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Evaluating Practical Workplace Decisions Using de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’

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Evaluating Practical Workplace Decisions Using de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’
Background/Bio on Dr. Edward de Bono
Dr. Edward de Bono
1933 to current.
(Systems, 2014)
Dr. Edward de Bono
1933 to current.
(Systems, 2014) Nominated for the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005, Edward de Bono is regarded by many as the leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. He is equally renowned for his development of the Six Thinking Hats technique and the Direct Attention Thinking Tools. He is the originator of the concept of Lateral Thinking, which is now part of language and is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr. de Bono was born in Malta. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, holds an MA in psychology and physiology from Oxford, a D. Phil. in Medicine and also a Ph.D. from Cambridge. He has held faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard. His instruction in thinking has been sought by many organizations: IBM, Prudential, GM, BT (UK), NTT (Japan), Nokia (Finland), Mondadori (Italy), Total (France), Siemens (Germany), Bosch (Germany), Ericsson (Sweden) and many others. His methods are now mandatory in the school curriculum in many countries and widely used in others. He has written 70 books with translations into 38 languages and has been invited to lecture in 57 countries. Dr. de Bono was chosen by a group of academics as one of the 250 people who had contributed most to humanity in the whole history of the human race. The appeal of Dr. de Bono's work is its simplicity and practicality. It can be used by four year olds and by senior executives; by Down syndrome youngsters and Nobel laureates.
Dr. de Bono is currently the chairman of the Council of Young Enterprise Europe, which has a membership of 1,500,000 youngsters across Europe, Israel and Russia, who set up mini-businesses while at school. (The de Bono Group, 2014)
Background/Foundation for Topic
Dr. de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a world-renown technique used by many to assist them in their critical thinking skills. This method of parallel thinking ultimately results in better decision making. By incorporating several perspectives into the decision making process, de Bono’s “hats” force decision makers to move outside of their normal habitual manner of thinking and make better decisions. Using de Bono’s hats enables them to see a fuller, better-rounded picture of the situation or problem at hand. Regarding leaders’ ability to critically think and make decisions, “many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. This is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.” (Tools, 2014)
While selecting de Bono’s Hats as my topic, I wished to also review typical styles of managerial thinking and how these styles affect decision making. I also desired to identify my own habitual style of traditional managerial thinking to ensure that I attempt to break away from the “rut” in which my thoughts consistently rotate. Parallel thinking is a positively constructive method for decision making and I wanted to make sure that I understood the foundation of this skillset as a take-away from this project. Finally, during my classroom presentation of this project I intend on using an interactive method of applying the ‘Six Hat’ method of thinking by using a simple lateral thinking puzzle developed by K.S. Mathew, Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology. (Mathew, 2014)
Key Strengths and Weaknesses The strength behind de Bono’s Six Thinking hats/parallel thinking is that it enables one to break away from their traditional style of thinking and decision making and see what is typically known in business as “the big picture”. It enables all parties to critically think about problem with such clear focus and purpose that the quality of the decisions made while using this method is higher when compared to traditional styles of egotistical decision making and Western thinking. The decisions made when using parallel thinking also tend to have higher success with longevity of “stickiness” or buy-in as well. The reasons behind why these decisions receive more buy-in than others is due to the fact that people who use parallel thinking plan contingencies for when emotions and negative reactions are involved. For example, fear of change may be a common reason for resistance when trying to improve a process in the workplace. Because each of the Six Hats has a purposeful goal or focus, parallel thinking should address this fear, explore options to resolving it, and plan to overcome it. Without the multifaceted approach that de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats provides, the emotional element of the decision may not have been addressed. The weakness of western thinking is that it is often steeped in ego, historically embedded in Greek philosophy, and argument is typically the purest form of critical thinking that we are familiar with due to our courts of law systems. There are many positives about the argument method where, for example, two attorneys square off against each other over the latest hot case in our courts system and find a meaningful way for justice to be served. On the negative side, children do it all the time while at home arguing over whose turn it is to select the television show or play with the new toy, etc. It comes natural to us. But in business, especially in our world of ever-changing technology, ego and argument may not be the most constructive methods to creating the best decision for everyone. “Argument lacks constructive energies, design energies, and creative energies. Pointing out faults may lead to some improvement but does not construct something new. Synthesizing both points of view does not produce a stream of new alternatives.” (The de Bono Group, Reading on Parallel Thinking, 2014) The Six Thinking Hat method takes the ego out of decision making and allows for a more objective consideration of the problem at hand. To start out, the White Hat must be used as the initial information gathered is most crucial. The strength of using the White Hat is that it includes all views of information, even if they are conflicting. During this point in the decision making process we gather only the necessary information to make the best decision. The White Hat addresses what information is available and known, what information we wish to know, and how we get that information. The Red Hat is all about emotions and gut reactions. The Black Hat is powerful, especially when used after the Yellow Hat to prove how beneficial and valuable and idea is. The order of which the Six Thinking Hats are used is also of great importance. The Yellow Hat focuses on the positives, the Green Hat’s base is in creativity, and the Blue Hat is most effective when used at the beginning, middle, and end of the decision making process. The chart below depicts each hat and its main point of focus. Many people might ask how this method can truly be effective. The point is to get all parties, typically two parties, to both wear each of the six hats. This allows for the most comprehensive exploration of all possible solutions to a problem. “The Six Hats method allows us to unbundle thinking. Instead of trying to do everything at once, we separate out the different aspects of thinking. This way we can pay full attention to each aspect in turn.” (The de Bono Group, Reading on Parallel Thinking, 2014) The chart below depicts the role and focus of each of Dr. de Bono’s Six Hats Thinking method for decision making. Edward de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats" | HAT COLOR? | WHAT DOES IT MEAN? | ROLE? | WHITE | The White Hat calls for information known or needed. "The facts, just the facts." This hat separates fact from fiction and specifies action needed to fill gaps. It also assesses the relevance and accuracy of information. | LOGICAL | RED | The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches, and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings, and share fears, dislikes, loves, and hates. Also, justification or explanation is not required when using this hat. This hat can be used to assist in making decisions. | EMOTIONAL | BLACK | The Black Hat is judgment, the devil's advocate, or why something may not work. Under this hat you spot the difficulties and dangers of where things might go wrong. This is probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but creates problems when overused. | NEGATIVE | YELLOW | The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and this hat gives reasons why an idea is valuable, beneficial, and might work. This hat also provides creative ideas and new directions. | POSITIVE | GREEN | The Green Hat focuses on creativity, possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It's an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions. This hat encourages a search for new ideas and seeks to modify and remove faults from existing ideas. | CREATIVE | BLUE | The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It's the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are observed. | FACILITATOR |
