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What Color is Your Decision-Making Hat?

pensive young woman posing with a hat on a white background

Face it, decision making can be hard. We sometimes get into the same old thinking patterns, which may not serve us in every type of problem that needs to be faced. This is especially true for teams that are used to tight deadlines. When they have to think fast, they habitually tackle all issues with the same approach. For example, does your team view all challenges through a “what’s the risk” or “what’s the weakness” lens? Looking at things in different ways can help us innovate and identify exciting new solutions. It can also uncover potential problems we might not have originally considered. Ready to learn an easy way to do this?

Dr. Edward de Bono describes the importance of looking at six different perspectives when we are making a business decision on our own or with our teams. His wonderful book, Six Thinking Hats, pushes us to examine a problem from different angles, which minimizes our natural tendency to see issues through a single lens. It’s a brilliant idea.

Here are the six “hats” or perspectives the author recommends trying on when we analyze a problem:

White Hat:  neutral and objective; concerned with logic, facts and figures Red Hat:  the emotional view and feelings; the “gut reaction” Black Hat:  cautious and careful; points out the weaknesses and risks Yellow Hat:  sunny, positive and optimistic; highlights the benefits Green Hat:  creative and fresh; identifies new ideas, possibilities and alternatives Blue Hat:  organization-focused; process-oriented; summarizes and draws conclusions

Dr. de Bono explains that using these six different perspectives can do much more than just simplify our business decision-making. According to him, if we use the “hats” in order, decisions will practically make themselves. Sounds like a great productivity tool to me! The author adds that the six-thinking-hat approach is particularly effective in these situations:

  1. When you need a more systematic way to make decisions

  2. When you need to explore a subject more fully

  3. When you want to speed up decision-making but still be thorough

  4. When you want to stretch for more innovative solutions

  5. When your team cannot agree

This concept was helpful when one of my clients seemed to be over-using the Black Hat at work. He had fallen into a pattern of viewing issues in a critical manner which kept him in problem mode vs. solution mode. He started to notice that teams would not invite him to meetings for his input. Staying in the Black Hat, pointing out the risks, did not move him toward solutions. Can you imagine how he was viewed by co-workers if that careful, cautious perspective always came from him? His input and perspective might have helped to avoid risk, but he ignored the possibilities of exploring fresh, creative solutions. Would you want to invite this person to your strategic planning sessions? Maybe not, unless he could broaden his perspective.

As we worked on this together, he saw the benefits of using all the hat colors in his thinking. It took time, but his ability to influence others and contribute as a balanced, credible team member finally got back on track when he grasped the idea of giving the other “hats” equal time. As I reminded him, wearing the Black Hat is not intrinsically bad; it actually provides great value. Being able to spot potential dangers and prevent costly mistakes are vital components of smart decision-making. The challenge is knowing when it’s time to switch hats and infuse some other perspectives into the process.

Has your team tried six-hat thinking? Or have they gotten a little too comfortable wearing the same color? I’d love to hear about your experiences with incorporating different perspectives in your decision-making process.

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