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Monday, January 16, 2006

Crisis management: Put on six thinking hats instead of one

Six hats, each a different colour. Each colour signifies a different skill and is assigned to individuals. Collectively, a group of corporate executives will be able to sit together and solve the trickiest business problems, using the colour coded hats as their guide to analyse the company’s problems.

A little creativity can add just the right spark in solving corporate problems, according to Dr Edward Bono, an expert on creativity in management. “Thinking is a skill and like any skill, it can be developed and improved, if one knew how,” says Dr Edward de Bono. In a series of workshops held for Tata Steel executives, Dr Bono highlighted a new technique, ideal for meetings and a collective approach to problem solving.

Dr Bono was invited to speak at the Tata Steel Management Development Centre in Jamshedpur recently. The company had initiated the “Mindset Management” programme in September 1998 to inculcate a new way of thinking in every person in the company. The aim was to expose at least 4,000 people to these concepts. Dr Bono was invited to speak as part of the ‘Mindset Management’ programme. According to Tata Steel Management Development Centre assistant general manager DR Mody, “There is a constant need for each of us to understand ourselves better. The advantage right now for the company is that the people are ready to change.”

The ‘Six Thinking Hats’ approach is designed to move thinking away from the normal argument style. This makes thinking a two-step process. The first step is to make the map. If the map is good enough, the best route will become obvious. The second step is to allot six thinking hats to people. These individuals assign themselves roles as designated by the colour of their hats. The colour of each hat determines how a person should think.

A white hat offers facts and figures objectively. It denotes discipline and direction. The white also indicates neutrality.

A red hat legitimises emotions as an important part of thinking. Feelings become an integral part of the thinking process. It allows the red hat wearer to explore and channelise the feelings of other people in the right direction. There should be no attempt to justify the feelings or to provide a logical basis for them.

A black hat wearer is concerned with negative assessment. The black hat thinker points out what is inconsistent with the facts. This thinker has the responsibility to bring up the risks of a new strategy and faults in a design. He can ask “negative questions” as well as point out why something will not work.

The yellow hat denotes positive and constructive thinking. The colour symbolises brightness and optimism. This thinking is concerned with positive assessment. It covers positive perspectives ranging from logical thinking at one end to dreams, visions and hopes at the other. The yellow hat thinker explores for values and benefits and then attempts to find practical support for this benefit. This kind of thinking is constructive and can be speculative.

The green hat signifies creativity. Ideally, both thinkers and listeners should be wearing green hats. The colour symbolises growth and fertility. The thinker moves beyond accepted boundaries looking for alternatives. He provokes people out of complacency.

The blue hat is the control hat. This thinker defines parameters, lays ground rules, decides who wears which hat. He is responsible for overview and summaries. He encourages the “map” kind of thinking, ends disputes and enforces discipline.

Logical thinking is a process of selection and elimination of ideas. Words with negative connotations — like ‘no’ and ‘not’— should be replaced with a term coined by Dr Bono called ‘PO’. It stands for “provocative operation” and can be used as an “insight restructuring tool”. It also aids in lateral thinking — ie moving tangentially off-the-mark to get at an entirely new idea, instead of using the typical “horizontal” thinking approach.

For instance, the PO technique was successfully applied at the Shell Oil Company, where Dr Bono suggested that they should drill oil wells horizontally instead of vertically and the drill head should be powered hydraulically. Shell implemented this idea and reported a fourfold increase in oil yields. In this case, the provocation directly became the idea. In most cases, it helps to think out of the hat, literally!

Organisations planning to do more than lip service to use creativity productively have in-house consultants. British Airways chief Sir Colin Marshall says he realised that “unless there was a ‘nominated champion’ who was given responsibility for making something happen, nothing ever did happen”. This fact was also realised by Du Pont, which appointed David Tanner as its “process champion” for creativity.

The need for a PO crusader is felt only during the time of crisis. But it should be a designation built into the corporate fabric. The PO officer keeps creativity on everyone’s agenda, Dr Bono says.

Written for The Financial Express

1 comment:

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