How To Change Your Thinking

How To Change Your Thinking

Here is a simple and powerful technique for changing the way you think about any particular problem

In the early eighties Edward de Bono (who coined the term ‘lateral thinking’) created the “Six Thinking Hats” process.  He recognised that we do not use anywhere near the full capacity of our minds, so developed a framework to help improve the quality of our thinking and therefore our decisions.

The six hats represent six modes of thinking.  They are directions to think, not labels.  In other words, the hats are used proactively to improve our thinking, rather than reactively to label the way someone thinks.

Why did de Bono use hats in his framework?  Well, I am sure you have heard the phrase “put on your thinking cap”.  This reminds us that thinking often needs to be a deliberate act.  Additionally, we use hats to help us assume certain roles – eg. you would act quite differently depending on whether you put on a chef’s hat, a policeman’s helmet, a clown’s hat or a workman’s hard hat.  The six thinking hats method uses this concept to help us adopt a variety of perspectives that may be very different from the one that we most naturally use.  Like physical hats, we can “put on” and “take off” different thinking hats as appropriate.

The key is that you don’t have to believe in the viewpoint you’re adopting when wearing a particular hat; you just follow the rules and imagine “what if” you did.  Not surprisingly, you’ll be amazed what happens when you do this…

How the framework improves thinking

We often get stuck in a particular mode of thinking, which becomes unconscious. In groups, people often feel constrained to thinking in a certain way, to meet others’ expectations, or to avoid embarrassment or conflict.  This can limit the extent to which an issue can be explored. The six hats system addresses this issue and promotes better, more balanced input from everyone involved.

The system is designed to encourage people to focus on achieving a result, rather than defending their ego or feeling afraid to voice their opinions.  Everyone is free to contribute to the thinking process because they are using a recognised thinking system, and don’t have to worry about what other people’s reactions will be to their input.

One thinking style (or hat) is not inherently “better” or “worse” than another. A good decision will be supported by using all six hats in turn to consider all aspects of the issue.

How to use the process

Firstly you need to understand what style of thinking each of the 6 hats represents, so here is a summary of the rules for you. Then you can use the system on your own, or in a group in a couple of ways. You can even set the agenda for a meeting over a particular topic using the process.

Alone: To work through a problem on your own, imagine you’re wearing each hat in turn and brainstorm all the ideas that come into your head while you’re wearing each one.  Also become aware of which hat you naturally wear when left to your own devices.  Once you’re aware of that, you can choose to put on different coloured hats from time to time.

In a group: Option one is to have everyone to wear the same hat at the same time and use each hat in turn.  For example… start with the white hat, then move on to the yellow and black hats, and finish with the green hat.

 In a group, Option two is to have each person wearing a different hats, so long as they are periodically rotated around the group.  This creates an effective form of role-play.  You could introduce the process this way: “During the next hour, I’d like each of you to take responsibility for wearing a particular hat so we get a balanced view.

Meeting agendas: Hats may be used in a structured sequence depending on the nature of the issue. Here are a couple of examples:

1. For a new idea…

  • Present the facts (White)
  • Generate ideas on to handle it (Green)
  • List the benefits (Yellow)
  • List the drawbacks (Black)
  • Get everybody’s gut feelings (Red)
  • Summarise, decisions (Blue)

2. For a well known problem…

  • Get people’s current feelings (Red)
  • List the benefits (Yellow)
  • List the drawbacks (Black)
  • Alternatives – to overcome negatives (Green)
  • The facts (White)
  • Summarise, decisions (Blue)

Have fun thinking in a whole new way… you might be surprised at what happens…

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