I once had a boss come into my office as I was working on a problem and staring out my window. He asked what was I doing and I told him I was “thinking.” He told me to “get back to work.” That is the irony of believing activity equals productivity. Leaders know thinking is the most important work you do.
One of the great thinking exercises I have in my leadership toolbox is Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats. DeBono uses six different colored imaginary hats to assist leaders with dealing with a problem. He organizes and directs our thinking by having us put on one hat at a time. Below is a brief example.
Problem: A few months ago I had a very difficult volunteer begin making association policy without permission, report meetings inaccurately and call for an employee to be fired.
The White Hat calls for information known or needed. I am the beat cop, name, dates and information on the situation. Compile a report of the facts.
The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. This situation makes me mad. She is upset and making others upset. She is reacting this way because they are over their head and looking to blame somebody.
The Black Hat is judgment — the devil's advocate or why something may not work. This volunteer is not helpful and is crazy. The longer she is involved the more people get upset.
The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. At least she is involved. We are getting some inside information on the subject. There is no lack of passion in the situation. I think we could train her and have an even better volunteer.
The Green Hat focuses on creativity: the possibilities, alternatives and new ideas. Here are the alternatives: train her, “fire” her, give her an award and tell her her service is done.
The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. No one hat should dominate; let’s combine the hats to come to a plan and next few steps to deal with this.
“Don’t just stand there—do something” or for a leader it might be, “don’t just do something, stand there…(and think).”
Which “hat” is easiest for you to “wear?” What current problem needs you to put on your thinking hats?