The greatest challenge is not so much in the huge perspective shifts or the developing that novel world altering idea, rather it is in making the tools a part of normal day to day business. The real value of the tools is lost if they are seen solely as a means of “wiz-bang” problem solving.
Here in the Victorian State Government in Australia, we have now trained over 500 staff in the use of the Six Thinking Hats and are now starting to roll out the Direct Attention Thinking Tools and Lateral Thinking. We have conducted training in such diverse environments as Government departments, schools, detention centres, prisons and even delivered training standing on a toilet in a prison cell (don’t ask.)
The Hats provides us the means of addressing one of our most challenging and "lowest hanging of fruits" - Meetings. There is a general consensus across Govt that our meetings are sometimes insufficiently focused and can consume more time than we'd like.
The challenge has been to incorporate the methods into normal business practice so that they are routinely applied and become a way of doing things. The journey is by no means complete but there are ongoing indications that the roll out of the tools is having a significant effect.
To date the application of parallel thinking in our Government settings has included:
• A $12,500,000 worth of savings in one department where such saving could not be envisaged prior to. This was achieved by the executive officers spending one day with a sequence of Hats and one lateral thinking tool.
• A $600,000 saving within a business unit as a result of Six Thinking Hats training and the subsequent inclusion of yellow hat thinking into a discussion on the way ahead the same day.
• The smooth planning of what was potentially a logistical nightmare in moving 20 city locations into one newly constructed building. Achieved by careful design of focus and a clear thinking agenda helping all participants to stay in parallel.
• A strategic planning process expedited with great efficiency through via the incorporation of parallel thinking into the process.
• A business restructure planned and implemented without any of the associated angst by getting everyone thinking in parallel throughout.
• We have applied the hats within the adult prison population where training recipients report that the simple structure resonates far better than the lengthy and overly complex cognitive behavioural programmes they undertake.
• There are now two Six Thinking Hats facilitators using the methods within the Juvenile Justice system.
• Many meetings across Government are now facilitated using the Six Thinking Hats and while the direct benefits are difficult to quantify there is a strong consensus they they are more focused and less time consuming.
Possibly the greatest success in the application of these tools has been harder to quantify, but has implications that go far beyond any efficiency or dollar savings. In govt we tend to be very conservative and risk adverse in many of the things we do, so much so in fact that we miss many opportunities. New ideas are always viewed through a risk assessment lens and as a result rarely survive.
We have whole business units dedicated to risk assessment and the type of thinking we associate with the Black Hat. This leaves our thinking unbalanced as there are no corresponding structures to provide the positive assessment that is required for a balanced view.
The inclusion of Yellow Hat thinking into a number of groups within Govt has provided this complementary view of the world and positively influenced decision-making. As people start to see the possibilities of what might be before the default risk assessment is applied, the organisational starts to move to a more “can do” and positive mindset.
As we now like to point out, with many departments spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on external “culture experts, ” this is the simplest and best way to positively influence organisation’s culture and it’s completely free. As a number of our business units start to appreciate this the demand for the de Bono training is steadily increasing.
Much of our work has been co-designed with Susan Mackie of the de Bono Institute here in Melbourne. The Institute has partnered with us across many beneficial projects and we’d like to acknowledge their ongoing support and wisdom during this process.