Saturday, March 22, 2008


Have you ever been into a meeting with other people trying to find a solution for a problem, spending hours talking and ending up with no result? Yeah, me too. Lots of times. The basic premise of Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' is to provide you with a method to avoid that situation.

The main problem in most meetings is how to deal with the different personalities of the people involved. There is some creative but not-so-well organized people, people who only criticize, others who just want plain data and nothing else... If you find a group who knows how to work together is great, but that rarely happen.

So de Bono offers a way to organize people's thinking to optimize the result. The system works as follows: The author has isolated the different personalities which could be involved in a decision-making process, and assign each one of them with a colored hat:

- White Hat: Facts and figures
- Red Hat: Emotions and feelings
- Black Hat: Problems
- Yellow Hat: Positivism
- Green Hat: Creativeness
- Blue Hat: Organization

Then all people involved in finding the solution need to use each different hat when they're required. It's like a role-playing game, but with a professional objective. Each person will probably be particularly skilled in one or two of the different hats, but the final result should be a complete overview of the problem, the solutions and which is the best one.

Well, that's what de Bono says. However, my personal impression about this issue is not as optimistic as the author's. Seems like all those people using hats need to have a unique approach to the problem: They should all be in the same level (or at least be allowed to talk freely to people of a higher rank), they should all be really willing to surrender their own personal solutions to another one, be open to criticism and eventually be really looking for the best solution.

My personal experience is quite different: The main motivation is not to find the best solution, since bosses always use their hyerarchies to make their own proposals win over the others. Few bosses that I know have really managed to create an atmosphere where anyone can talk freely. The main motivation of the people in the meetings is generally to make their proposals triumph over the others, or simply accept the boss solution in a smart way trying to get as much credit as possible. In most situations, when they fail to make their ideas succeed they talk with the boss alone, convince him and make his approach be the winner. And no, I don't think this only happen in Spain. I've worked with people from lots of countries and it happens all the time.

If someday de Bono's idealistic system is really put to work I'll be the first to adopt it. Sadly, my experience tells me that the decision-making process is based on 'company politics'. De Bono's method seems interesting for those social areas were there can really be a 'best solution' (engineering, for instance) but not for those areas where is not that easy to decide if a solution is the best or not. Any artistic-related activity will not allow that easily. Videogame design is one of them. However, I think the book is extremely interesting because of its isolation of personalities. Once you spot a 'black hat' person (only points out the problems, never provide a solution) it's easier to deal with him, asking them to use 'another hat'.


sgarces said...

"De Bono's method seems interesting for those social areas were there can really be a 'best solution' (engineering, for instance)"

Whoa! Let me tell you, right now, there are as many political problems, if not more, for an allegedly exact discipline like engineering as there are for design.

My gut feeling from the six roles is that there are two many, it's too fine grained.

Other than that, each company has a different culture. True, some companies will be more politically inclined, both in Spain and abroad. But there are many more models.

I offer you another degenerate model, which I've seen called the "frat house". Essentially, the main purpose of building games is having fun. There are no rules, nearly no structure (hierarchy). Wheels are reinvented, decisions taken in a split second, based on the momentary mood of the person. Anarchy reigns. The good side is there are no power struggles. The bad side is that the chaos that a team like that can generate could swallow the entire universe as we know it and yield another dark era.

Another one could be the "corporate machine". To get your ideas approved, it's not enough to call a five-hour meeting. You need to spend weeks drafting them for a commitee consisting of people that are spread all over the world. They only meet on Mondays, too. But not this Monday, they have a previous engagement. They will probably suggest a crazy idea based on some comment the five-year old son of one of the executives made. Then they'll change it four times as you implement it. But no worries, you're just one of the 15 designers of the project. Which is yet another football simulator.

Heh, I guess I got carried away. You get my point, though ;-)

Alvaro Vazquez de la Torre said...

Yep, I get your point. And I love your concept of 'frat house' :D

And we both know there could be another one, what I call 'Sauron's eye': One person inspires the design with some cryptic words. He's difficult to meet in person. But his voice cannot be questioned.

A group of prophets who heard his voice assume the role of 'Moses', translating his words to the real word. However their opinions often collide with the others. People try to move along with the project but from time to time Sauron's eye focus over your work and change it completely. The prophets immediately agree. Let's start again...