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April 01, 2016 Friday 06:45:32 PM IST

Put on thinking hats and make sound decisions

Creative Living

When it comes to taking a collective decision, the ego of the decision makers sharpens itself. People become overly concerned about personal angularities and shy away from taking suitable decisions. And they fail to make best out of their available possibilities. This applies to families, to institutions and to different decision making bodies. Decisions are caught between the horns of parties involved in the decision making. Detractors often succeed in creating lack of interest in those who could have contributed to informed decisions. Partisan interests may promote exclusion of creative people from participating in the decision making processes.


How to make the decision making process effective? How could an institution promote its decision makers to selflessly support the mission of the institution? How to accommodate different aspects of thinking to support decision making?


In his book “Six Thinking Hats” (Little Brown and Company, 1985), Edward de Bono, prominent creative thinking guru of modern times presents a powerful method of managing thought processes that leads to excellent decision making. The method of Six Thinking Hats has influenced the decision making processes of large number of institutions round the world.


The six hats: Six shades of thinking


The six hats visualized in this method are characterized by distinct colors each symbolizing unique modes of thinking that may assist the decision making process. The sixcolors are: Blue, White, Red, Black, Yellow and Green. The members of the decision making team are expected to wear the attitudes represented by these hats as they climb different steps in the process.


The blue colored hat represents the questions related to the organization and management of the meeting. Blue hat is worn by the team as they deliberate on questions like: What is the point of the discussion? What shall be the targeted goals or outcomes of the deliberation? What shall be the procedures to arrive at them?


The white colored hat represents provision of necessary background information of the problem. The information availed of shall be chaste, impartial, accurate. It needs to be complete, covering all essential aspects of the problem at hand. The white color reminds the participants of the dire need of making information pure and complete. The red colored hat is used to encourage people to express their first hand intuitions and gut feelings about the issue. Free flow of emotions is welcome at this stage of discussion. The red color used at this stage represents the vulnerabilities involved in the issue and allows the stakeholders to give vent to what moves them at heart. The black colored hat reminds the participants of the need of discernment. Feasibility of the suggested solution is thoroughly ascertained at this stage. At the end of the day, the discussion team is supposed to posit workable solutions only. Decision makers are expected to be cautious about the impacts of their decisions and to be conservative enough to take calculated risks only. Otherwise the sustainability of the institution could be seriously impaired by amateur decisions.


The yellow colored hat stands for the optimism of the members of the decision making team. They shall apply logic to see the benefits of a particular decision. When there are multiple solutions against a specific problem, the team must be equipped to visualize them as different aspects of the same solution. They need to identify the unifying thread within different aspects of the solution. The yellow color thus represents a sense of optimism and inner harmony.


Finally, the green colored hat signifies creativeness of the participants, which enables them to capture innovative solutions to the given problem. There is no ready-made solution to a given problem and hence improvisation is a must. There are no beaten paths towards a solution, which is futuristic enough. Old procedures and solutions may fit well to the problems of olden times. They may guide the participants in solving the problem at hand. However, they shall not restrict solution of a new problem. New problems deserve new solutions. In fact, new problems emerge as the old solutions do not fit any more. Hence the procedures to reach at new solutions shall not entirely draw on those of the past. It shall rather be creative and fresh, signified by the green color.


Hats of different colors can be seen as representing different shades of thinking or different directions of thinking that are necessary to reach at decisive solutions to the given problem. Such solutions shall not be arbitrary; rather shall be arrived at with a stipulated procedure. They shall not be taken against the facts and realities; rather shall account for all relevant information available. They shall not be insensitive to what moves the hearts of the stakeholders; rather shall take cues from the intuitivist reactions from them. They shall not overstep the rationale; rather shall be taken with due discernment. They shall not mock the positivity of the stakeholders and their optimism; rather shall benefit from their hope of a bright future. They shall not be old and redundant; rather shall be novel and adequately creative. A wholesome solution to a problem shall appropriate all these characteristics.


A typical conduct of a six hats meeting


The common practice is to start and end the meeting with the blue hat, when the team decides upon the objectives of the meeting as a group and decides upon the procedures of the meeting to arrive at a final decision. The discussion may then move to red hat thinking, when the unbiased first reactions and opinions of the members of the team are explored, which may define the broad framework of the solution sought after. Care must be taken to halve the time allotted for red hat thinking in comparison to that allotted for all other hats. Prolonged use of red hat thinking would essentially lead to judgmental thinking, which is not healthy for a healthy decision. The yellow and green hat thinking shall follow it, which motivates the team to generate alternative ideas and possible exits. This is typically followed by a white hat action, an effort to pool all relevant information and facts on the issue. The participants may corroborate the emerging solutions against the available information. Finally, the black hat thinking shall be pursued to radically criticize the final solution and ensure its feasibility, viability and sustainability.


Benefits of six hats thinking


In usual team thinking, the roles of individual members are generally assumed or pre-determined. There will be leaders who stipulate the goals and modes of discussion (blue hat thinking), members who surprise everybody with their rustic and sporadic reactions (red hat thinking), those who are devil’s advocates (black hat thinking), those optimists who reassure the team their positive outlook (yellow hat thinking), those who are equipped to provide creative solutions (green hat thinking) and those who are impregnated with facts and figures related to the problem (white hat thinking). The individual attitudes and preferences of a member fix his/her role in a decision making discussion. Such a branding could restrict the participants from thinking in different modes and thus cause colossal waste of the human resources at the disposal of the team. It inhibits emergence of a holistic solution to the problem at hand. On the other hand, the six hats method provides opportunities to all stakeholders to think differently and makes use of their different thinking skills to solve a given problem.


Decision making in a family


In a patriarchic or matriarchic set up decision making is supposed to be the function of the head of the family, be it the father or mother. Other members of the family including children are not supposed to be part of the decision making process. However, in many modern families, children are the be all and end all of decision making. They determine the outcomes of any decision made in the family, and hence radically color the decision making process. In all these hierarchical or flat models, collective decision making is impaired due to the lack of exercise of different thinking skills in the process. It converts families into battle fields of self-destructive emotions, where creative decisions are seldom taken. The six hat thinking method provides a balanced process of decision making, incorporating different modes of thinking and availing of the different thinking skills of parents and children put together. However, a  concrete six hat thinking strategy for a family is yet to be devised.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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