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Brainstorming is one of the best-known techniques for producing fresh ideas and approaching problems from innovative new angles. Brainstorming sessions are best done in small groups; participants are asked to leave their inner critic at the door and come up with the zaniest ideas possible.
This challenge is based on a tool created by famous ‘lateral thinker’ Edward de Bono to improve decision making skills. The Six Thinking Hats technique is particularly useful for group brainstorming as it emphasises ‘what if?’ thinking rather than ‘what is’ assumptions.
People or groups often tend to follow certain fixed ways of thinking. This technique involves looking at a problem or issue from a number of different perspectives, each represented by a different coloured hat, and giving each one equal weighting in a discussion.
White hat (= objective)
When you wear this hat, you focus on available information to see what you can learn from it. You try to fill any gaps in your knowledge. This is where you analyse past trends and extrapolate from historical data.
Red hat (= emotions, feelings)
When you wear the red hat you use intuition, gut reaction and emotion to respond to an issue or idea. You also try to think how other people will react emotionally to the issue, and try to understand their intuitive responses.
Black hat (= negatives, points of caution)
When you wear the black hat you are the pessimist. You are cautious and critical and try to find reasons that things will not work. It’s a useful perspective, since it highlights any weak points in a plan and enables you to either eliminate them, or prepare measures to counter problems should they arise. Black hat thinking makes plans more resilient.
Yellow hat (= positive focus)
The yellow hat is the positive thinking hat. When you wear this hat you seek harmony; its optimistic viewpoint enables you to see the value, benefits and further opportunities in a plan. Yellow hat thinking helps you keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
Green hat (= generates new ideas or concepts)
The green hat stands for creativity. Its mood is provocative, experimental, and explorative. Wear it to playfully spin ideas free of any judgement or criticism.
Blue hat (= defines focus, control of thinking)
The blue hat stands for process control. It sees the big picture. Wear this hat to chair a meeting, or to bring any of the other processes /thinking approaches [?] to order.
During a typical Six Hats session you will flip between different hat ‘modes’: when ideas are slow in coming you’ll try green hat thinking; when the mood gets too pessimistic, switch to yellow hat thinking; when contingency planning is needed, put on your black hat, and so on.
3 How to Play
3.a Game Instructions
The six animals on the right-hand riverbank are desperately looking for their thinking caps, which the wind has cheekily deposited on the left bank. Send the hats back to their respective owners by following the 6 ways of thinking, one at a time, all the way through from the left to the right.
To start, you will be presented with a challenge question. To accept, click on one of the hats. You will then be presented with 3 phrases pertaining to the challenge. Choose the one that best represents the hat you chose. If you choose correctly, 3 more phrases will appear. Continue clicking on the most appropriate phrase until the hat reaches its owner, then click on another hat and repeat the process until you have sent all the hats back to their owners.
3.b Game Rules
Once you have clicked on a phrase, there is no turning back. Points will either be deducted for a wrong answer or added for a correct answer. The game is over when all the hats reach their owners; your end score will be tallied up and expressed as a percentage.
3.c Game tips
Think before you click!
Familiarise yourself with the six different ways of thinking before you start. You might want to read through the introduction text a few times until you are sure of your colour qualities.* see note at end – I agree with note (also see my comment up-front), so we have to resolve how to best deal with this
The tips at the end of the game will also give you some pointers on how best to brainstorm.
4 Start Screen text
Choose one of the hats to start the game. Remember, you have to stick to one way of thinking until you reach the opposite riverbank.
Q: How can we best ensure that group brainstorming sessions are effective?
5.1 White hat
5.1.1 White Group 1
188.8.131.52 Naturally one should start at the beginning, by defining a clear purpose and goal for the session.
5.1.1. 2 Do you have to be so pedantic? Thoughts should just flow freely!
184.108.40.206 Hat 2, be careful not to patronise! As a starting point Hat 1 is right – chances of success are greater if the goal is clearly defined. Thereafter we can go wild.
5.1.2 White Group 2
220.127.116.11 Do you guys mind if I make an urgent call? I’m planning a surprise party for my best friend and the caterers have a crisis.
18.104.22.168 Interruptions break the flow of brainstorming sessions.
22.214.171.124 I’m sure your crisis will work itself out while we work together to find a best practice recipe for brainstorming!
5.1.3 White Group 3
126.96.36.199 Research shows that people talk more freely when they’ve had an alcoholic beverage.
188.8.131.52 Now that’s an idea! Looking around the room, I can see that we all need to unwind a bit.
184.108.40.206 Fair enough, we can take a five-minute comfort break.
5.1.4 White Group 4
220.127.116.11 I know! Let’s play a game to wake up our tired old brains?
18.104.22.168 Crazy as that sounds, it is not a bad idea! I am making a note of it.
22.214.171.124 This has proved to be a successful technique in the past.
5.1.5 White Group 5
126.96.36.199 What about the participants? Any guidelines as to who should be in the session?
188.8.131.52 The group should be varied – different people with different skills will bring more variety to the table.
184.108.40.206 Everyone should respect each other’s opinions.
5.2 Red hat
5.2.1 Red Group 1
220.127.116.11 I doubt we’ll find a workable solution to this problem.
18.104.22.168 Don’t be so pessimistic! If we put our heads together, we can come up with hundreds of ideas!
22.214.171.124 I feel like you are putting a damper on everyone’s mood.
5.2.2 Red Group 2
126.96.36.199 My gut tells me when I’m generating a good creative idea.
5.2.2 2 Well, I try to always see the silver lining.
