Over the last 30 years or so diverse groups from global corporations to children in primary schools have used a method devised by Edward de Bono for using complementary skills and abilities in decision-making.
He contended that decision making by argument is inefficient, ineffective and extremely slow.
And it was never designed to be constructive.
This is of course the antithesis of an adversarial approach which comes as first nature to many lawyers.
Do Bono’s Six Thinking Hats system is used for group discussion.
Using a method of parallel thinking, groups can think more effectively and productively in decision-making .
The assumption is that individuals think in a number of distinct ways which can be used to complement one another in looking at strategies and issues from different perspectives.
De Bono proposes six discrete ways of thinking to which he attributed ‘Hats’ of different colours associated with the different approaches:
The White hat represents facts and figures, considers information and data and is neutral and objective.
What do we know?
What do we need to find out?
How will we get more data?
The Red hat symbolises the emotional response.
It acknowledges the significance of feelings, intuition, gut instincts and hunches.
What are our feelings right now?
What is the gut reaction to this idea?
The Black hat symbolises caution and the need to consider difficulties, dangers and weaknesses in a proposal.
It deals with logic and identifying risks and mismatches.
The Yellow hat looks at identifying the benefits, positives and plus points.
It represents a hopeful optimistic perspective.
The Green hat represents creativity, looking at possibilities, alternatives and ideas for their own sake without judgement.
Statements can be made to investigate an issue or provoke further questions.
Discursive random thinking is encouraged.
And finally, the Blue hat controls the process.
It involves thinking about thinking.
It facilitates group thinking and discussion and plans for future action.
In psychological terms, the Blue hat ‘mentalises’ the process.
Law firms and chambers that work well will, to a greater or lesser degree, be using the decision-making processes in de Bono’s colourful scheme, whether they are aware of it or not.
The system is designed to clarify group thinking processes, although individuals’ character traits may mean that they typically seem to wear one or two of the hats most of the time.
Observing group discussion can be enlightening if we imagine the speaker to be wearing one of the hats.
This can also bring into perspective imbalance in a group’s approach to the task at hand – and provide a way for this to redressed.
The system also enables parallel thinking, the ability for all group members to look at a particular aspect of an issue from the same point of view, valuing the approach of each coloured hat and what this represents.
Using the Six Thinking Hat model is one way of identifying a functional and productive working group.
The productive group plays to its mutual strengths, is collaborative and cooperative, and individual perspectives and competences are complementary.
Sometimes groups don’t work like this.
In another post I looked at Bion’s group theories.
Dysfunctional groups of lawyers may demonstrate characteristics of ‘dependency’, ‘fight/flight’, and/or ‘pairing’.
De Bono’s and Bion’s approaches can help us to think about the groups that we work in.
A simple way to think about this is to take an A4 sheet of paper.
On one side draw three lines to divide the sheet into six rectangles (to represent each of the six hats) and on the other draw two lines to make three rectangles (to represent the basic assumptions).
If you’re a lawyer, think about the chambers, partnership, department, or team that you work in.
And if not, think about your own work groups or any meeting setting that has felt unduly stressful recently. Yup, including over Zoom.
How are we working?
Are we competing or collaborating amongst ourselves?
How do we think through opportunities and challenges?
Bear in mind, these principles apply in groups of three or more, in families, sports teams, small firms and mega-firms.
And in institutions and government.
Internationally too …
 De Bono, E. (2000) Six Thinking Hats. London: Penguin Books.
(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)