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Brainstorming and Six Thinking Hats: Creativity to innovate

Methodologies for developing successful innovations make use of creative techniques integrated into one of their stages. Generally, they are implemented during the initial stages, after investigating the problem and learning the needs of their users.

Our article “Creativity: The spice of innovation” (Read this article), explains the importance to meet the necessary conditions so our innovation processes generate distinguishing ideas and add value. Once these foundations have been laid, creative methods for generating ideas should be implemented.

The best known among them and those we will discuss in this article are:

Creative Methods

Brainstorming

One of the best known and, however, worst implemented group work techniques. It is used to enhance the generation of ideas and solve specific problems.

It starts from the premise that

‘creative talent is universal, it is the result of the effort and it can be applied to any kind of problem (…). Creative talent is not unique to a chosen few, but to all human beings involved in it’ (1).

Brainstorming is governed by several principles:

Round table with people seen from above

Postponement of judgment or suspending criticism is its key principle. It is not allowed to criticize or to judge other people’s ideas. It can only be done when the group runs out of ideas, as it can act as an inhibitor. Nevertheless, if you want to oppose a proposal, you can submit an opposing idea.

The more ideas, the better results you will get and the better the quality will be. Not all the ideas have to be necessarily good, just that all possible ideas emerge. The best ideas usually arise later on, during the second half of the process and many of them arise from the combination or adaptation of others.

Generating ideas in group can be more effective than generating ideas individually. Regardless the fact that brainstorming is based on ideas in a group, to alternate between group and individual ideas should also be tried.

Its Implementation

There are different opinions about its structure. According to the father of Brainstorming, Alex F. Osborn, the ideal is a panel of 12 members with 1 director (leader), 1 associate director, 5 regular members (very creative) and 5 guests (different per session and depending on the problem). However, some others think that there should be no more than 7 people nor less than 4. It should be as varied as possible regarding professional profiles inherent to the business.

The physical environment should be spacious and comfortable, with participants sitting in a circle, as this encourages interaction. It is advisable that the stage for generating ideas lasts between 20 and 30 minutes.

On the other hand, in order to help to generate ideas a check list can be used, which is a compilation of questions in order to boost its continuous production. Questions can be as follows: What other applications can be achieved if it is modified? Or, what to add? What to eliminate?

In order to effectively carry out a Brainstorming, we should:

  • Report the problem in advance.
  • Explain the key principles to follow.
  • Start with a practice session in order to settle in.
  • Present the problem and, if necessary, divide it into several parts.
  • Start to generate ideas.
  • Close the meeting and encourage to reflect on the ideas to continue the next day.
  • Integrate the ideas emerged after the meeting.
  • Draw up a final list of ideas.
  • Categorize ideas.
  • Select and review the list of ideas (a different group).
  • Present the selected ideas in order to solve the problem.

Six Thinking Hats (Lateral Thinking)

It is a methodology created by Edward De Bono, based on lateral thinking and used for group decision-making. Lateral thinking seeks to create a new idea regarding the problem posed. Its aim is to have a wide range of approaches and not just one satisfactory solution.

According to De Bono, 

‘the aim of lateral thinking is not to find the best solution right away, but to overcome the rigidity of the conceptual models, leading to its disaggregation and subsequent reordering into new models’ (2).

Lateral thinking uses different techniques such as:

  • Highlighting the number of ideas and approaches.
  • Postponing judgement.
  • Splitting up problems into different components to show new approaches.
  • Reversing the problem or looking for the opposite idea.
  • Using random stimuli, either by exposure to physical stimuli or to other people's ideas, or by formal selection as a page in a dictionary.

The Hats and their Roles

Once its basis has been understood, we can delve into the methodology of the Six Thinking Hats. It tries to reproduce what happens in the human mind during decision-making. It focuses on each thing separately to study it through different approaches.

It is based on the use of 6 colour hats: blue, white, black, yellow and green. Each hat represents a different attitude. Six roles that participants should take in order to address a problem from different points of view.

The Blue Hat plays the control role, setting objectives and laying foundations. It tries to give a general overview and to summarise the conclusions and the ideas that have been set out. It represents the ability to focus and to clearly define the problem. It is usually used by the coordinator of the meeting, as he/she has to maintain the sequence and the times. However, each participant should use it at some point.

The White Hat plays the role of objectivity. It adopts the most neutral way of thinking as possible, without opinions, emotions or reasoning. It is restricted to objective data, verifiable facts and figures. Its aim is to provide information.

The Black Hat assumes the role of pessimism and criticism. It is used to search for the reasons why something could not turn out well. It focuses on the disadvantages, risks, barriers and shortcomings. However, it is the role of constructive criticism and caution. It does not seek confrontation but to avoid dangers and difficulties. Reasons and justifications are here demanded.

The Red Hat represents feelings. In this role, you are allowed to act emotionally and to express feelings and intuitions without justification. It serves to gather ideas and a system of values that will decide which path to follow. During the process, the emotions that have emerged are explored or modified. This hat can be used in several stages of the meeting because emotions are changeable.

The Yellow Hat embodies constructive thinking, the search for positive aspects, the optimistic vision and reconciliation. Through it, associated benefits, opportunities, favourable aspects and improvements are sought. To do so, it needs to rely on logic and justify each point well.

The Green Hat focuses on creativity. During its role, ideas are generated, new possibilities are identified and alternatives are continuously explored. It is closely linked to lateral thinking. You can be provocative without the need of justifying each argument.

Rabbit with hats of various colors

Its Implementation

The methodology of the Six Thinking Hats can be implemented in two ways:

1.- All participants take on a specific hat and then move on to another one sequentially.

2.- The moderator assigns a hat to each participant.

According to several authors, the groups are made up of a minimum of 4 and up to 7 participants. The time used for each hat should be as short as possible, a 1 minute per hat and person is enough, but the red hat should be the shortest.

The order of the hats is very important as results may vary. Therefore, if the subject is important, it is advisable to make several groups with different orders or with the use of hats individually or in groups.

In our next post we will talk about other methods such as Synectics, Morphological Analysis and the Delphi Method (Read this article). Nevertheless, the method you use is not the important thing but to make the most of these techniques and integrate them into our innovation process naturally.

Notes:
  1. Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, Ediciones Pirámide. Page 18.
  2. Edward De Bono in Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, Ediciones Pirámide. Page 56.
References and links:
  1. Métodos creativos para organizaciones – Alfredo Muñoz Adánes, 2006, Ediciones Pirámide.
  2. Técnicas de creatividad en Innovación y creatividad de Wiki EOI.
  3. Innovación para Dummies – Pierre d’Huy, 2018, Para Dummies 2018.
  4. Brainstorming – Wikipedia.
  5. Resumen del libro Seis sombreros para pensar de leadersummaries.com.
  6. Seis sombreros para pensar – Wikipedia.

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