Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Hats

Last week in IST613 (Planning, Marketing, and Assessing Library Activities), I was introduced to de Bono's "Six-Hats" system of collaboration and brainstorming. In a nutshell, each participant in a group "wears" a figurative hat. The hats are referred to by color, and each hat carries with it a role in the group:

White Hats--Responsible for bringing factual information to the table, white hats map out the pathways to required information.

Yellow Hats--Responsible for a deliberate approach to positive thinking, yellow hats strive to find the good points in each idea discussed.

Red Hats--Responsible for opinion-based thinking, red hats analyze ideas that may have no grounding in reality by a purely visceral approach.

Green Hats--Responsible for wild and crazy ideas, green hats take the creative angle in a discussion.

Black Hats--Responsible for constructive criticism, black hats focus on the bad points of any idea.

Blue Hats--The facilitators in a conversation, blue hats take the meta-conversation angle, serving as referees and making sure the other perspectives are balanced.

Any one of these roles can be a challenge, but I particularly want to focus attention on two of them. For me, good librarianship is about wearing the blue hat--certainly, we're encouraged to make our own decisions and contribute our own thoughts, but I see our position as being uniquely suited to facilitation. Good librarians bring resources and a multi-disciplinary background to bear on any problem, and have training to help disseminate ideas and solutions among disparate groups.

In tonight's exercise, however, I played the black hat of my group. I expected it to be easy--finding a negative position is often easier than backing up a positive one. However, it soon became astoundingly clear that if I was sniping at my teammates and tearing down our ideas, we wouldn't get anywhere as a group. From that realization, I reinterpreted the role of the black hat--though, certainly, black hats are meant to take the pessimistic side of a discussion, it's more about pointing out flaws as problems to solve. There's a distinct skill set involved in breaking problems into solvable chunks, and black hats - productive ones, anyway - need to focus their energy that way.

As more of a personal note, I tend toward blue-hat thinking and positioning within a group. I'm glad we explored this idea in class, because the other perspectives offered within the six-hats framework will likely prove useful, especially knowing that they might not be my instinct. (Also interesting--two of the other students in my project-group also identified with the blue-hat approach. I wonder to what extent we self-selected because of it?)

It's another concept to add to my toolkit. If only all of my classes had such concrete additions!

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