Monday, November 14, 2016

Thinking about the thinking hats: creative and critical thinking

This weekend it was another TTP at school (Teacher Training Programme - which we offer to teachers who work at local NGOs).  I always love doing this because it's great to work with such a dedicated group of educators, especially as many of them are working in extremely challenging situations.  This Saturday's TTP was especially great for me, however, as we had a morning workshop on the 6 Thinking Hats, run by one of our parents who is a trainer in this method.

Philip started his session with a 1 minute exercise - to look around the room and write down what you can see.  I managed to write down 16 things.  He then changed the directions - we would be still looking around the room for 1 minute but this time we would do it in 15 second chunks - to look at the front of the room, the ceiling, the back of the room and the people in the room.  This time I managed to jot down 27 things.  It was clear that when we were channeled and targeted that we were able to get more out of the exercise.

Philip then went on to explain the principle of parallel thinking and explained that the idea behind the 6 thinking hats is to all be thinking in one direction at a time (like train tracks).  Generally, without direction, we adopt one of four thinking preferences:
  • Clarifier - making sure everyone knows what we are trying to solve.
  • Ideator - someone who comes up with expansive and often wild ideas
  • Developer - someone who takes the ideas and refines them
  • Implementor - the person who takes action.
Edward de Bono's research into the mind in the 1960s led him to develop an interest in creative and lateral thinking, which in turn led him later into developing his model of parallel thinking.  He pointed out that critical thinking is great for a career in parliament or the law courts, but not great if we are trying to encourage creativity.  Critical thinking is related to only 2 of the 6 hats.
  • White Hat - this is the information hat.  When wearing this hat you look for information and assess how accurate and relevant it is.  You can also consider other points of view.
  • Red Hat - this is the feeling hat and covers perceptions, intuition and emotions.
  • Yellow Hat - the first of the critical thinking hats - looks for the logical positive value of something - why an idea has value and how it can work.  This is the most difficult of the hats.
  • Black Hat - this is the second critical thinking hat - looks for logical negatives such as the problems and risks associated with an idea.  This is the hat of caution.  Philip said that the black hat can be the most useful hat - but it is also easy to overuse it.
  • Green Hat - this is the creative hat that encourages you to ideate and consider alternatives, possibilities and choices.
  • Blue Hat - this is the hat that helps you frame the problem and it's worn by only one member of the group.  Philip likened this to the air traffic controller or the conductor of an orchestra.  The role of the person wearing this hat is to look down on the whole process and at thinking as a whole.
Another great analogy for the 6 Thinking Hats is that of a set of golf clubs - you deliberately choose which one you will use for a particular shot.  Without the different golf clubs (hats) it's like just using one club for all the different shots.  Alongside this is the idea that creativity can be learned - we all have the potential to be creative and we can learn to be more skilled to maximize our potential.

Which hat do you use first?  Well mostly you would start with the white and the red hats and then move onto the yellow and black.  However the order does vary depending on whether or not the topic under discussion is a controversial one.  If you use the black hat first you may be getting rid of ideas that would work if the green hat was then used to work on them.  In those situations it's better to start with the yellow hat so that you immediately recognize all the good points about the ideas.  In fact De Bono said that the yellow hat was his favourite.  However if the subject is a controversial one it might be better to start with the black hat - but be sure that what is discussed is black hat and not red hat thinking!

With the red hat, it might be useful to do a group check on feelings.  We did this with a quick "love it or hate it" continuum.  If the feeling is spread across the whole continuum then the group is not ready to make a decision.  The red hat can be used several times throughout the process, for example to do a personal or group check or to get feelings about a decisions (parallel thinking).  The green hat can also be used in different ways.  It can be used for designing and brainstorming new ideas or it can also be used to overcome issues, for example to fix some of the black hat issues or difficulties (lateral thinking).  Philip explained about lateral thinking being like a roundabout - there are many different options and if one way isn't working you can come back to the roundabout to choose a different route.

Philip spoke a lot about creativity.  He said that creativity is the best and cheapest way to get added value from your exiting assets.  It's a logical necessity.  As time passes we get more, new information and we have to make use of this new information.  Being right at each stage is not enough - you have to go back and redesign or recreate when new information comes in.  The order information comes in will determine the outcome.  You don't know the future so you can't arrange for the future.  With creativity it is logical only in hindsight - so we don't need better logic we need more creativity and we must learn the skills of creative thinking.  He explained that the 6 Thinking Hats are a way of "designing accidents".  For example here in India we frequently experience roads being blocked during the monsoon season.  This necessitates us having to search out new routes.  Sometimes as we do this we make happy discoveries - maybe a new restaurant that we would not have found had we stuck to our regular route.  What De Bono's thinking hats do is to design these "accidents" to generate ideas.

There could be 2 reasons why you want to use the Thinking Hats for ideas - these could be "active" to design something, or "reactive" in response to something.  The blue hat person will design the sequences which might look like this:

Active:  Blue - White (info) - Red (feelings) -> Green (ideas) - Red (feelings about ideas) - Yellow (value of ideas) - Black (risks of the ideas) - Green (overcoming the risks) - Red (new feelings about the ideas) -> Blue

Reactive:  Blue - Red (feelings) - White (info) -> Black (if controversial) or Yellow (value) - Black (risks) - Green (ideas) - Black (risks based on new ideas) - Green (ideas) -Red (feelings) -> Blue

This week in India we have been faced with most of our currency (the 500 and 1000 rupee notes) being abolished.  We used this as a case study.  We started with our feelings (most in my group were fairly negative) but after going through the process we were able to generate many ideas as to how we could make the best of the situation and reduce the impact on those people who are most struggling (those small businesses who rely on the cash economy).  We ended this session feeling much more positive about the currency changes and the reasons behind the government's decision.

Have you used the Six Thinking Hats?  I'd love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credit: jnd_photography Flickr via Compfight cc

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