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Thinking Hats

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Thinking Hats

Tom Elenbaas

For several years now, I've read the book Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton to my daughter Nora. I remember reading The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss when I was a kid. Now, the books I read for myself are a bit different, and I'd love to introduce you to one I read recently.

It started through a conversation with my wife's uncle, Bill. He's the COO of a tech company, and we were talking about leadership, decision-making, and how to move teams strategically forward into new ventures. I've always been a fan of the different styles and personalities out of which we lead. We've used the Kolbe, the DISC profile, Myers-Briggs, and any other number of assessments throughout the years. I know the Enneagram is often used throughout churches these days, as well. This past August, the VP of our church board led us through a healthy team exercise, based in Jungian psychology, in which we learned which type of 4 types of people were our strongest. It was really helpful. My favorite line from the night was when an Analyst said to the Entertainers: "Your enthusiasm is unlikely to persuade us." True.

So, the general approach here is to a) make sure everyone has a voice in the discussion because people come at the discussion from different vantage points, b) we're smarter when we include each of those voices. Good stuff, and I've tried to make this a practice.

However, Bill suggested a book called The Six Thinking Hats by Edward DeBono. At first, to be honest, I thought it was just another version on the personality assessments, but I was wrong. This theory looks at the 6 different ways of thinking about an idea, topic, new product, problem, etc. and uses a thinking process and a set of language tools to enhance conversation.

Here are the basics: you move into specific types of thinking at specific times all together. So, instead of having your creatives fighting against your implementors or your detail oriented people struggling with your entrepreneurs, you all enter into the same kind thinking at the same time. Everyone becomes a blue sky thinker. Everyone looks at the darkside. Either that, or you identify what kind of thinking you're doing at a particular time. That way, if you're speaking out of pure emotion, people will know that you're not necessarily engaging the facts. So, instead of the natural conflict that can come between people whose personalities are clashing because they approach the subject differently, you each enter one another's skins for a bit to think alike. It reminds of the "rules" of certain thinking time spaces that I read about years ago when studying Disney's Imagineering after hearing a presentation at a conference by one of the original Disney Imagineers. 

For instance, the red hat signifies hunches, intuitions, and feelings. At a particular point when things may feel a little tense, the group facilitator might say, "Hey... let's all put on our red hats for a moment. Let's just jump around the room and I want you to share your gut right now. How are you feeling about this?" While at another point, you might conversely all figuratively put the white hat on. "Alright, let's get all the hard facts on the table about this. What do we know and how do we know it. Just the facts, not even interpretation right now." You all agree to collectively enter into a particular space for the moment to get everything can on the table in the room from that perspective.

The vision I have of the normal personality driven approach is two people facing one another and trying to convince each other of their perspective while trying to remember each other's gifts and personalities. While reading this book, the new picture I had was instead of the "stand-off," the two people together are facing the problem, issue, or opportunity from the same vantage point, and then switching to look at it consistently from additional points of view - together. This helps to eliminate the often "over-againstness" that sometimes happens in a team meeting and focuses all the energy together towards the task at hand.

It's a really helpful model. I've not really started using it, yet but am hoping to employ it in the near future. I'll let you know how it goes, but if you're a leader and this is the type of thing you employ in your actual leadership, I'd encourage you to try on some hats. 

white hat

The White Hat calls for information known or needed. "The facts, just the facts."

yellow hat

The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.

black hat

The Black Hat is judgment - the devil's advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.

red hat

The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.

green hat

The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It's an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.

blue hat

The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It's the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed.

One application that wasn't mentioned in the book but that came to my mind was the marriage relationship. As I've counseled numerous couples over the years and even in my own marriage, I've watched personalities and thinking styles clash when it comes to hot or difficult subjects when the stakes are high. I'm wondering aloud if this tool might be applied to the high energy conversation around a difficult subject like taking a new job, parenting a new child, expanding the family, dealing with a difficult family member, or buying a new toy. Would love to know what you think. (And who wants to write the book, Six Thinking Hats in the Marriage Relationship?

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