Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thinking in Parallel

On the Friday before the AALL Annual Meeting in Boston last month, the NELLCO Board of Directors was invited to participate in an all-day workshop to learn about the process of parallel thinking. I had been introduced to the concept by Laura Freebairn-Smith of Organizational Design and Development, a consultant whom we have engaged several times in the past. This past spring, the NELLCO Board needed to reach a complex decision and I turned to Laura for advice on how best to facilitate that decision-making process with a 25-member Board. Laura suggested using the Six Thinking Hats, developed by Edward De Bono, as a tool for this work.

Since I had never heard of the Six Hats, or Edward De Bono, immediately after my call with Laura I did what any good librarian does; I bought the book. It's a quick read and more than worth the price of admission. The Six Thinking Hats may be the most brilliant, simple concept for group work that I've ever encountered. If well implemented, I think it has the potential to radically alter the way we work in groups, the efficiency of meetings, and the productivity of staff/teams/groups.

In a nutshell, the process is based upon the idea of six different colored hats, each of which has a particular role in focusing thinking in a particular direction.

The WHITE hat is facts and figures.

The RED hat is emotions.

The BLACK hat is logical negatives.

The YELLOW hat is logical positives.

The GREEN hat is creativity.

The BLUE hat is process control.

Once I read through the book, which goes into depth on each hat's uses, I knew this was a tool I wanted to share with the NELLCO Board. The Six Hats offers an alternative to our culture's standard way of discussing an issue. Think of the most recent meeting you attended. What happened when a new idea was raised? The naysayer of the group probably said something like "well, that won't work here because. . ." and the friends of the idea generator said "that's a great idea!" and the person who's job would be most affected by the new idea didn't say anything but thought "gee, I'm scared that would put me out of a job," and so on. Everyone in the group is thinking of the idea from their particular perspective. Using the Six Hats method you ask everyone to 'think in the same direction.'

So, now I'm a convert. I think everyone should know about the Six Hats. And those who attended the workshop in Boston seemed to feel the same way. Not only could they see how it could work for us as a Board, but they could also see its value back in their own workplaces. That led to a decision that we will be offering Six Thinking Hats training for library staff as part of the NELLCO Symposium 2013, which will be held on March 14-15, 2013. Stay tuned for more on that!

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