188.8.131.52 Point noted. Who else wants to share a thought?
5.2.3 Red Group 3
184.108.40.206 Here’s a thought: how about having the session in a hot air balloon so we can see it from a different perspective?
220.127.116.11 Nobody has time for that!
18.104.22.168 Some people might be a bit nervous up there, but I love the idea! It is so bold!
5.2.4 Red Group 4
22.214.171.124 Here are some pens and paper. We are going to do a mind mapping exercise to enrich the session.
126.96.36.199 Oh goodie! This reminds me of my primary school days! All children are unselfconsciously creative.
188.8.131.52 Do we have to do this? Seems a bit childish.
5.2.5 Red Group 5
184.108.40.206 This is so much fun! And therapeutic too!
220.127.116.11 I agree, we should do this more often. Look at all the ideas we’ve generated in just 5 minutes!
18.104.22.168 Well done everybody! You have all come up with some great ideas.
5.3 Black hat
5.3.1 Black Group 1
22.214.171.124 Group brainstorming sessions are successful when the facilitator encourages outrageous thinking.
126.96.36.199 I don’t agree. Some ideas are too crazy to even consider. What is the point if you cannot implement it?
188.8.131.52 Although Hat 2 has a point, we can focus on practicalities later. For now, letÊ¼s go with Hat 1Ê¼s suggestion.
5.3.2 Black Group 2
184.108.40.206 People need to feel that their opinions count. There should be lots of encouragement and praise!
220.127.116.11 Also, don’t forget what lessons were learnt from past brainstorming sessions.
18.104.22.168 People will never talk freely and openly if the facilitator is high up in the corporate hierarchy. They’ll just feel intimidated.
5.3.3 Black Group 3
22.214.171.124 We are bound to get some good ideas if we get hundreds of people together to brainstorm!
126.96.36.199 Good luck selling that idea – resources are stretched thin enough as it is.
5.3.3 3 Hang on a second Hat 2, Hat 1 leads us to a very important point – bringing together a wide range of different people will generate a wide range of ideas.
5.3.4 Black Group 4
188.8.131.52 The problem with group brainstorming sessions is that the subject is usually too vaguely phrased.
184.108.40.206 Indeed, Hat 1 makes a good point. Looking back on our past sessions, that was the main reason for a lack of workable ideas.
220.127.116.11 Luckily this was not the case today, so letÊ¼s take note of that and turn our focus to the best environment to have group brainstorming sessions in. Anyone?
5.3.5 Black Group 5
18.104.22.168 Food and drink always makes me feel more relaxed and open. We should be as comfortable as possible and take many breaks.
22.214.171.124 In a pool! Or at a sporting event. Or how about hiring a taxi and going on a group brainstorming road trip?!
126.96.36.199 The main problem is the interruptions. It is so frustrating! Just switch off your cellphone! Ask not to be interrupted. Why can’t we get this right?
5.4 Yellow hat
5.4.1 Yellow Group 1
188.8.131.52 Who wants to volunteer an idea?
184.108.40.206 My gut says if we could somehow get people in a good mood, the ideas will flow.
220.127.116.11 Happy people are more creative and more productive, so your statement makes perfect logical sense.
5.4.2 Yellow Group 2
18.104.22.168 I’ve got plenty of ideas on how we can do that! Like, why not play soothing music in the background to put everybody in a kind of meditative state.
22.214.171.124 What a lovely idea! Just as long as we make sure everybody agrees on what music will be played.
126.96.36.199 Are you kidding me? It is the dumbest idea I have heard in my life!
5.4.3 Yellow Group 3
188.8.131.52Don’t be so quick to judge. People love to work together for a common cause.
184.108.40.206 Improving your analysing and strategic thinking helps your bottom line – and we’re all striving towards that goal.
220.127.116.11 Good point! Let take some time to think about how successful brainstorming can affect our bottom line.
5.4.4 Yellow Group 4
18.104.22.168 It can’t. Ideas generated in brainstorming sessions are just wishful thinking.
22.214.171.124 I beg to differ – we have done it before and we can definitely do it again!
126.96.36.199 Indeed, last year’s brainstorming session resulted in the company producing an exciting new product.
5.4.5 Yellow Group 5
188.8.131.52 Here’s another example: when legislation changed in an African country, we brainstormed options for expanding there – today it’s one of our biggest markets.
184.108.40.206 Stories like that give me goosebumps!
220.127.116.11 That is valuable knowledge! We should compile a list of these success stories to get tips on why they were successful and to inspire similar thinking as we move forward.
5.5 Green hat
5.5.1 Green Group 1
18.104.22.168 If it’s okay with everybody, I’d like to sing a song this topic reminds me of. Then we make up our own words as we go along.