Definitions provided by: (Bono, 2014) Another strength of using Six Hats Thinking is that it separates ego from performance. “If you do not like an idea, then you are not going to spend much time thinking of the benefits or good points of that idea. This is because if you uncovered sufficient good points for the idea to be accepted, then you would have "lost" the argument. With the Six Hats method, however, the thinker can be specifically asked to give a yellow hat "performance." This is a challenge to the thinker, who will not want to appear unable to perform this way. So yellow hat thinking gets done even by someone who does not like the idea. In the course of this yellow hat thinking, ideas may turn up which cause the thinker to change his or her mind. It also can happen the other way around. A euphoric supporter of an idea can be asked to do a black hat performance. This may turn up difficulties that reduce the previous euphoria.” (The de Bono Group, Reading on Parallel Thinking, 2014) Argumentative thinking is typical adversarial. Parallel thinking is cooperative because all parties wear all hats throughout the process.
Relationship to Deming, Quality, Leadership, and Classroom Discussions We know that Dr. W. Edwards Deming wished to combine his theories of appreciation and knowledge of a system with his theory of profound knowledge and the psychology behind the system and its people. Dr. de Bono emphasizes the importance of our awareness of how each part of a system or problem related to each other. In his book Water Logic, de Bono proposes this logic as opposed to traditional “rock logic”. “de Bono contends that traditional logic is static, based on the solid foundations of 'is' and identity. In contrast to the traditional 'rock logic', he proposes 'water logic' which is based on 'to' and the flow of the mind: 'What does this lead to?' as opposed to 'What is...?' ” (Bono D. E., 2014) Six Thinking Hats/parallel thinking gets a person or group to the point of asking these questions due to the different function housed within each hat. Without understanding how all the elements of a system or problem relate to each other, the best and most constructive decisions cannot be made. This relates to Deming’s profound knowledge of a system and how each part contributes for the good of the system, not individual departments, or as in my previous examples, each “party”. The logic behind questioning a problem like this should lead to deep exploration of a problem as it relates to the system and quality. This type of parallel thinking leads to the discovery of truly undesired variation in a process vs. special causes. Dr. de Bono’s “what is this leading to” question is at the heart of Deming profound knowledge of systems. Remembering classroom discussions and activities over this current semester, my mind goes to the “red bead experiment”. We spent most of our time trying to improve upon a production aspect of our system while ignoring a major flaw in our system. Of course signs were posted to boost productivity and quality within our department, and the department was also staffed with a quality control technician who monitored production and acceptable “color counts”. Even though we had the mechanisms in place to monitor quality we missed the mark. The system was built upon random chance. Parallel thinking and the questions it poses would have been helpful but “management” was not wearing all of the hats and viewing the problem from all angles. Regarding leadership, this is where I question my current abilities to critically think. During this study and over the semester I have asked myself, “am I only part of the persuasive-argumentative team or can I apply the principles of Deming and de Bono to change how I approach problem solving?” I feel as if I am changing daily based on the parallel thinking skills I have learned from OLS 484. Traditional leaders and managers promote conditions or measurements which control and constrain the way their workforce behaves. This typically results in sub-optimization. Think of the Customer Care movement, ISO 9000, and TQM. All are great programs but do they create a culture that performs better and better by outperforming the past in light of continuous improvement? Many of these programs only do what is necessary to retain their status within a nationally or internationally certified organization. In one of my previous Jim Maley college courses, I remember discussing “doing things right vs. doing the right things”. Using Deming and de Bono to visualize the company or organization as a system is the only way to establish if you are doing the “right things”. Leaders using de Bono’s Hats should be successful in avoiding traditional managerial styles of thinking which are typically “compulsive, impulsive, apprehensive, abrasive, explosive, implosive or narcissistic”; all of which are irrational and will not result in the best, most constructive decisions for all parties involved. (Kurt Motamedi, 2006) Changing or challenging something should mean changing or challenging the system and sadly I have witnessed these one-sided and selfish styles of managerial thinking in almost every organization of which I have been a contributing team member.
Modern day technology has grown to demand instantaneous responses via email, mobile phones, texting, etc. The quality of our decision making abilities, as they relate to the system in which we operate, should grow just as quickly. I have made a personal choice to slow down and use Six Hats Thinking to make better decisions. For example, I am already using it in my toolbox meetings with my pipe fitter crews. Rather than make all of the decisions about how to go about constructing a pipeline project, I am now allowing each of the crew members to wear all of the hats as we discuss creative ways to find solutions.
How and Why de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ Should Be Used For starters, using de Bono’s hats ensures you are at least wearing a hat and that your brain is fully engaged. Without the hats you are simply making decisions on your judgment alone. One’s thinking is more complete when using de Bono’s hats. When you do arrive at a decision is was gained through collaboration. Teams avoid unconstructive debate and stalemate when using the hats. The method of making the decision is circular. Using the hats is more than just brainstorming, it is allowing each person on the team to wear each hat and this allows them to think from different perspectives. If the decision is worth making, and worth the liability you might incur if you make it alone, it is definitely worth taking the time to collaborate. Diversity makes us stronger. Inclusion makes us smarter. Pulling resources together to participate in critical thinking is the best decision making method available today. This method is also widely reported on the internet to reduce time, remove power struggles, and allows a team the opportunity to address one thing at a time rather than be sensitized by many issues coming at them from all directions. Understanding how to use this method is also critical for success. You can use this individually and put on each hat as you work through a complex personal or professional problem. A manager or leader could use it meetings or conversations by inviting those present to participate in a fun collaborative activity. A manager or leader could also use this in their reporting to executive management to display the well-rounded approach they took to solving an organizational or systematic issue. Using the hats ensures that you prepare. Many decisions are made too quickly as managers simply suffice with the available data on hand. While this “suffice” method may be appropriate for low ranking decisions that do not affect large portions of a system, it is not the appropriate method for all decisions. The chart below, developed by Bijoy Viswanadhan, illustrates the success and self-development ranking of each hat. All hats are necessary and each hat builds upon another, but the best decisions are made when positive thinking, creativity, and control are the top contributing factors.

