Reality Check: Perspectives and Hats

When you’re stuck on a difficult problem, it can be useful to look at it from different perspectives.

One way to get different perspectives is to gather together a team of people, each of whom has their own special expertise and most importantly, who want to help you.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find that wonderful team, is it? So, here’s another possibility.

Edward de Bono developed a method called Six Thinking Hats®, which encourages people to look at a problem from six perspectives. You can use it to create a fun, effective structure to help a group come up with potential solutions. But even if you have only yourself to think with, the six perspectives can still be useful.

As the name implies, de Bono associates six specific perspectives with six differently coloured “hats.” No actual hats are needed (unless you are looking for an excuse to buy six more hats.)

The yellow optimistic hat brings a positive perspective. It’s constructive, focused on benefits and opportunities and the reasons something will work. What are the good things that could happen?

The black hat could be called the devil’s advocate hat, but really, it’s the hat of caution. This perspective examines the difficulties and the risks. What can possibly go wrong?

The white neutral hat cares only for the facts and figures. It’s a perspective that reminds us that information is important in making a decision.

The blue managerial hat focuses on managing the process, figuring out action plans and steps to follow.

The red intuitive hat looks for input from feelings, hunches, and intuition. What is our gut telling us?

Finally, the green creative hat looks for possibilities, innovation, new ideas and different ways to look at the problem. It’s thinking “outside the box.”

For example, Neil’s problem is that he’s busy, time-stressed, and falling behind on his tasks. When he’s overwhelmed, he can’t decide how to start so he avoids starting altogether. That approach, of course, just makes things worse.

How might the six perspectives help?

From an optimistic yellow-hat perspective, Neil could choose to be grateful that he is so much in demand. People ask him to do things because they value his contribution. This perspective might not reduce his work load, but at least he can feel valued while he is juggling.

The pessimistic black hat perspective could encourage him to ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” If he can’t possibly do all the things he has committed to, what exactly would fall apart? Understanding what the worst case involves could help Neil prioritize and focus on making that worst case less likely.

The managerial blue hat could get him thinking about what tasks are really required of him. What’s urgent? What’s important? What can he delegate? Seldom does everything need to be done at once. How might he organize the tasks into a manageable sequence?

The white neutral hat just wants facts, which could call for a to-do list. What tasks are on Neil’s plate? How long will each require? What information and materials does he need? Fact-finding may help Neil reduce his anxiety by clarifying what he has and what he needs.

The red emotional perspective might encourage Neil to consider his gut feeling about those tasks. Is some of his discomfort a result of putting off tasks because he wants to avoid them?

The green creative hat calls out for innovative solutions. If you have a long memory, you might remember that Tom Sawyer had a creative solution for fence-painting. Might Neil also come up with creative solutions for his tasks, either to complete them or to divert them?

Can you see an application for these six perspectives in your life?

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