non-profit wellness program are looking to expand their charter into the mental health arena. There is a severe shortage of services in their community and this continues to be an ongoing problem that they hope to reduce through leadership, education, and collaboration. 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 trends in the mental health field and within their community. Available information shows a huge gap in what’s needed and what’s available.
With Red Hat thinking, some of the directors simply aren’t really excited about getting into the mental health area. It depresses them just talking about it. Others are extremely passionate about it. Most of the latter group have had mentally ill friends or family members and can empathize with their situations.
When they think with the Black Hat, they worry that the problem is just too big for their little program to be of much help. They’re concerned that this new direction may jeopardize their success with their current customers in the mentally healthy population. Further, even though there is grant funding available, they are uncertain of their chances to attract it given the size of their fairly meager population of just over 25,000 people.
With the Yellow Hat, however, they feel that it won’t cost a lot to really improve the mental health situation in their community. They feel that this new direction is a noble one that their organization is in a unique position to support and nurture.
With Green Hat thinking they consider how they might be able to significantly improve communication, cooperation, and collaboration between existing service agencies so that everyone can win. Through education, they feel they can improve public understanding and support through funding and volunteerism. They know there are many more ideas and resources at their fingertips that simply need to be tapped and creatively applied to the problem.
The Blue Hat has been used by the meeting’s Facilitator to move between the different thinking styles. She may have needed to keep other members of the team from switching styles, or from criticizing other peoples’ points.
Six Thinking Hats is a good technique for looking at the effects of a decision from several different perspectives. It allows necessary emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be purely rational decisions. It opens up the opportunity to bring creativity to bear on decision-making. The technique also helps, for example, persistently pessimistic people to be positive and creative.
Plans developed using the “Six Thinking Hats” technique will be sounder and more resilient. It may also help you to avoid public relations mistakes, and spot good reasons not to follow a course of action before you have committed to it.