Have you noticed how problems seem to creep up just before you plan to leave for home on a Friday evening? The Friday evening that you had planned for months ahead to leave for a long weekend with your spouse. Knowing you were planning to take some time off, most of your team has already left for the weekend. You have less than an hour to head home, get your packing done before heading out to the airport. That’s if you still want to stay married. And now you have to deal with this problem - and of course it involves your biggest customer (or the most troublesome one at the very least).
In such instances, much like getting up to give an impromptu speech in front of a skeptical audience, if your mind shuts down you won’t be alone. Worse yet your brain like mine often does, may scurry around like a lab rat with no seeming way out of the maze it is in. There are those amongst us who claim that we do our best work under such pressure - in fact some of us put off doing things, till they get into such a place with few options. But what about the rest of us, who could use a whole lot less adrenalin and excitement in our professional lives?
A typical family car has between twenty to thirty thousand individual parts, depending on whether we count all the screws and such. So automotive manufacturers have a unique problem in the sheer number of things that could potentially go wrong with so many parts - moving in one manner or another. Especially if you drive them over what passes for roads in India. The last thing any automotive maker would want is to have a recall on their cars - if the cost doesn’t put a dent in their profits or their very business, the public relations fall out can be disastrous. So they have over the last several decades created processes and methods to identify the innumerable ways that something can fail and working very hard to prevent such failure.
Surprisingly the lessons that these folks have learnt are equally applicable to your marketing team sending out a mass mailer or newsletter; human relations rolling out a new ”employee-friendly” policy or planning your family vacation with two teenagers. Granted these tasks don’t need to have their failure modes examined in quite the same detail as automotive or airplane manufacturing does. But a key underlying fact for such planning to be successful is that multiple heads are better than one, so that different skills and perspectives are bought to the table.
Yet when you get down to solving real world challenges, you find that problems tend to be just as varying as your teenager’s moods. The same team that’s solved seemingly intractable problems successfully in the past are stumped by newer ones. And your own abilities to solve things seem to somewhat less than dependable. This is when you get to appreciate the position of our Prime Minister or any other poor politician having to manage multiple constituencies or the founder of a bootstrapped startup.
So even if we agree that planning ahead and anticipating what can go wrong is key, and solving problems is easier with teams than just by yourself, how do we do it better?
Edward de Bono in his book Six Thinking Hats sets out to address this very issue. Not only does he state that like many other things we do, thinking too is a skill and can be improved and shows us how. The book’s blurb doesn’t pull any punches and makes the claim that Six Thinking Hats can help you think better! The book’s central premise is that by separating the distinct manners or views in which we approach a problem “the six hats” - objective & neutral, emotional, devil’s advocate, positive, creative and organizing by practice and process we can avoid confusion. By choosing explicitly, at each step of the problem solving process, which hat you will wear, you can get to a better solution faster.
So before you pick your hat color, pick up this book and make that flight each time!