Better Decision-Making through Headgear

When it comes to sexy job titles, “Business Analyst” does not rank high. To me it smells stuffy and dry; it’s abstract and doesn’t give the animal brain anything to hold onto. (It is perhaps a measure of my geekdom that I do find the title “Systems Architect” to be inherently sexy. But that’s probably just me.)

And yet the business analysts of the world have developed some stuff that’s pretty damn interesting, if not full-on sexy. That’s because business analysts are essentially the shrinks of the business world. Except instead of understanding and solving problems of the human mind, they have to understand and solve problems of businesses around the world — and that fundamental process is applicable to all areas of human endeavor.

One of my favorite tools — and here we’re back in a world where the animal brain can grasp what’s going on — is de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats.” Let’s say you’ve got a problem, and you’re brainstorming. It might be a software development team trying to figure out how to give the customer the features they want without breaking the budget; or it might be a few college suitemates deciding where to go for spring break. Whatever you’re brainstorming, you can put on a different hat (not necessarily literally, although that’s definitely more fun); each hat lets you see the problem through a different lens. Think of a prism, breaking white light out into different individual colors so you can better analyze the elements that comprise the whole.

You can find a breakdown of the six hats on the de Bono Group website, among other places, but here’s a quick summary. The order the hats are presented in varies — I’m modeling after the color spectrum so I’m going in rainbow color, ending with Blue because that’s the hat that manages the whole brainstorming process:

  • White Hat – A purely factual perspective. With this one you channel Mr. Spock and isolate the logical relationship among elements.
  • Black Hat – The devil’s advocate. With this one you’re the skeptic who sees everything that could go wrong.
  • Red Hat – An intuitive perspective. With this one you’re the insightful detective who follows a hunch and gets emotionally invested in the case.
  • Yellow Hat – A cheerful perspective. With this one you’re the encouraging grandmother who highlights all the good qualities and isn’t bothered by the flaws.
  • Green Hat – A creative perspective. With this one you’re the kid genius who throws out wild ideas faster than you can write them down.
  • Blue Hat – The big-picture perspective that manages the whole process. With this one you’re the ground control of the mission, monitoring the brainstorming process and making corrections when things get unbalanced.

What I love about this is that it’s a simple breakdown of the fundamental process of dealing with problems. You can dress it up for a board meeting or dress it down for helping a kid decide what to do for her science project. In any case, the six hats help you think about how you think, and therefore, to think better.