do. Even when you are right. We all know that we need the ability to understand and maybe adopt different points of view. Easy to say but not so simple to execute.
Yet people do it. It is a natural process. This is how teams work when they work well. A group of people with a common goal but different approaches, skills and experience. When it is harnessed it is the most powerful human engine. Any theory of early man will tell you this is how our species survived. Subsistence hunting in teams. Get it wrong of course and conflict and stress are the result.
Team building is a separate subject. The challenge of looking at things from many angles is the subject of Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono.
What is it?
De Bono is famous as a kind of alternative philosopher of business. He uses psychology and human behavioural science to construct ways of tackling business strategies and problems. His work is about how you think rather than what you should do. Perhaps his most famous book, Lateral Thinking is a classic. A unique approach sets him apart from other leading thinkers.
Six Thinking Hats has also become a staple of the corporate library. It is described as a self help book on many lists. But it is the basis of many workshops, brainstorms and strategy sessions. It can stand alone or integrate into a wider learning and development programme. I have even seen it used as an icebreaker to help people get to know each other.
The basic idea is that humans are capable of six different modes of thinking about a question or a problem. By putting on a different hat for each mode we can encourage the full range of perspectives on a question. Each hat is a different colour to distinguish it in our minds and in practical exercises.
Effective use of the hats will give a complete and rounded view of the problem. More important de Bono argues that it will also spark innovation. All six modes of thinking can provide the new angle that illuminates the solution.
Let’s look at the ways a startup might use each of the 6 hats:
Blue, Managing - This is traditional structured, task focused thinking. The standard modus operandi expected in large enterprises. Although not many people behave this way in practice. As a startup, don’t be afraid to adopt this mindset. Your world may feel random but the effort of ordering your thoughts can produce results. It may not be the first thing that strikes you. When you are swamped by data and options though it may be the best.
White, Information - In this mode you deal only in known, hard facts. In a startup these are often few and far between. But it is vital to know what you do know. Confusing what you think with what you know has led to many errors and missteps. Your judgement will improve when you separate fact from assumption. And deduction (or just guesses!). On occasion reducing things to the bare facts will also make the way forward clear as crystal.
Red, Emotions - The exact opposite of Whit. What is your gut reaction? What makes you want to laugh, cry or scream? Bring your passion to solving problems. This is often the default mode for a startup. But it can slip away as the reality of running a business bites. Don’t forget it.
Black, Discernment - Not a great description. The author means risk averse, cautious and conservative thinking. Analyse the threats. Ask what can go wrong, what should you avoid. By convention startups embrace risk. This does not mean you should ignore it. Thinking through the downsides will help cover your bases. And be prepared if the worst happens. Solving a problem in a way which evades or minimises risk may also be the best answer.
Yellow, Optimistic Response - Again the opposite of Black. Keep in mind that things might just be good. Or great. How could things take off? What would life be like in an ideal world? Do you have the resources to cope with explosive growth? If you hit the jackpot, what comes next? This is the thinking a startup can use to inspire the team and the world.
Green, Creativity - The hardest hat to define. Think the unthinkable. Think different. Even if things are going well, could they be better? Turn your product into music. Make your software into a spoon. Whatever. Most startups are rooted in some level of creative, maybe crazy thinking. Like optimism this attitude can disappear early. Beaten down by the challenges of execution and survival. Keep going back to it and opening your mind.
The beauty of the 6 hats is that it is a simple, easy to grasp model for a complex concept. There are lots of ways to use the model Any time you are struggling with a problem. Or trying to develop a plan. Come back to this it may help. It is not an every day habit. Too formal and time consuming. Startups should consider this approach in three main situations:
The Not So Useful Stuff
De Bono has distilled complex thinking and deep ideas into a clear conceptual framework. The Six Hats model is brilliant in its simplicity. Unfortunately he has written a book that wraps it back up in some abstract language. It is not the easiest read but it is worth taking time to understand his model. There are plenty of guides and tools if the whole book is too tough for you. Once you get it in your head, the framework is excellent.
I would add a seventh hat. It would be called “Put Yourself In Your Customer's Shoes” and the colour would be gold. If you can understand how your customer thinks you have achieved the gold standard for a startup. Or for any business.
Of course hat 7 does not fit with the science and logic behind the original book. And your customers could be wearing any or all of the original six hats when they respond to your product. So perhaps number 7 is a summary rather than integral to the model. A startup should aim to find the customer’s perspective in any case.
The fundamental concept of Six Hats is good. It has great value for a startup. Understand that there is no single right way to think about a problem. People approach things from different angles. Different perspectives are the fuel of innovation. They also help catch and avoid mistakes.
Use the 6 hats to approach complex problems. Or to reflect on progress and help make better plans. But don’t forget the seventh hat!
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Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.