Have you ever had a brilliant idea only to have a friend or family member or colleague just crush it? Interestingly, if you ask them why, they would claim they were “just trying to help.”
In reality, it’s a question of “right thought, wrong time”! There is a place and a time for every thought, but humans are masters of sticking their oar in the water at the wrong time!
So, how can we have the right thought at the right time? Actually, you can’t… but you can learn when to open and when to shut your mouth! Eventually you’ll train your brain as to the kind of thoughts you want when you want them.
Edward de Bono came up with a very simple yet sophisticated system called, “Six Thinking Hats”. I love it, it works, and it takes too much time for me. What I am about to share with you probably wouldn’t have been clarified in my own mind without first learning the value of Edward de Bono’s approach. For this reason, I recommend that you also read his book, “Six Thinking Hats” – then make your own judgement call.]
I’m For Four Thinking Styles!
I like to use just four thinking styles linked to the colours of ink readily available in four-colour pens. These are:
• Black for data, analysis, risk assessment, and processes;
• Red for action, decisions, purpose, objectives, goals, and mission/vision type comments;
• Green for balance, ecology, the people aspects, and consequences;
• Blue for “Blue Sky Thinking” – possibilities, alternatives, options, ideas, and ideas on how to make something work.
To anthropomorphise these colours, I link them to Dr Susan Dellinger’s “Psycho-Geometrics®” so that each thought has a shape and a personality. Thus we have:
• “Black Box Thinking” – just like the data collecting Black Box Recorder
• “Red Triangle Thinking” – just like a Red Triangle Alert sign used for traffic control
• “Green Circle Ecological Thinking” – like our Green Planet (yes, I know it’s blue…)
• “Blue Lightning Thinking” – like the blue hue associated with dynamic energy.
Clearly, in conversation, this can become clumsy, so I’ll often shorten the names once the concept has been adopted by the team I’m working with. Here’s how it works to get the right thought at the right time…
Let’s say one of my team is in an emotionally negative flap when they come to see me. The Golden Rule in keeping conversation flowing is “pace then lead”. This is where nearly everyone on the Planet gets it wrong. They interrupt with what is known as an “empathy blocker” – e.g. “Yes, but…” It is better to flow with the stream of consciousness first. So what I would suggest is that you go with your colleague’s negative thinking being careful to label it. Let’s call my colleague “Liza”. I’d say, “That’s great Black Box thinking, Liza… tell me more.” I would then let Liza run out of steam, venting her frustration. When the storm has subsided, I would then add (i.e. pace then lead), “What are our options?” This is the Blue Lightning striking, and leading us off along a different neurological pathway. At first your colleagues may react like a car on “Kangaroo Juice” – juddering along. Liza, in her frustration, may say, “We haven’t got any options!!!” You then gently steer the conversation using this technique: “I know it seems like we have no options, but if we did have some options, what would they be?” You’ll be amazed at how your colleagues, family members, and even customers begin to turn around and start coming up with positive alternatives. Notice that I didn’t need to label this as “Blue Lightning Thinking” – merely make the transition in my own mind.
This is how I make sure I use all the styles. With Liza, I’d then be thinking to myself, “OK, what are the consequences of following these options?” This is the Green Circle Thinking checking the “Ecology” of the ideas. Then I would be thinking, “Great, what are the next action steps?” This is the Red Triangle Thinking leading us to a practical, observable output, closing the open loop of the issue that would otherwise keep coming back to haunt us. On this last point, I’m sure you can think of many meetings where action was neither clarified nor taken, with the result that the same old issues come up meeting-after-meeting. We need to close the loop in order to feel a sense of psychological well-being.
De Bono’s Red Hat.
The chief benefit of de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” for me was his insistence on the Red Hat. “Red” for de Bono is not the colour of Action as it is in my system. For him, it is the colour of passion and emotion. This is genius. If we don’t allow space for emotion, people will disguise emotional responses as logical ones. The dominant example is critical thinking masking the fact that people just don’t like an idea, or even worse, just don’t like you! Given that I’ve said de Bono’s idea is “genius”, and that the emotional hat is missing from my simple four-colour system, what are we to do?
My four-colour system fits with Carl Jung’s Psychological Preferences. The Green Circle and the Blue Lightning sit “below the line” – where “below the line” means “below the head”! The Black Box and the Red Triangle sit “above the line” in the realm of thinking logically. The Green Circle and the Blue Lightning represent a preference for “feeling” over “thinking”. This doesn’t mean that they don’t think! It does mean that they are more in touch with how their emotions direct the decision-making process.
We can therefore keep de Bono’s Red Hat concept by asking our colleague how they ‘feel’ about options, ideas, actions, and plans, and then use the green or blue ink to capture the output based on the style of the output. For example, if they start talking about the personal aspects of how they feel, this is a green output. If they start waxing lyrical about how great they’d feel if their ideas were listened to and actioned, this is a blue output.
Once a team has become habituated to the use of the colours and shapes, you can “call” for a style in your group huddles. For example, you might well say, “Can I have some more Blue Lightning Thoughts on this issue?” This will encourage your team to switch track and give you options, ideas, alternatives, hypotheses… You might then say, “Great, and having a Black Box Recorder moment, what could go wrong?” – let the team answer, then, “Excellent Black Box thinking, so how can we overcome these possible hurdles?” (= Blue Lightning again.) “If we say, ‘Yes!’ to these ideas, what will we have to say, ‘No!’ to?” (= the ecological frame of the Green Circle style.) “OK, fabulous, what are our next physical action steps?” (= Red Triangle Action Thinking.)
Within a much tighter time-frame than usual in conversations, you’ll have seriously challenged any dilemma your department is facing, and come out the other side with clear, measurable actions.
Right thoughts, at the right time!