The ‘six thinking hats’ promoted by Dr Edward deBono will be familiar to most people, along with the concept that governing boards should make use of these to explore the full range of perspectives when making significant strategic or policy decisions. This post suggests that some other thinking hats may warrant consideration, but first let’s remind ourselves of the key concepts behind Dr deBono’s important proposition.
The six hats
Six Thinking Hats proposes that we can shift between thinking styles as easily as we can put on or take off a hat. Hence the metaphor linking thinking styles or directions to six hats and their associated colours. The six directions are:
Process Blue – what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal? Can look at the big picture.
Facts White – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
Feelings Red – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification).
Cautions Black – logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.
Benefits Yellow – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.
Creativity Green – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, outside the box.
One of the approaches recommended for use by groups wanting to make use of these different thinking styles is to use various sequences of ‘hats’ to address different objectives. Examples include:
Initial Ideas – Blue, White, Green, Blue
Choosing between alternatives – Blue, White, (Green), Yellow, Black, Red, Blue
Identifying Solutions – Blue, White, Black, Green, Blue
Quick Feedback – Blue, Black, Green, Blue
Strategic Planning – Blue, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green, Blue
Process Improvement – Blue, White, White (other peoples’ views), Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue
Solving Problems – Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue
Performance Review – Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue
The sequence is important, as anyone who has heard a board discussion which started with an emphasis on the risks associated with a proposal will attest. This is a proven method for killing off an idea before it has had a chance to be considered in more depth.
The seventh hat
The seventh style of thinking hopefully arises from the effective use of the other six approaches is ‘integral thinking‘, as it synthesises the best outcomes of using the different styles. This is perhaps best symbolized by stacking the six hats so that they are effectively combined, rather than using a separate coloured hat. It ensures that values and cultural perspectives are considered alongside the change drivers, systems, and processes. Recent governance failures in both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors suggest that this more balanced approach has been lacking.
The eighth hat
The eighth style of thinking is one we sometimes encounter when someone in the group ‘goes rogue’ with green or red hat thinking, so that ‘magical thinking’ comes into play. This is where a rabbit can be pulled from a hat, and the facts and rational analysis of a situation are sidelined. We are not all rational beings, and some of us are rational most of the time, but allow some occasional latitude for magical thinking. Part of our irrationality is an ability to believe in causality that is not directed solely by the laws of known science. For example, believing that forces such as fate can influence our lives. Regrettably, our confirmation biases and blind spots can also lead to irrational decisions at times.
Where this happens, the board’s decision-making process is subverted, and poor governance is the likely outcome. Evidence-based policies and a rational analysis of all relevant circumstances are required for good strategy and policy decisions (both by the government and by our boards of directors).
Just as we need to encourage those inclined to wear black hats to use other thinking styles from time to time, we also need to help those wearing magical hats to leave them at the door.