Thinking Tools - The Six Thinking Hats By Sachi Sellasamy

Thinking Tools

The Six Thinking Hats: A Tool for Coping with the Complexities in the Information Era

In the past, a manger’s decision was affected by the lack of available information. The primary problem was obtaining enough information to make informed decisions. Today, in what we refer to as the information era, the problem is reversed. The managers have access to more than enough information from the internet. The problem now is more on how to manage information overload and to make informed decisions that would lead to success.

We will begin by discussing some of the important challenges facing a manager in the information era. Next, we will critically examine current strategies in addressing these challenges and identify the need for a new and holistic approach. We can than suggest the Six Thinking Hats as a tool that can help managers in coping with the complexities in the information era.

Challenges in the information era

Sorting and prioritizing information.

As a manager, our immediate task would be to access the large amount of information available within a short period of time. To make the information manageable, we need to categorize, evaluate and prioritize the information. This would enable us to make optimal/satisfying decisions.

Speed in processing information.

Not only do we have to sort the information, we need to do it fast. The information era with the internet has introduced the concept of real time. This means that distance is no longer a competitive advantage to business and decisions need to be made immediately. Thus we need to process available information that much faster.

Seek new ideas for increased competitiveness.

Since information is readily available to everyone, the playing field is leveled. Quantity, quality, timeliness and price of products and services will remain important. More importantly, the ability to provide unique services and new ideas will provide the competitive edge.

Ability to arrive at group decisions

Group discussions will help to bring new perspectives. At the same time we need a system where different perspectives could be evaluated without arguments; with speed and ease for decisions and implementation. Such consensus will also increase buy in for new ideas and identify possible hitches in implementation, both requiring group effort.

The ability to organize the clutter of large amounts of information, having speed in processing the information, being creative by identifying new opportunities and ideas, and performing such tasks in groups without conflict, will definitely be an asset in the information era.

How are we coping presently?

Some of us have developed systems to cope with the challenges. The systems could exist in the form of people, systems, structures, processes and software or some combinations of these. What ever the system we have for coping with the masses of information, we need to have a system of organizing our thinking in coping with the challenges identified. It is said that quality thinking precedes a quality system.

So how do we think at present and how is that helping or not helping us in coping with the challenges? This question often stumps people because we do not give our thinking much thought. This may be because we regard thinking as a natural activity, like breathing. We think when we consciously produce thoughts, using our experience.

Thinking is an activity that occurs in the brain, a physical entity. The brain has two parts, the creative right and the logical left side. Thus we have opportunities for logical thinking as well as a creative or imaginative thinking when we analyze information. The mind, the non-physical entity that influences thinking, is said to be the environment that the brain operates in. The mind is said to be the domain for our intuitive thinking.

Data, which is accessed by the senses come alive, when we think actively in order to solve a problem, perform an activity or simply need to understand something. This active thinking is often influenced by past experiences that individuals have and from which we develop paradigms of the way we view the world. We are often limited in our experience and hence our ideas are also limited. Our need for logical thinking in conducting routine activities also limits our exploration of alternatives or creative ideas.

Passive thinking occurs when thoughts just float into our mind. Most active thinking is often interspersed with passive thoughts. Such passive thoughts could result in novel ideas that we sometimes refer to as intuition. At other times they can be a distraction to problem solving and group discussions as we may be detracted from the problem at hand and time may be spent on inconsequential and unrelated matters. A combination of active and passive thoughts could also result in muddled and cluttered thinking. Here thoughts (and discussions) go in many different directions, and bring about confusion. This lack of focus in thinking impacts on our clarity of thinking and communication.

In groups, our current thinking strategies include the use of critical thinking and debates to explore the ‘truth’. While the system of debates does indeed explore issues, it also encourages a win lose attitude. Thus you see lines drawn and sides taken on issues in Parliament and Law Courts. One side will not want to see the merit of the other proposal. This practice is seen in group discussions in organizations and personal agendas ensure that proposals that have merit do not often see the daylight.

Both active and passive thinking, have inherent benefits and problems. The problems become aggravated when we have to cope with large amounts of information and to make sense of them very quickly and also to examine alternatives for increased competitiveness. In the information era, we also need a system where by groups could explore ideas and issues quickly, thoroughly and without the inherent biasness of personal agendas. We would like to propose a thinking tool that could help in organizing and improving both the active and passive thinking activities and result in increased speed and quality of decisions. This tool could in addition facilitate a win-win system for groups to discuss proposals.

The Six Thinking Hats: A Thinking Tool for the Information Era

The Six Thinking Hats is a tool to improve our current thinking process, designed by Dr. Edward de Bono. Dr. de Bono “is regarded by many to be the leading authority in the world in the field of creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill” (de bono website). From his research he has identified that there are six modes of thinking. De Bono uses the metaphor of a hat to represent thinking and different colours for each hat to denote a different function. The hats are traditionally linked to thinking and the use of different coloured hats signifies that we can change our thinking by changing our hats.

The Six Thinking Hats and a brief summary of the function of each hat are as follows:

Blue Hat: Thinking about the thinking or control of the thinking process.

White Hat: Identifies data and information objectively- both existing and what is needed;

Yellow Hat: Examines the benefits and positive aspects;

Black Hat: Evaluates logical caution;

Red Hat: Legitimizes feelings in decision process;

Green Hat: Looks for alternatives, new ideas and creativity;

Further conceptual clarity and possible practical applications of he hats, would be needed for the hats to be put into actual use. But we can summarise the benefits of the Six Thinking Hats, particularly in addressing the challenges in the information era.

The Six Hats system provides a focus for active thinking. It will reduce the intrusion of unwanted passive thoughts. In addition it can assist in organizing the clutter of information (now that our thinking itself is organized!), and evaluating masses of information very quickly. With the Six Hats focussed thinking, each hat needs to be used only for a couple of minutes. Exploring information becomes easy.

The White Hat can confirm the information that is available and those that are needed. The Yellow and Black Hats would evaluate the benefits and caution of the existing information, while the Red Hats checks our feelings. The Green Hat reminds us to look for alternatives while the Blue Hat summarizes our efforts.

This would mean that we can organize the information and we can do it faster and more thoroughly. We could also use creativity (Green Hat) in looking for alternatives. Instead of relying on intuition for ideas, Dr. de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tools can help to generate ideas as and when they are needed. They are also designed to help us escape our paradigms and produce unique alternatives. New ideas would help us to be more competitive.

The powerful use of the Six Thinking Hats in facilitating group decisions is evident from the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corporation merger in 2002. With “clashing corporate cultures and crushing morale problems” (http://www.ResourcesUnlimited.com) evident, every team member in Compaq Corporation was required to present a business plan. The Six Hats was used a tool to make presentations as well as moderations. The usual stress of such meetings was removed and was in fact replaced by greater motivation and initiatives that would move Compaq Computer towards growth and lower cost.

Using the Six Thinking Hats would allow for ‘parallel thinking’ in groups. This would provide for a more thorough exploration of issues and also faster decisions in groups, by ensuring that good proposals are given due hearing, deficient proposals are quickly abandoned, while keeping personal agendas and bloated egos at arms length.

Conclusion

The Six Thinking Hats is a powerful system and can help individuals and teams cope with the challenges in the information era. Dr, Edward de Bono, the originator of the Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking has the ability to take a complex subject like thinking and creativity and make it powerfully simple.