What color hat are you wearing right now?

six hatsYou happen to walk into one of my classes and find a roomful of managers wearing silly hats in a variety of colors. What’s going on here?

Edward DeBono developed Six Thinking Hats  as a technique to give decision-makers a rich repertoire of techniques for thinking about a problem. I’ve found this to be a great help to trigger multiple ways of looking at a question. It’s a way to remind me that I need both intuition and information, both positive and skeptical outlooks. We each tend to favor one of these thinking styles. Here they are. Which hat do you wear most often?

White—information. Consider the facts and information available.

Red—emotion. Consider the gut, intuitive response to the alternatives without justification.

Black—pessimism. Identify reasons to be cautious, potential problems.

Yellow—optimism. Identify benefits and opportunities.

Green—creativity. Seek ideas beyond the usual or obvious.

Blue—process. Facilitate the discussion, note conclusions and action items.

I’ve done quick group decision exercises in which each group is given a set of actual hats and each of the members is to put on a hat and view the problem from that perspective, then switch hats. Hence the roomful of managers wearing colored hats, even the silly green party hat (Get in touch with your inner child!). Interestingly, I noticed that actually wearing the hat made it easier for the participants to take on the roles. It’s easier to criticize your friends when you’re wearing the bad-guy black hat. But you don’t need actual hats to take on each thinking style.

For the most robust decisions, you’ll want a team of people representing all thinking styles. The problem that arises in a group, though, is that people who are working earnestly on a common problem will run into conflict simply because they are each focused on different thinking styles. For example,

Green hat: “Here’s an idea.”
Black hat: “Here’s a problem with your idea.”
Green hat: “Why are you shooting down my idea?”

Red hat: “Something doesn’t feel right about this approach.”
White hat: “What’s wrong with you? The data show it’s perfect.”

Here’s the solution from DeBono. For complex group decisions, have everyone take on the same hat in turn. This prevents conflicts between different thinking styles. For example, start with the blue hat to set the agenda and ground rules. Then all put on your red hats to get initial impressions, the green hats to generate ideas, the yellow hats to look for opportunities, the black hats to identify risks, and the white hats to assess the options. You may want to cycle through these again. For example, “Let’s all put on our red hats and see how we feel about the answer we’ve chosen.”

Have you ever used the technique of Six Thinking Hats? How did you use it? How did it work for you?

Overwhelmed? Big decisions in little time

notime“Aaaaugh! I can’t go through seven steps to make a decision. Do you know how many decisions I have to make every day? I can’t spend any time on them,” he wailed. Have you ever felt like that? I have. In an earlier post I passed on several techniques for making a decision in a minute, but a few times every day I bump up against some issues that need more than that.

Here’s the good news. You can actually go through the seven steps in ten minutes or less to make a moderately complex decision.

Step Activity Time
0: Preparation Get pencil and paper 30 sec.
1: Mission Write down the issue or question 30 sec.
2: End-time We already set this for 10 minutes 0 sec.
3: Goals List as many goals, considerations, constraints and criteria as you can 1 min.
4: Alternatives List as many alternatives as you can 1 min.
5: Visualization Pick the 3 to 5 most important goals and the 3 to 5 most promising alternatives 1 min.
5: Visualization Lay out a grid with the key alternatives across the top and the key goals down the left side. 1 min.
5: Visualization Imagine each alternative as though it has happened. Put a score from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) in each cell reflecting how well you imagine the alternative meeting the goal. 2 min.
6: Insight Compare the scores for each alternative with the others and choose the best. 2 min.
7. Make it happen You have your answer. Get out of that chair and go do something about it. 1 min.

Listen to your gut. Much of this is subjective. The scores you give in the Visualization step are a subjective rating based on your expectations and your emotional reactions to the images you have created for yourself.

If the winner is not obvious in the Insight step, add up the scores. If the top two are close, pick the one that does best on your most important goal.

That’s it. You can do several of these a day. Relax, take a deep breath and then move forward.

Do you have techniques for quick decisions that you can share? How do you do it?