How good are your leaders at making difficult or complex decisions?
Procrastination and indecision costs.
It can lead to missed opportunities, lost revenue, stagnation, more stress, and damage reputations.
A survey a few years ago estimated that it costs UK businesses £21 billion each year.
So, what if we told you there was a simple thinking tool we explore during our leadership and management training courses that can make the decision-making process easier, explore different ways of thinking and remove some of the unconscious biases that can impact decisions?
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
If you have taken part in one of our online training courses, you will have seen Dan Boniface, our head of training, discuss De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.
The model was devised by Edward De Bono, a Maltese psychologist, who also originated the term ‘lateral thinking’.
The model helps individuals and groups explore decisions from perspectives that differ from their natural thinking and reach a well-rounded decision.
“I was recently working with a group of six senior leaders in an organisation, and they were struggling to make a decision with clarity,” Dan said.
“They were implementing some new software that would revolutionise how they work and design substations and power stations.
“The new software would mean moving from 2D to 3D imaging. But as with any change, there was some resistance.
“People in the business have been using the same software for 20 to 30 years and are experts in it – shifting to a new system is nerve-wracking for them.”
So, during the training session, Dan took them through the Six Thinking Hats model.
Each hat covers a different way of thinking.
The Blue Hat is the person who defines the problem, steers the group and makes the final decision.
The Red Hat wearer captures the emotions and feelings of others and relies on gut instinct.
The Yellow Hat wearer is optimistic, positive and constructive and probes the benefits.
The Green Hat wearer is creative and offers creative solutions. In this new software scenario, this person looked at where there is alternative software available and how best to train people on the new software.
The White Hat is the person who focuses on facts, figures and what competitors are doing.
And the Black Hat wearer looks at the risks and dangers.
Dan said: “Once the group had gone through the model, they put their blue hats back on and reached a decision.
“And they came up with a decision with three stages. The first one was to find champions – people passionate about the new software and what it can achieve and will talk about it, selling the benefits.
“The second stage was to engage the champions and design the training. And the final part was to deliver the training.
“So, the process and thinking about things from different angles gave them a clear plan of what they need to do to move forward and get people on board.”
Could they have reached that decision without the model?
“This outcome could have been their gut instinct at the start of the process,” Dan said.
“If that’s the case, De Bono has given them confirmation they were thinking along the right lines and the clarity of how to make it happen.
“And the impact of that on the group was huge. You could see the energy levels go up in the room and the weight being lifted from their shoulders.
“De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats gives you the confidence to make a decisive, authoritative decision because you have looked at the problem from all angles and taken everything into account.
“So, you can move forward with confidence.”
We all have different ways of thinking.
It can be shaped by our experiences and beliefs. And that can impact how we make decisions.
A structured thinking tool like the Six Thinking Hats can help remove these biases and barriers.
“Decision-making can be impacted by your biases and experiences,” Dan said.
“You hear people say things like, ‘I’ve always done it that way’ and try to do the same thing again.
“But things change. And in this situation, we are talking about significant change.
“You have to remove biases and assumptions to grow and lead with clarity.”
Dan says another benefit is that the model puts you on firm ground if your decision-making is later challenged.
“If we are challenged, we can be confident we looked at the issue from all angles,” he said.
“And it is much harder for someone to push back on that than when we have purely gone on gut instinct.”
One of the benefits of the De Bono model is that you can use it in a group with everyone assigned a different hat. Or you can work through the different hats on your own.
“I think that is the beauty of it,” Dan said.
“When we worked through the model with this group, it took about an hour, which for making such a significant decision is a good use of time.
“But you can also use it as an individual. If I am making decisions, I use the model as a checkpoint.
“You have your natural way of thinking. I naturally think with a red hat and a yellow one.
“But you might be doing something that costs a lot of money and need to check the budget. The model helps you consider things from all angles.”
I wondered if it was a risk to give someone a hat that takes them away from their natural thinking.
If they are a cautious, risk-averse black hat wearer, could the optimism and positivity of a yellow hat be uncomfortable?
“We encourage people to put different hats on,” Dan said.
“We need to encourage people to consider different perspectives. If we have a group who are all natural yellow hat wearers, we have a problem because there is no one sense checking or controlling the situation.
“And the decision will be made in a gung-ho way.
“The flip side is that if the group is all white or black hat wearers, you won’t move forward. You will be caught up in the analysis and not take any action.
“So, it is vital we take people outside of their default way of thinking and consider things from different perspectives.”
If you work through the model as a group, Dan says you must give people time to switch between hats. Otherwise, thinking can become clouded.
When Dan and I first spoke about the Six Thinking Hats when we built some of our online courses, he stressed it was crucial to keep an open mind about the model.
I wondered if people sometimes react negatively to it, perhaps finding the idea of putting on six imaginary hats a little simplistic.
“Sometimes there is resistance, often from the natural white and black hat wearers because they are more sceptical people,” he said.
“Most of us have a dominant thinking hat that we are led by, and it is a learned skill over time to take that off and put another on.
“So, there can be a nervousness about doing this task sometimes.
“But it is a fun thing to do as a team that can help you overcome some difficult decisions and tricky situations.”
Another criticism is that the model can be cumbersome and doesn’t lend itself to quick decisions.
Dan disagrees. He said: “I was asked this on a course when I worked with a company on crisis management.
“If you work through the model as a group, it could be cumbersome and take too long in a crisis situation, where you need to act quickly.
“But if you use it as an individual, you could quickly put each of the hats on and gather the information you need to make a decision and get your priorities right.
“For example, with the red hat, you think about how everyone is feeling. But is that the priority right at the start of a crisis? You are probably best to put your white hat on to get a better understanding of what has happened, then go back to the red hat and then put the green hat on to think creatively about the solution.”
Dan says that De Bono’s model interlinks with other structured thinking models.
In the software upgrade example we discussed earlier, the group used the Ishikawa Fishbone model to explore the root cause of the problem before putting on their metaphorical thinking hats.
Dan believes it also works well with the OODA loop.
It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act and was put together by John Boyd, who was in the US Air Force.
“The model quickly moved into business circles because it is so effective,” Dan said.
“We naturally feel that we want to jump in and help people straight away. And often, we end up making a decision for them.
“In this model, you observe for a bit and seek to understand. Then you reflect on what could be done to improve the situation, which is where De Bono comes in.
“Then you decide a way forward and put an action plan in place.
“You can then go through the process again. So, once you have the plan in place, you stand back and observe again and look to understand how it is progressing.”
So, the next time you are faced with a difficult decision, reach for your hats.
The BCF Group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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