Surprise – Living Well Between the Rock and the Hard Spot

-by Chuck Dymer

Fifteen years ago I made a wonderful discovery-Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. Six Thinking Hats is a technique for structuring thinking. When used in a group setting, the Six Thinking Hats keeps participants focused and thinking in the same direction. When, for example, the White Hat is on, everyone thinks only about the facts, figures and other information that is relevant to the topic. When the Yellow Hat is on, everyone looks for logical reasons as to why what is being thought about will work or could be of value.

As a result of this process, what de Bono terms “parallel thinking,” argument stops. Since we’re all thinking in the same direction at any one time, there is no one to argue with. And what setting particularly needs to be devoid of argument? Ideation. (Or, if you prefer, a brainstorming or creative thinking session).

I have facilitated ideation sessions around the world for the past fifteen years. I’ve been privileged to work with organizations such Hallmark Cards, Sprint, Kraft Foods, Horizon Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, Motorola, Pacificare, Steelcase, Yellow Freight, Sainsbury’s (UK), Connex (Romania), Iscor (South Africa) and Clear Communications (New Zealand). With these clients and many others, the most successful sessions were those that used the Six Thinking Hats technique.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to use the Six Thinking Hats at every ideation session that I have conducted. The primary reasons for this were (get ready for a big surprise): time and money. In order for clients to get the most out of the Six Thinking Hats technique, they need to be trained. And standard training in the Six Thinking Hats takes a full day. Well, add the time and cost of a full day of training to the time and cost of ideation and most clients perceive they can’t afford it; it fits neither their budget nor their schedule. This was the “between” of the rock and the hard spot where I had to operate. Ideation facilitation doesn’t work as well without the Six Thinking Hats (the rock) and the clients don’t think they can afford the Six Thinking Hats (the hard spot).

dBTS, the publishers of the Six Thinking Hats, have provided the answer to this facilitator’s prayers. They have released Six Thinking Hats Online, designed to introduce the Six Thinking Hats concepts in preparation of classroom training or for those who will be participating in a meeting led by a trained facilitator. A participant can complete the on-line training in about two hours, in whatever time chunks are convenient to him/her. And the cost of this alternative, per person, is about 25% of the cost of stand-up training. The client saves time and money and gets the power of the Six Thinking Hats; I get to do more facilitation and less training. And I love to do facilitation.

My first chance to make use of Six Thinking Hats Online was in February of this year when I had the opportunity to work with a major provider of consumer home care products. The person who wanted me to facilitate an ideation session was the director of research. He was having a three day meeting with a newly formed Creative Concept Team and he wanted one day of the three to be a day where the team would develop new ideas and concepts for devices of the future. And he wanted to use Dr. de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking techniques.

I suggested that one day was not enough time to explain and use those techniques-could I have two days? The answer was, surprise again, he didn’t have that amount of time or money. When I called dBTS for some help, they suggested that the client and his team use the on-line version of Six Thinking Hats to become familiar with the technique and I could use the day to facilitate new ideas using Lateral Thinking. Sounded good, so I talked to the client about the on-line version and also suggested that we were going to get so many ideas from the Lateral Thinking techniques (which we did) that we would need at least a half day more to “harvest” and “treat” those ideas. The client graciously said yes.

The team members were given the month prior to the ideation session to learn the Six Thinking Hats. Truthfully, not all of the participants took the time to learn the process, but the majority did. As a result, we were able to make use of the Six Thinking Hats during the ideation session and the Six Thinking Hats kept us on track and prevented new ideas from being criticized or ridiculed before they had a chance to be developed.

Besides the on-line training in the Six Thinking Hats, two other steps that helped this session to be successful were: one, having a futurist talk about trends in the consumer market place; and two, having all of the participants complete a “Checklist of Current Thinking” before the session. The Checklist is another de Bono technique that allows one to examine the proverbial “Box” that we need to think out of in order to get new ideas. I asked participants about what dominated their thinking about our topic; what assumptions they were making; what boundaries confined the topic; what things were essential to the topic; what things needed to be avoided.

Once I had an aggregate checklist of the team’s thinking on the topic, I could probe certain assumptions and limits to find ways to go beyond them.

Here’s what the Director of Research wrote (unsolicited) about the ideation session: “I just wanted to let you know that we all thought the creativity session you facilitated for us was outstanding…I have just completed the official report of the (company’s) 1st session and it is truly impressive to see what came out of the session.” With techniques like the Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking, facilitation is made much easier. Most importantly, they produce results that the client seeks. And with the online version of Six Thinking Hats, it can be done within budget and on schedule. Surprise, indeed.