Breaking Through to Your "Toughest" Audiences

(September 1999 column)

Here's further information on the technique referred to in this column, with which I stimulate audiences to come up with ideas to improve their industry or profession. As you read this scenario, picture how it might "play" at your next convention. You can see a demonstration of the technique by requesting our SPEAKER VIDEO.

"Triple Your Brainpower:

Thinking Together with the 'Six Hats'"

Sample program copy

Master the astounding technique for "whole-brain" thinking that has revolutionized decision-making at Prudential, IBM, Dupont, Motorola, and a hundred other top companies. You will will learn and practice the use of six colored metaphoric hats, to organize your own thinking and that of others. Triple your mental effectiveness and increase productivity at meetings by 25-40% -- and take home both a placard and a wallet-sized card for using the technique at a board meeting or across the lunch-table.


This powerful and enjoyable technique sparks innovative thinking with a medium-size group (50 - 500). It's been adopted by companies such as IBM and Dupont. After seeing it demonstrated in Japan, Hisashi Shinto, then-president of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph, ordered all employees to be trained in the technique.

Here's how it worked at a meeting of the Sonesta International Hotels sales force.

The overall goals were team-building and motivation. The specific focus was on thinking up new ways to make Sonesta Hotels even more attractive to women travelers.

The method, applicable to any problem or challenge in your field that calls for fresh, innovative thinking, was...six colored hats!

Yes, colored hats: in the center of the stage at the start of the session was one of those old-fashioned wooden hat-racks which the great curved arms, displaying bright berets -- Red, White, Black, Yellow, Green, and Blue.

As I put them on my head, I briefly explained how each one is a signal that everyone should do a specific kind of thinking about the challenge or problem at hand. Here's what the hats signify:
WHITE HAT: What are the facts?

RED HAT: How do you feel? -- including informed Intuition.

YELLOW HAT - Positive aspects: opportunities, advantages, benefits.

BLACK HAT - Negative aspects: downside, risks, problems

GREEN HAT - Creative insights -- new, fresh ideas

BLUE HAT - Planning, monitoring the thinking process

Simple mnemonics makes the hats a cinch to master: the White Hat (Facts) suggests white computer paper with all the data, the Red Hat (Emotions) suggests a red heart, etc.

Groups can start using the hats within 20 minutes.

The Six Hats Method is the creation of my colleague, Edward de Bono, the leading theorist on the teaching of thinking skills, inventor of "Lateral Thinking," and globe-trotting consultant on "Serious Creativity."

The hats enable you to "orchestrate" the thinking process in two ways. You can FOCUS a whole group on one way of looking at the situation, e.g., "Now, I'd like everyone to put on the Yellow Hat. Let's all focus on the positive possibilities here. What are the advantages, opportunities, and benefits?"

Then, you can SHIFT the focus. You might say: "We've been doing a great job for the last hour, of identifying everything that's wrong with our current approach. I think we can all see the problems. Now, let's take off the Black Hat, and put on the Green Hat. I'd like to hear some new, fresh approaches."

By using the hats to signal which kind of thinking you want at each point, you can focus all the participants focused in that direction. Each person participates actively at each stage of the thinking process -- rather than just waiting to "get their shot in."

Bill may be fervently opposed to an action that is being discussed. But you encourage him to contribute to the "yellow hat" discussion of its benefits and advantages. Why should he be willing to do that? Because Bill knows that within five minutes, when it's time for Black Hat thinking, he will not only have a chance to express fully his negative reaction -- but that everyone else will help him to present the "downside."

This process of focusing and shifting, deftly done, harmonizes the participants into a kind of Group Brain -- so that each way of looking at their problem is more powerful and complete.

With the Sonesta sales force seated at "rounds" to facilitate discussion, the hats made it easy, and enjoyable, to come up with new ways to make their properties even more attractive to women travelers.

We started with the Red Hat, to "surface" the feelings within the group about this clientele. Then, under the White Hat, participants shared their knowledge about current sales and services to women in the industry.

The Yellow Hat was motivating, as all the possible benefits and opportunities emerged. The Black Hat, however, was just as useful -- it identified the possible problems, costs, and risks. The Green Hat prompted dozens of highly innovative approaches. And, under the Blue Hat, we prioritized and planned next steps.

Return on Investment? The group produced over 65 ideas during the 45-minute exercise. Approximately 20% made the "first cut" -- they were new, and seemed feasible, potentially profitable, and therefore worth "harvesting" for serious consideration.

Moreover, the whole process fostered a team spirit and high motivation for the rest of the conference. "What great fun it was to see our sales people involved in the presentation," said Stephanie Sonnabend, Vice-President for Marketing. "I never realized how far their talents went. Your presentation really helped to set the stage for a very motivational and productive meeting."

Of course, it works equally well for other businesses and professions -- we've had just as good results "Six-Hatting" problems and challenges with organizations and groups as disparate as hospital administrators, retail electronics dealers, aerospace engineers, and finance company owners.
Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross