There is a creative process called “Thinking Hats” that works well for all types of groups who need to do problem solving or make decisions by insuring all perspectives of the problem or decision is looked at. The hats process uses colors to indicate what perspective the group should be using at a particular time during a meeting. For example, the black and yellow hats allow the group to look at an idea from both the positive and negative sides rather than the traditional team-teaching of trying being optimistic about all ideas presented.
Developing a Pro/Con or +/- list for a selected idea or group of like ideas is an example of using black and yellow hat thinking. The difference in this and traditional Pro/Con lists is that with hats, the group must focus only on Cons or Pros for a limited time rather than going back and forth in brainstorming the positive and negatives of each possible solution.
Black = Negative
Make sure the group does not jump into black until after any brainstorming is complete and everyone agrees to look at the negative side of ideas. Using the hat of black too early in the problem solving process may result in individual defensiveness and fewer out-of-the-box ideas to pursue. However black is essential to decision making because it allows the group to review any bad points related to working a particular idea so that the most feasible and effective solution can be found. During this time the group may also want to review any cost data to determine if an excessive expenditure may be required. Pursuing the negative side of a situation allows the group to create a change management plan for all possible contingencies
Yellow = Positive
During problem solving or decision making, it is often easy for one or more people in the group to be negative towards change ideas. The yellow hat forces everyone to be optimistic and try to find the positive side of each solution for consideration. Benefits and potential savings are presented and discussed at this time in the meeting. Dollar savings and estimated time period to see greatest benefit might be listed as well. Understanding the primary benefits will make it easier to develop communications that explain the reason for a selected change in process, product, or responsibility in order to make it more acceptable to everyone concerned.
Use the black and yellow colored hats to review ideas from both positive and negative perspectives. Allow a little more time to discuss the yellow benefits but be sure to allow adequate time for discussing disadvantages in black. This can help lead the group to make a better, more informed decision. When using these hats, remember that “Thinking Hats” is a creative process for problem solving and/or decision making for groups to use at a specific time during a meeting. The hats aid the group by providing a good process that leaves little doubt in decisions made but these two hats alone will not insure success. The group must remain open to using additional hats in meetings and utilizing various methods for ideas generation, problem solving, and decision making as needed.
NOTE: Author and consultant, Edward de Bono elaborates on the concept of using Six Thinking Hats in his book with that title. To find more details on this topic, read his book. To get a general idea of what the other hat colors do for decision making in meetings, search for on-line “problem solving and decision making” articles for red, white, blue and green.