Parallel thinking

I keep finding more great ideas in Edward De Bono’s book How To Have A Beautiful Mind . This time it is parallel thinking, originally introduced in another of his books, but explained here in an easy and practical way. 

As we already know about De Bono, he implements metaphors skilfully. He states that we are used to arguments as a way of thinking. They are useful and a powerful way of thinking. However, I was surprised when he described them also as unsophisticated. He explains why:

[In arguments] each side makes a ‘case’ and then seeks to defend that case and prove the other ‘case’ to be wrong. It says, in short: ‘I am right and you are wrong.’

Therefore, it would be fair to call this type of thinking intersected thinking, because the motivation of aggression is higher than the motivation of exploration. Each side wants to point out the flaws in the opponents thinking and prove her or his own point right. The subject itself becomes of secondary importance.

This is why sometimes you find two people able to argue about anything. Its unlikely they disagree about everything, but when the motivation is aggression and winning against the other person, it is always possible to find loopholes in the opponents thinking. In an argument, only these are the real points of interest.   

Parallel thinking on the other wants to achieve the opposite. The motivation for exploring a subject is higher than the motivation of aggression and showing off. It happens when the goal of all sides participating in a discussion is to co-operatively explore a subject; hence the name parallel thinking. All sides look at the same  matter form the same point of view, as De Bono states. At the end, a relatively full exploration of the subject is achieved. Showing off does happen in parallel thinking, as De Bono points out, however it is controlled and not directed at anybody, but will be in favour of all participants of a discussion.

De Bono proposes a model in order to organise parallel thinking. He calls it the Six Thinking Hats. There are six metaphorical thinking hats, white, red, black, yellow, green, and blue, that the participants wear simultaneously when exploring a subject together. All participants must stick to the hat the whole group is wearing at the moment. This way, arguments are avoided and everybody is able to remain focused on a specific aspect of the subject, as explained bellow.

  • When the group engaged in white hat thinking, all group members focus together on information. The question that are asked are what do we known, what do we need to know, what is missing, what questions should be asked, and how to obtain the missing information.
  • When the group is engaged in red hat thinking, all group members focus together on emotions, feelings, and intuitions. Every group member states what he or she feels and thinks will happen in the future. No explanation for these feelings and intuitions are required.
  • When the group is engaged in black hat thinking, the focus of the group is a critical analysis and risk assessment. The question asked are how a specific alternative fits our values, resources, strategy and objectives, abilities. The ultimate goal of the black hat thinking, as De Bono states, is caution. We want to cover all our bases with a specific alternative.
  • When the group is engaged in yellow hat thinking, the focus of the group is to determine why something should work, and what the benefits and values of it are. The aim of this thinking is to develop ‘value sensitivity’, as De Bono states.
  • When the group is engaged in green hat thinking, the focus of the group is generating ideas, alternatives, possibilities and design. The aim here, as De Bono says, is to develop ‘creativity’ .

As for the blue hat thinking, its function is to manage the thinking process. When the group is engaged with blue hat thinking at the beginning of the session, the goal is to define the focus and sub-focus of the session. Everybody should participate in defining what the discussion should be about. Also, the sequence of the hats is also determined. However at the end, the group facilitator has the final stay.  During the different hat phases, the facilitator of the thinking sessions wears the blue thinking hat and has the responsibility to manage the session and point out if somebody’s thinking is not in alignment with the current hat. At the end of the session, the blue hat also summarises what has been achieved and how to proceed. Which type of thinking is still required? What should we do next?

The benefits of this method us great. As De Bono points out,

The hats provide an alternative to argument. The hats allow joint exploration of a subject. The hats require each individual fully to explore a subject rather than just to make and defend a case. The hats provide a quick method of switching thinking. The hats provide a means to request “a particular type of thinking. The hats replace the ego and aggression of argument with the challenge thoroughly to explore a subject. The hats get the best out of people. Meeting times can be reduced to one fifth or even less, using the hats. The hats are easy to learn and to use. The hats are in use with four-year-olds and with senior executives. It is no longer necessary to use argument simply because there is no other method of discussion.

Apparently, this method has been used by many and has helped achieving a lot of success. Sadly enough, it is still underutilised. Arguments continue to be the dominant way of figuring something out together in our lives. Adapting it would definitely make our world more peaceful, and our thinking more effective.



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