I want to introduce you to a book that will change the way you manage meetings and make collaborative decisions: Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. One of my CIO clients told me about this book, and I bought it used on Amazon for $0.01 (plus shipping and handling of course) – now that is a deal. Though I can’t see sitting in a room of business executives and saying “Now everyone put on your white thinking hat,” this book presents a very clear explanation of why our typical “everyone present their viewpoint” type of discussion is so dysfunctional. The problem is that people come from different perspectives, so we end up arguing apples and oranges. Six Thinking Hats lays out a process where everyone can get their position on the table in a way that encourages a more holistic look at the issue and results in fewer arguments and more discussion. Here is how it works:

During a problem-solving session, the facilitator solicits input from six different perspectives. The key is that while the group is thinking in a particular perspective, only comments that fit that perspective are allowed. The six perspectives are:

  • White hat – An objective look at the issue based entirely on facts and figures. This thinking type focuses on what we know or at least on the best information available. This type of thinking often dominates most IT discussions.
  • Red hat – Provides the emotional view. Data and reality don’t matter. Everyone gets to talk about how they feel about the issue. What I like about this perspective is that it legitimizes what people are feeling. They don’t have to defend their position with data. To me, this is the most often ignored perspective in IT discussions.
  • Black hat – This is the devil’s advocate viewpoint. The focus is on issues, challenges, roadblocks, and anything that can go wrong.
  • Yellow hat – This view is the opposite of the black hat. The focus here is on everything that could go right and the organization’s capabilities to make it happen.
  • Green hat – This thinking type focuses on creativity, innovation, and new ideas. It provides the ability to look at the issue from a different perspective. This is another area that most discussions give little attention to. Most of the meetings I am in look for common solutions to uncommon problems.
  • Blue hat – Blue hat thinking is the work the team does to organize the process and make adjustments if the process isn’t as productive as it should be. It is used to shift the focus from the problem to the process of solving the problem.

The six hats model provides not only a great way to manage discussions of complex issues but also a framework to challenge our own thinking. The six hats methodology should be a tool in every leader’s tool kit.