(Viswanadhan, 2010) Without making the conscious decision to use this method a leader or manager will most likely miss out on the opportunity to tap into the creative resources that they might not realize is very close to them, most likely within their department.

Recommended Resources for Future Use and Learning While completing this study I came across a few excellent resources for future learning and development related to critical thinking and decision making abilities.
Mind Tools offers a great tool kit that includes decision making models, choosing between options, deciding whether to go ahead, financial decisions, improving decision making, the impact of ethics and values, and group decision making. All of these items can be found here:
Dr. de Bono offers several books that can be found on at very reasonable prices. His titles include How to Have a Beautiful Mind, Six Thinking Hats, Lateral Thinking, Creativity Workout, How to Have Creative Ideas, Serious Creativity, Think!: Before It’s Too Late, and de Bono’s Thinking Course. All can be found here:
Finally, I also found a free 8-day eCourse provided by Bill Jarrard of Mindwerx who met Dr. de Bono in 1986 and has been training thousands of individuals on the Six Thinking Hats ever since. You can sign up for this free eCourse here:

Bono, D. E. (2014). Edward de Bono - Water Logic. Retrieved April 21, 2014, from
Bono, E. d. (2014). Six Thinking Hats. Retrieved March 21, 2014, from The de Bono Group, LLC.:
Kurt Motamedi, P. (2006). Seven Neurotic Styles of Management. Graziadio Business Review, Pepperdine University, Volume 9, Issue 4.
Mathew, K. (2014). Six Thinking Hats. (K. Mathew, Ed.) Retrieved April 21, 2014, from
Systems, d. B. (2014). Dr. Edward de Bono. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from de Bono Thinking Systems:
The de Bono Group, L. (2014). Edward de Bono. Retrieved April 21, 2014, from The de Bono Group, LLC.:
The de Bono Group, L. (2014). Reading on Parallel Thinking. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from The de Bono Group, LLC.:
Tools, M. (2014). Six Thinking Hats. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from Mind Tools:
Viswanadhan, B. (2010, March 22). How to Apply Six Thinking Hats. Retrieved March 21, 2014, from slideshare:

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