Getting creative with creativity
This is a story about Parallel Thinking. It’s about how I changed my creative process in order to achieve better solutions to the problems I was facing at work.
The team that I was working with had a very democratic way of deciding things, no matter the situation: we would gather in a room, debate for and against different arguments, then vote one way or another. It turned out to be an inappropriate way of finding a solution, as we often tend to be very opinionated, regardless of our lack of knowledge in the field.
Being the only designer in the room, I often found myself struggling to prove a point, backing my statements with data and real world examples, nevertheless ending up outnumbered by other opinions. Infusing the team culture with a new method of designing solutions (and moving forward with creative proposals) helped me change the core objective of every design review meeting. I can truly say Parallel Thinking completed the methodology circle of our team, together with Design Thinking, Lean UX, and Agile frameworks.
The context of our decision-making process
Throughout time, we developed some very efficient thinking tools for argument and analysis. These traditional thinking methods have not changed for centuries. They were powerful in dealing with a relatively stable world, where ideas and concepts rarely changed in a dramatic way. But these methods alone can no longer deal with the rapidly changing world of today where new concepts and ideas write the success of tomorrow.
The modern world depends on this type of thinking: in business discussions, in law courts, debates, we use the thinking system of the Greeks, based on argument and critical thinking. This is the basis of our normal thinking: everyone of us tries to prove the other side wrong. The “absolute truth” is to be reached by argument.
As a construct, argument itself is a useful tool of thinking. However, in my field, I needed a mindset that would let me open my mind to new perspectives, rather than a critical thinking one. Argument lacks constructive energies, design energies, and creative energies. Having a mindset in which we scout for errors and possible faults will lead to incremental improvement, but that does not construct something new. Simply separating the advantages and disadvantages of an existing solution will most likely fail to produce new alternatives.
More and more industries like business, technology, life sciences, information and computing sciences, need to be as constructive and creative as possible. There is a need to solve problems and to open up opportunities. There is a need to design new possibilities, not just to argue between two or three existing possibilities.
Parallel Thinking as an alternative
Traditional argument may be unproductive for our design process. We can use Parallel Thinking as an alternative. How would this method work for us? Each person involved in the creative process can put forward his or her thoughts in parallel with the thoughts of others (that means not attacking the thoughts of others). The Six Thinking Hats method is a practical way of carrying out Parallel Thinking. It provides a practical method of constructive thinking instead of drifting discussions.
Parallel Thinking and Six Thinking Hats are terms coined and implemented by Edward de Bono. He describes how in traditional adversarial thinking, A and B are in conflict. Each side seeks to criticize the other point of view. The Six Hats method allows parallel explorations: Both A and B wear each hat together as they explore all sides of an issue. Adversarial confrontation is replaced by a cooperative exploration of the subject.
With The Six Hats method, instead of trying to do everything at once, we separate out the different aspects of thinking. De Bono has a great analogy for this process: Think of full-color printing, where the basic color separations are made and then each basic color is printed separately onto the same sheet to give full-color printing. In the same way, we separate the modes of thinking and then apply each mode to the same subject in order to end up with full-color thinking on the subject.
The six hats represent six modes of thinking. They are directions to think rather than labels for thinking. The hats are used proactively rather than reactively. The method promotes input from more people. The six hats system encourages performance rather than personal position. People can alternate any hat even though they initially had an opposite view. There are six metaphorical hats and we can put on or take off one of these hats to indicate the type of thinking being used.
White Hat thinking: facts & numbers
This covers facts, figures, information needs and gaps. Let’s drop the arguments and proposals, and look at the data base.
Red Hat thinking: feelings & emotions
This covers intuition, feelings and emotions. The red hat allows the thinker to put forward an intuition without any need to justify it. Usually feelings and intuition can only be introduced into a discussion if they are supported by logic. The red hat gives full permission to a thinker to put forward his or her feelings on the subject at the moment.
Black Hat thinking: judgement & caution
This is the hat of judgement and caution. It is not in any sense an inferior or negative hat. The black hat is used to point out why a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use, or the policy that is being followed. The black hat should always be logical.
Yellow Hat thinking: logical positive
The bright side: Why something will work and why it will offer benefits. It can be used in looking forward to the results of some proposed action, but can also be used to find something of value in what has already happened.
Green Hat thinking: creativity, alternatives
This is the hat of creativity, alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, provocations and changes.
Blue Hat thinking: process control
This is the overview or process control hat. It looks not at the subject itself but at the ‘thinking’ about the subject: Putting on my blue hat, I feel we should do some more green hat thinking at this point.
Separating Ego and Performance
Parallel thinking is defined as a thinking process where focus is split in specific directions. Within a group of people working together, it effectively avoids the consequences of the adversarial approach. It surely helped my team and me focus on what could be done (and with what effort), rather than what has already been done.
When interacting with each other, if we do not like an idea, then we are not going to spend much time thinking of the benefits or strengths of that idea. This is because if you uncovered sufficient good points for the idea to be accepted, then you would have “lost” the argument. We tend to avoid changing our minds in the middle of a debate, or accepting that another proposal might be a better solution than our personal input.
With Parallel Thinking, each approach can evolve in parallel with the other, until more information is gathered, until the team needs to make a decision, until the whole picture gets more clear. Each path gets to be fully explored in terms of efficiency, cost, performance. This method improved my overall creative process, making me aware of the multitude of solutions that are possible if you are open to seeing things differently. It taught me to always challenge the old ways and find new definitions and affordances to regular objects, ideas, perspectives and solutions!
References: De Bono Group