Are you wearing the Black thinking hat? – Do you default to constructive criticism?

A mate messages me, I find his response a bit frustrating, I had sent him a link to Lambda School, saying that they have an interesting business model. They charge nothing up front, but take a percentage of a student’s income for two years once they’re earning over $50,000.

His first response – “And if they never get to $50k?”

It felt like there was no consideration, just a shut down. I responded that I think it keeps them on their game, if the market doesn’t value someone after someone they have taken one of their courses, perhaps they are teaching the wrong thing.

My aim was to point out that it’s refreshing to see a different approach.

Then, he unexpectedly responded with quite a personal revelation, he apologised for his recent negative responses. I admire that a lot, the ability and awareness to reflect. Reflecting on our past behaviour makes it a better investment in the future. This is different to dwelling on the past.

The default to a negative response is frustrating for someone who shares an idea and it suppresses the sharing of new ideas. Ideas in themselves may be non-starters, but when they are built upon, they can turn into something beautiful. To be fair, saying it is a negative is perhaps the wrong word to use, it can be perceived by the recipient as negative, whereas it is constructive from the perspective of the respondent.

I privately (until sharing it on this blog) call it “black hat syndrome” – From Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats. The intention is positive, in that they are looking for obstacles preventing it from working. I’ve noticed it’s more common with people who receive a lot of output from other people to review and have to give their opinion on it or use the information to make a decision, quickly.

So they train themselves to look for gaps and find these gaps, thinking to themselves, where can we get burnt. While useful and necessary, it is also limiting mindset and requires awareness to break out of.

“The Black Hat is judgment – the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.” – From the de Bono Group.

The concept of hats is useful, as it enables us to look at things differently. Ideally we would have a room balanced with people metaphorically wearing the different hats, but life is seldom ideal, like attracts like and we become stagnant. If the majority of people are saying how wonderful an idea is (yellow), then it is useful to have some black hat thinkers who anticipate problems, so the idea can be challenged, refined and improved.

I have done exercises where people are asked to “wear” one hat for part of a problem solving session, then another one for a different. It’s amazing to watch people transform to conform to their new role. It is particularly useful for people who perhaps lack awareness of their own defaults, they quickly pick up on others and more importantly themselves. It then broadens their thinking process, they may cycle through the hats as they make a decision.

Using thinking hats is more powerful than leaving people to be “that’s just the way they are.” It is also then less offensive to say “it sounds like you are wearing your [colour] hat.”

I encourage you to examine your last few responses, in e-mail or perhaps WhatsApp, were they “black hat thinking”, should you try a few of the other thinking hats for size and fit? 

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply