Assessing a Decision Based on Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats Technique
In the book Six Thinking Hats Edward de Bono describes the process of parallel thinking. This process means looking at problems from all angles at once. Edward de Bono uses the example of four people all looking at the same house. One person is looking at the front. Another is looking at the back. The other is looking at the left side. The final person is looking at the right side. These people are all arguing about what the house looks like, while each has a different view of the house. The fact is that what everyone is seeing is part of what the house looks like. But as long as they are all only seeing one side, they will never agree. They will also never really understand what the entire house looks like. The four people then walk around the house and view all sides. Finally, they all agree on what the house looks like. Now that they have seen the house from all angles, they also have a view of the house that is closer to what it is really like. The same process applies to solving a problem and making a decision about what to do about the problem. If you look at the problem from only one angle, you do not understand it fully. However, if you look at the decision from as many angles as possible, you understand it more fully and come up with a better decision. This approach also means that various views are considered fully instead of people arguing based on their own viewpoint. Edward de Bono explains the difference by saying that "in traditional thinking, if two people disagree, there is an argument in which each tries to prove the other party wrong. In parallel thinking, both views, no matter how contradictory, are put down in parallel" (de Bono 1999, p. 4). Just like in looking at the house, all the views are shared and then a complete picture is gained. Edward de Bono offers the six thinking hats technique as a way of allowing parallel thinking to occur. The technique involves separating different types of thinking so they can all be used, but without competing against each other. In this technique, there are six hats and they are all used to look at the problem in a different way. The six hats and the type of thinking they represent are:
white hat -- used for thinking about information red hat -- used for thinking about feelings, intuition and emotion black hat -- used for thinking about negative points, such as problems and difficulties yellow hat -- used for thinking about positive points, such as the benefits and positive outcomes green hat -- used for creative thinking blue hat -- used for controlling the process
To consider how the six thinking hats technique can be used to solve problems and make better decisions, a real situation will now be described. The decision that will be described was made without the technique. By considering how the technique could have improved the decision made, the usefulness of the six thinking hats technique will be shown.
The decision that was recently made involved creating a new marketing plan for a product. This decision was made based on a problem, which was that the product was not selling as well as expected. Based on this, the sales and marketing team were called into a meeting. At the meeting, the reasons for the low sales were discussed. The marketing manager then told everyone he wanted a new marketing plan developed and wanted the focus of the marketing plan to be decided. The team discussed options for the marketing plan. This involved several people suggesting ideas, with other people responding by either supporting the idea or stating problems with it. The idea that gained the most support was then selected as the one to follow. The rest of the meeting involved discussing and agreeing on the details. Several team members were then assigned tasks to complete for the plan to go ahead. The decision made did achieve positive results as sales did increase. However, there may also have been better decisions that could have achieved better results. This will now be considered by discussing what would have happened if the decision was made using six hats thinking.
The first of the six hats is the white hat. White hat thinking means looking at data and information. With this hat on, people might consider what data is known about the problem, what information they have, and what data or information would help to make a good decision. In the case of the decision made, there was very little white hat thinking. The known problem was that sales were down. This problem was based on sales data. However, there was no thinking that looked into the reason that sales were down. Nobody asked if the cause of the low sales were known and nobody asked if there was any information that could help to decide on a suitable campaign or strategy. Using white hat thinking would have helped in several ways. Firstly, if the reason for the low sales was looked into, this might have shown that marketing was not the reason for the low sales. Another factor may have been recognized to explain the data. With this factor known, whatever the problem was could then be fixed. For example, analysis might have shown that there were new competitors in the market with cheaper products. This may explain the drop in sales. The action to take would then take this into account. In this case, the best solution might not be to create a new marketing campaign. Instead, the best solution might be to lower the price to match that of competing products. One of the important points is that the marketing campaign will probably still increase sales. However, it also does not deal with the base problem. Therefore, sales will still be lower than they should be. This show how finding the cause of a problem helps to make the right decision. This is also described by Daft (1997, p. 288) who says that "managers make a mistake if they jump right into generating alternatives without first exploring the cause of the problem more deeply." This was a mistake made, with the causes not considered at all. Instead, the focus was on finding a solution. It seems likely that the solution found would have been a better one if the causes had of been known. White hat thinking may have also involved looking at past sales data. For example, what happened to sales during past marketing campaigns? Which ones were most effective? Which ones were least effective? What other products are selling well and why? This information could have helped to identify suitable solutions. One of the positive points of this is that the best solution would have been chosen based on data and not just based on opinion.
The second of the six hats is the red hat. Red hat thinking means looking at emotions, feelings, and intuition. The most important point about red hat thinking in this situation is that the decision made was based on emotions, feelings, and intuition. For each solution that was stated, people either accepted it and supported it or rejected it. The acceptance or rejection of the solution was not based on any valid reason but was more people saying that they either liked or disliked the idea. If red hat thinking had of been used, this thinking based on intuition and emotion would have been separated from the other types of thinking. This means that it still would have been used, but would have been used along with the other types of considerations. I think greater white hat thinking would also have made people realize that red hat thinking was being relied on too much. For example, in considering alternative solutions Peter Mayer (1995) says that the best solution is the one that fits the desired results. Ralph L. Keeney (1994) agrees and adds that the best solution should fit the desired results and use the least resources. If more white hat thinking had of been used, the decision-making process would have included deciding how to assess alternative solutions. It may have been noted that the best decision should get results, be completed as quickly as possible, and cost the least amount of money. The alternatives suggested could then have been considered based on how well they met this criteria. As it was, the decisions were assessed based on no clear criteria. Very few people explained why they were accepting or rejecting a solution so it is not clear how solutions were being assessed. However, it is likely they the solutions were not based on the best reasons possible. Janis and Mann (2000) describe how most people make decisions based on satisficing, which means looking for a…