— Lito Apostolakou
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olsen, President, Chairman and Founder, Digital Equipment
“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked
with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is
a fad that won’t last out the year.”
Editor, Prentice Hall Business Books, 1957
The editor who made the above statement in 1957 certainly might have believed this conclusion based on the information he had available at that time. Speaking in 1977, Ken Olsen, too, trusted that his aphorism was correct. Our assumptions, for good or for ill, are so integral to our thinking processes that they are not always easy to recognize. Yet smart business decisions are a mix not only of available data and analysis of past trends but also of intuition, creativity, cooperation, innovation and the ability to explore a situation from many perspectives.
Cooperation, exploration, innovation
When the Iceland-based interactive media group Gagarin sent its clients a set of 6 colour coded pencils for Christmas, it wasn’t just another advertising gimmick.
The Six Thinking Pencils were inspired by Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, a powerful technique that can help decision-makers and planners explore diverse perspectives and challenge their habitual thinking.
Originator of the term “lateral thinking” and author of the book Six Thinking Hats in 1985, Edward de Bono was a proponent of the deliberate teaching of thinking. The thinking technique he developed was meant to encourage “co-operation, exploration and innovation,” in order to help “people to separate fact from opinion, to look fully at both positive and negative opinions and to get hidden agendas that can sabotage any meeting on the table.”
The Six Thinking Hats Exercise
In the Six Thinking Hats role-play exercise -ideal for business and brainstorming meetings- the participants symbolically wear a specific hat and seek to approach the problem at hand from a specific viewpoint represented by that hat:
- The White Hat represents focus at the information and available data at hand; analysis of and extrapolation from past trends.
- The Red Hat represents intuition, feelings, emotions, hunches and gut reaction.
- The Black Hat represents potential problems, weak points, reasons why something may not work (the pessimist’s view)
- The Yellow Hat represents the positive points and benefits of the plan or decision, the reasons why something may work (the optimist’s point of view)
- The Green Hat represents creativity, possibilities, new ideas, and alternatives
- The Blue Hat represents the management of the thinking process, action plans, next steps, focus – (it is worn by chairpersons at meetings)
Participants in this exercise identify an issue and are then divided in groups and asked to identify with the point of view represented by each hat. The thinking process could involve asking:
- “What is the available information we have on this issue?” (White Hat)
- “What feelings and gut reactions we have on the issue?” (Red Hat)
- “What are the negative aspects of the issue?” (Black Hat)
- “What is positive about the issue?” (Yellow Hat)
- “What creative, innovative solutions or possibilities are there?” (Green Hat)
- “What conclusions can be drawn, what are the next steps and way forward?” (Blue Hat)
Challenge your assumptions with brainstorming
De Bono has been criticised of being more interested in the value of developing ideas than proving the reliability of his approach.
However, the Six Thinking Hats technique can be a useful tool in a business environment “by providing a means to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way,” according to the developers of the colour coded pencils; “Each participant selects one pencil and then approaches the discussion with a mindset matching the pencil’s colour. By switching pencils the participants systematically redirect their thoughts on the subject. This ensures that the group thinks together in a focused manner.”
De Bono’s technique emphasizes the importance of exploration of diverse perspectives, the desirability of cooperation and minimization of confrontation, the significance of creativity, intuition and innovation, the value of forming comprehensive strategies while considering the opinions of others. Most importantly, the Six Thinking Hats highlights the importance of challenging assumptions as a way to make smart decisions in business and in life.