22.214.171.124 Do you have any marbles left? This is a business meeting!
126.96.36.199 No, it is a great idea! As long as it is not a lullaby. Hat 1, you may proceed.
5.5.2 Green Group 2
188.8.131.52 I’ll tell a joke instead so as not to offend anybody with my singing. How do you eat an elephant?
184.108.40.206 I know the answer to this one!
220.127.116.11 That is repulsive! Humans should not be allowed to eat elephants!
5.5.3 Green Group 3
18.104.22.168 If you were starving and it was the only thing left to eat except your own leg, would you change your mind?
22.214.171.124 I’m sure it is just a metaphor. If the answer has bearing on this discussion, please share it with us. If not, we have to move on.
126.96.36.199 But it does! The answer is ‘bite by bite’ just like we are doing now – ‘idea by idea.’ I brought sweets – so the next good idea gets a treat!
5.5.4 Green Group 4
188.8.131.52 Or we can play that game where we start with one person saying a word, like ‘success’, and everybody has to say one related word, and on to the next, faster and faster till we see where we end up!
184.108.40.206 No way! I don’t see the value in a rambling session like that. We should just use our critical judgement to weed out the impossible ideas.
220.127.116.11 That game sounds like fun! We use criticism far too often as our default line of thinking. Lets expand our brains a bit. You can start, I’ll write everything down if I can keep up!
5.5.5 Green Group 5
5.6 Blue hat
5.6.1 Blue Group 1
18.104.22.168 Before we proceed, can we get a comfort break soon?
22.214.171.124 Yes. Let’s have it now, so that we don’t have to interrupt the flow of thinking once we’re on a roll.
126.96.36.199 We should actually record the session so that you don’t have to worry about keeping notes.
5.6.2 Blue Group 2
188.8.131.52 That meeting we had this morning was so unproductive!
184.108.40.206 And boring! I was twiddling my thumbs for the first hour and a half!
220.127.116.11 Sounds like you guys have had a rough day. Lets brighten things up now by having some fun and solving this conundrum!
5.6.3 Blue Group 3
18.104.22.168 Can we hurry this up? I’ve got a heap of admin waiting on my desk.
22.214.171.124 Sure, I would like us to all think about three emotional factors related to this topic.
126.96.36.199 Comfort, respect and encouragement.
5.6.4 Blue Group 4
188.8.131.52 That is a very important point! Encouragement will make people feel proud of themselves and therefore more willing to participate.
5.6.4 2 Listen, I’m not lying just to make someone feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
184.108.40.206 We hear you Mr Cranky! You have my permission to keep quiet rather than faking praise.
5.6.5 Blue Group 5
220.127.116.11 Let’s accommodate indulge Mr Cranky over here and explore the negative aspects which impact on brainstorming sessions.
18.104.22.168 Critical thinking?
22.214.171.124 Ha-ha, very funny.
6 Game end and Score
6.1 – A perfect score!! 100%
6.2 – Well done! Good score! 90%-100%
6.3 – Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Try again. 70%-90%
6.4 – Oops! You would do well to try and better your score. Below 70%
7. Tips for ensuring a successful brainstorming session
7.1 Choose an appropriate environment where you won’t be disturbed. Somewhere outdoors or away from the office is best as it takes people out of their regular daily mode of thinking.
7.2 Have a mixed group of participants. Include participants from varied backgrounds or departments, rather than people who have similar backgrounds or specialties. It allows for a far wider range of creative ideas
7.3 Assign a facilitator to lead the group and take notes. The person should be enthusiastic and able to both encourage chaos and bring it to order when necessary. The facilitator does not usually contribute ideas, but rather directs the session. (If the facilitator works in the same company, make sure he/she is not of a much higher rank post grade than the participants, as this can make them reluctant to propose unorthodox ideas.)
7.4 Warm up the group. Start with a quick discussion on a ‘nonsense’ topic, like ‘think of five ways to improve a cow’, if you had a magic wand what would you change, your favourite quotation. This gets thoughts flowing and sets the scene for a fun creative and dynamic session.
7.5 Now state your aim clearly. If you do not phrase your starting question correctly, you could end up with myriad ideas that do not actually solve the problem. Vague challenge statements encourage vague thinking, so make sure you clearly define the criteria of the issue to be brainstormed.
7.6 Write all ideas out in public view. Every participant should be able to see all the information all the time. A white board or flipchart is best for this. Once the ideas are up on the wall the whole group owns them and can add or expand on any one of them.
7.7 Encourage participation. Emphasise that the session is a non-judgmental environment – you won’t get great ideas if people are too scared to contribute, so no criticism allowed.
7.8 Make sure all ideas get equal weight. Stick to this rule – no matter how silly or off-the-wall the ideas might appear.
7.9 Keep the discussion focused on the issue. A skilful facilitator will keep any one idea from taking up too much discussion time.
7.10 Set a time to reconvene. Once people have had a time to go away and ‘digest’ the session, call another meeting to sort through all the ideas and select the most appropriate ones. This can be done by group consensus or voting.
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