Everything is a Model – The 6 Thinking Hats

Dear colleagues, here is an attempt to share a view of the world (I call it yet another model). Then, within this framework, periodically share practical models that could be useful in our lives and profession.

Let’s stay a bit with this bold generalization that “everything is a model”. At a simplistic level we can observe that every thought we have about anything is just a representation of it in our mind. The model we were able to construct with our cognitive capacity, is totally separated from the actual anything. Moreover, the model is rather “one view” and represents our actual cognitive capacity, rather than the actual anything.

Let’s take as an example the atomic model we remember from the high school’s physics. I recall our teacher talking about the “plum pudding” model, then the “planetary” model of the atom then fast forward to today we talk about the “quantum physics” model. This is similar to everything abstract that our mind can’t easily qualify and quantify; so it starts to build on top of the most similar known models. At every stage of its evolution, a model is a mere view of our humanity upon our self-awareness and environment. Curious about the atomic model in 100 years from now, ha?

So in the thinking framework where “everything we hear is an opinion, everything we see is a perspective” and the “absolute truth” we can agree is a naive “model”, I plan to briefly introduce you to some interesting models we stumble across, including suggestions of applicability in our real lives. Maybe the idea behind what I’m sharing is similar or not as rich as other notions, but in the end are all yet another model.

6 Thinking Hats

 

Now, to get more practical in this article, I plan to introduce you to a model (if you haven’t heard of it already) proposed by Edward de Bono in his book “Six Thinking Hats” in 1985. Pretty old, right? J

In a nutshell, a hat is a metaphor for one particular way of thinking. Each hat in Mr. de Bono’s model represents a focused and, one could say, extreme way of thinking. We can even extrapolate from these 6 thinking pillars that our daily thinking navigates continuously through these states of thinking, like a state machine. Some of us are wired to stay in the vicinity of the same thinking patterns, some are more emotional, some are driven more by numbers and facts.

To introduce the hats, I would simply copy paste the description directly from the book as given by Mr. de Bono.

  • “Hat White: The target is neutral and objective. The white hat takes care of objective facts and numbers.
  • Hat Red: The red one suggests wrath, (to see red), fury and emotions. The red hat gives the emotional point of view.
  • Hat Black: The black one is sad and negative. The black hat covers negative aspects – why something cannot be done.
  • Hat Yellow: The yellow one is glad and positive. The yellow hat is optimist and covers the hope and the positive thought.
  • Hat Green: The green one is turf, vegetation and fertile growth, abundant. The green hat indicates new creativity and ideas.
  • Hat Blue: The blue one is cold, and is also the color of the sky, that is in favor of everything. The blue hat takes care of the control and the organization of thought processes. Also of the use of the other hats.”

Staying a bit with the book, Mr. de Bono also highlights his main intentions of thinking with six hats.

  1. The hats allow to think and say things that we otherwise couldn’t without risking our ego. Disguising ourselves as clowns authorizes us to act as such.
  2. They are a way of directing attention to a subject. Used in groups, it introduces parallel thinking, everyone looking in the same direction (at a time), not conflictual thinking.
  3. Using the hats is a convenient way of asking someone to switch their current way of thinking based on the needs that seem more relevant at that time.
  4. Establishes the rules of the game where people are very good at learning the rules for games – the “Game” to think in this case.

When tackling a topic, using the hats sequentially for a limited amount of time, allows drawing a better map of that topic from 6 different angles, not to mention the efficiency of the system, where you do one thing at a time.

In groups, even with good intentions and clear shared objectives, there is a natural tendency for „spaghetti thinking“ where one person is thinking about the benefits while others consider the facts and so on. The hats process avoids this.

Besides the book, a lot of organizations and consultants have taken the model and are using it to improve efficiency and satisfaction in group activities. There are plenty of articles and summaries of the 6 thinking hats, so I won’t insist here. I would just close with examples of using the hats based on what you need.

Usage

 

You can design your own sequence of hat usage, based on your goal, but you should always start and end with the Blue Hat where the group decides together how they will think, then they will do the thinking and then evaluate the outcome and establish next steps.

Each hat is typically used for 2 minutes, at a time – maybe when starting, the White Hat would extend to get everyone aligned, and the Red Hat is recommended to be used for a very short period to get a visceral gut reaction – about 30 seconds (to avoid any time for thinking). In feedback sessions some use the Black Hat before the Yellow Hat to neutralize extremely negative people; once they voiced their feedback, they might even think positively.

Typical sequences based on the goal. Start with the ones below and adjust.

  • Initial Ideas – Blue, White, Green, Blue
  • Choosing between alternatives – Blue, White, (Green), Yellow, Black, Red, Blue
  • Identifying Solutions – Blue, White, Black, Green, Blue
  • Feedback – Blue, Black, Yellow, Green, Blue
  • Strategic Planning – Blue, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green, Blue
  • Process Improvement – Blue, White, White (Other people’s views), Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue
  • Solving Problems – Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue
  • Performance Review – Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue

With this said, I invite you to try it for yourself, or not, and share your opinion, impressions, experience on a dedicated Accesa Yammer group – Everything is a Model or directly to me in an e-mail. Looking forward to see how this model fits.

As a final thought related to modeling the mind, I would leave you with a quote from The Book of Est by Luke Rhinehart: „the mind’s purpose is to keep itself intact, it makes us look for other similar minds, it makes us look for books that have our beliefs in them, it’s always trying to justify itself, the mind is always looking for agreement … in order to survive, it wants reconfirmations for its points of view, of its decisions, of its conclusions …  it wants to keep proving itself right!“