Edward de Bono is a well-known thinker who has had a great deal of impact on the way in which we think in the modern world. He was born in Malta in 1933 and has earned a number of degrees in medicine, psychology and physiology. His books have been translated into 34 different languages and he has lectured in more than 50 countries around the world. In addition, his ideas have become required reading or part of the national curriculum in a number of academic programs.
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“In the University of Buenos Aires five faculties use his books as required reading. In Venezuela, by law, all school children must spend an hour a week on his programmes. In Singapore 102 secondary schools use his work. In Malaysia the senior science schools have been using his work for ten years. In the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the UK, there are thousands of schools using Dr. de Bono’s programmes for the teaching of thinking” (de Bono, 2008).
Within his writings, Edward de Bono has worked to explain the processes and reasons for creativity and the concept of lateral thinking. “Parallel thinking guides thought processes in one direction at a time so we can effectively analyze issues, generate new ideas, and make better decisions” (Popovici, 2009). To teach this process, de Bono has developed a visual analogy called “Six Hats” that helps leaders and others break down the problems faced to understand them from a wide variety of viewpoints.
The “Six Hats” approach helps leaders of any group guide thinking processes in one direction at a time so that the various elements of the issue are thoroughly considered. By applying this process, teams are able to come up with new ideas, analyze issues to discover flaws or problems and ultimately make better decisions without a great deal of time lost in argument or counterproductive strategies. By using this approach, individuals begin to understand themselves as thinkers rather than reactors and are able to develop confidence in their ability to properly analyze and address the issues of their environment.
From a leadership standpoint, Six Hats provides a valuable tool that enables one to identify the problems at hand, discover numerous means of solving these issues and explore the potential consequences of these solutions. In addition, this approach enables leaders to further analyze the potential strengths and weaknesses of these consequences to determine how much they might help or hinder the goals of the group in order to select the best viable alternative for the direction the group is trying to reach. From this point, the Six Hats approach also helps leaders determine ways of implementing the new solution reached and evaluate it later to ensure it is delivering on its expected outcomes.
By envisioning new events as opportunities and being ready to pursue each opportunity to its fullest potential, leaders using this approach are able to react quickly and appropriately to changing environments and make the most of even bad situations. Finally, use of the Six Hats approach provides the individual with the confidence and competence to naturally assume the role of facilitator in group meetings, attempting to ensure group members’ thoughts and ideas are clearly articulated and organizing meetings so as to reach solutions rather than waste time.
As the name would imply, the approach is based upon the physical analogy of six hats, each hat representing a different aspect of the problem-solving process. The analogy refers back to the need for different types of hats to be worn for different professions – the baker wore a different hat from the nanny who wore a different hat than the chimney sweep. However, de Bono’s hats are different in color rather than style with each color representing a different area of thought.
These six hats are white, red, yellow, black, green and blue (Popovici, 2009). The white hat is dedicated to considerations of the facts. It is concerned with hard data and identifying what is known as opposed to what needs to be known. The red hat is more concerned with the emotional aspects of the issue. It focuses on the feelings of the situation and works to expose gut feelings, hunches and intuitive knowledge that is often helpful in making the correct choice.
The yellow hat is dedicated to consideration of the values and benefits of the situation both as it exists and in the potential values and benefits of possible solutions brought forward. Like the yellow hat, the black hat deals with the present and the potential future, but instead of the values and benefits, the black hat looks at the probable difficulties and problems of why an idea or solution might not work. The green hat looks for creativity in discovering new alternatives and solutions to an issue. This is the brainstorming hat that discovers the new ideas to be further considered while wearing other colors. The blue hat is essentially the managing hat.
It is involved in managing the thinking process, focusing the group on the current activity and determining the next steps to be taken. It is involved in determining suitable action plans for implementation and assessment as well.
In learning about these various types of hats, it is clear to me that I tend to wear the green and red hats most often. When problems arise, I am quick to jump in with half a dozen solutions before anyone else has normally even recognized a problem exists. As these solutions are being discussed, I am also the one who typically jumps in with consideration of the feelings of the situation, alerting others when I have gut feelings about something or when another member of the team is looking uncomfortable about something being discussed. When I do adopt another hat, it’s most often the yellow hat as I look to see how this idea can benefit the situation.
For every negative someone else comes up with, I’m usually the one offering the positive. However, I was surprised to realize that I do end up wearing all of the hats at one time or another, particularly when I’m working out a problem on my own. Without having realized what I was doing, my usual process is to begin with the black hat, listing off all the reasons I’m unhappy with a particular situation in the form of complaining even if it’s just to myself.
Then I begin coming back with the green hat, throwing out all kinds of weird ideas of how to get rid of each gripe. The white hat then begins to process all this information, collating it and beginning to recognize trends and patterns in my responses and in the situation. The red hat throws in input from time to time as different ideas and solutions are responded to and the black and yellow hats go to work to discover the best outcome. Finally, the blue hat identifies when my thoughts are circling unproductively and decides on the solution to be pursued and begins to develop a plan as to how to make that happen.
This concept can be used by leaders to empower his team because it cuts out a lot of meaningless arguing and instead allows all ideas to come forward. Instead of attempting to argue for any one idea, the leader can focus discussion to discover which idea might offer the best possible outcomes, creating a positive environment for the team, allowing creativity and ownership and often discovering solutions that are ‘outside of the box’ to achieve great success.
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De Bono, Peter. “Biography.” Edward de Bono’s Web. (2008). Web.
Popovici, Simona. “Six Thinking Hats from Edward de Bono.” De Bono Consulting. (2009). Web.