Monday, September 13, 2010

A Colorful Way of Solving Problems

Problem solving is a systematic thinking process to bring about change.  In ordinary thinking, the thinker leaps from critical thinking to neutrality to optimism and so on without structure or strategy.

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint, and this is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at problems from emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoints. This can mean that they underestimate the problem, don't consider all consequences, and fail to understand the feasibility of the solution.

A colleague and friend (thanks Ken) recently introduced me to Six Thinking Hats.  This is a thinking tool for group discussion and individual thinking created by Edward de Bono. The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be identified, deliberately accessed and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues.

Each "Thinking Hat" is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:

White Hat:
Objective, neutral thinking in terms of facts, numbers and information.  With this thinking hat, you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it.

Red Hat:
Emotional, with judgements, suspicions and intuitions.  'Wearing' the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally.

Black Hat:
Negative, sees risks and thinks about why something will not function. Using this hat, look cautiously and defensively at all the bad points of the decision. Try to see why ideas and approaches might not work.  Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans tougher and more resilient.

Yellow Hat:
Positive, optimistic, clear, effective and constructive. This hat helps you to think positively and to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it.  Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

Green Hat:
Creative, seeks alternatives. The green hat is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas.  A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.

Blue Hat:
Or Meta hat, thinking about thinking.  The blue thinker's role is to keep an overview of what thinking is necessary to scout the subject.  The Blue Hat stands for process control.

The Six Thinking Hats tool  can be a powerful technique used to look at problems from different points of view. All of these thinking hats help for thinking deeper.  This helps us move away from habitual thinking styles and towards a more rounded view of a situation.

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  1. Interesting way to look at a problem from all the viewpoints. It is a good tool that can help make looking at the problems a conscious decision. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. Interesting post. Does this mean that the people coming to the PDCA table generally wears a specific hat (probably the red, emotional hat) and need to open their minds to wearing all the hats? ~ JC

  3. Good post. In my experience where I work we would also need a "It's going to be too much work" hat. Every new idea that gets presented, by the few that have them, is met with that resistance.

  4. Well, George, if it was easy then everyone would be able to do it and they would do it well. This does highlight the importance of considering mutliple points of view. In the beginning of any change when the organization is not set-up for learning uch resistance can be found. It is a human defense mechanism to protect your area or stuff. I find that many will recognize there is a problem but naturally argue the solution. I like to turn the question around in this case and ask them how the would solve the problem. What solution would they come up to this problem. Be persistant. Eventually, you will convert some to follow this change and those will get others to follow and so on. Check out my post on Coping with Resistance to Change.