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Good Guys Wear Black Hats Too

Lately I’ve been accused of being a pessimist. In project meetings and with clients, I’m becoming the “what if” guy, pointing out obstacles and difficulties, bringing up the need for all kinds of expenses, pouring cold water on dreams of how big the profits will be and expectations of how potential customers will respond to the offer. Which doesn’t always make me the most popular guy in the discussion.

Entrepreneurs are necessarily optimistic. We need to be, it allows us to see the possibilities around us and act on them.

But the trap appears when we “fall in love” with the idea. Optimism then gives way to an emotional attachment to the idea, a state of “irrational exuberance” which can blind you to dangers that are otherwise obvious to someone who is not as emotionally invested in the project.

This is why I like Edward DeBono‘s Six Thinking Hats approach to thinking. The six hats are a creativity tool to help look at a situation from different perspectives. When you wear a specific colour hat, it gives you permission to think in a certain style:

  • White Hat: Analytical – What does the data say? Look at the available data both quantitative and qualitative. What are past trends? What can you extrapolate? Where is the evidence to support your assumptions? Where do you need more data?
  • Red Hat: Emotional – How do you feel about this? Access your intuition, gut reaction, emotion. Talk about your feelings about the situation, where you feel good and not as good. How would others feel about this?
  • Black Hat: Pessimist – What could go wrong? Think cautiously, defensively, why it might not work. Poke holes in the idea, look for the weak spots, all with the intention to identify what needs to be addressed in order to overcome any problems.
  • Yellow Hat: Optimist – What if all goes right? Think optimistically, positively. Imagine all the opportunities, the benefits, the advantages. Reach for the stars!
  • Green Hat: Creative – How can we make this better? Use your creative juices to think “out of the box”. Explore weird tangents, unexpected synergies, make it into a “purple cow” (something remarkable that stands out from the crowd).
  • Blue Hat: Process – What do we need to do now? Direct the process of creativity so you don’t get stuck. When in “Blue Hat” mode, step back from the problem and consider if you are giving all of the other hats equal time.

Entrepreneurs seem to do quite well with the Yellow, Red and Green Hat approaches to thinking about an idea. There is more resistance to the White Hat (analytical) and definitely a big block around Black Hat thinking. Could this be because the Analytical and Pessimist are associated with external control?

There is nothing to fear from the Black Hat – actually it can be your friend. Wearing the Black Hat gets me out of cheerleader mode and forces me to examine my assumptions up close. Everytime I’ve had a project backfire on me (and yes, I’ve had a few) it could be traced back to an assumption that was not properly tested.

Black Hat thinking is what gives your project real traction, by foreseeing the difficulties and encouraging defensive planning. This makes the project more resilient and improves the probability of success.

As you explore your idea, put on the Blue Hat (Process) from time to time to see if you are considering all the perspectives of your project. And don’t be afraid to wear the Black Hat – you may find that underneath that gruff exterior there is a heart…that wants you to succeed.

It’s great fun to dream big, to reach for the stars. But if you want to make any progress, you need to keep your feet on the ground. This is what gives you the traction to power your Vision forward.

For more information

I recommend Edward DeBono’s book  “The Six Thinking Hats” (Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Six-Thinking-Hats-Edward-Bono/dp/0316178314 – not an affiliate link). It’s a slim volume packed with practical examples.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • valerie davais hebert January 7, 2010, 04:19

    makes sense,seems rational,without giving up on the dreaming stage,persitance,if you truly belive..or do chances come arond again until some one comes along that can actully do it,I find when i share an idea with some one, they allways say too exspensive,wont work,,,oh ya that sounds………or do we need the ultimate dream team?

    • Coach Davender January 7, 2010, 08:49

      Hmmm… the ultimate “dream team” having someone representing each “hat” You’ve given me a good idea, Valerie!

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