How to use “six thinking hats” to challenge biases in decision-making

Here's how six thinking hats can help you catch out confirmation bias in decision-making.

If you are a business leader, chances are that you’re valued for your foresight and the strength of your decisions. However, the most forward-thinking and conscientious leaders too can be blind-sided when it comes to making decisions. Even when you have all the information you need to make a decision, your own view of the world, frame of analysis or way of thinking can be your biggest saboteur. Why? Blame confirmation bias.

When confirmation bias strikes

Confirmation bias is our tendency to selectively pick out information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or ideas. This is also known as myside bias or confirmatory bias. This is why two people with opposing views on a topic can see the exact same evidence, and still be validated by it.

In the corporate world, this form of bias can hinder any efforts for gender progress. For example, if a company is committed to hiring more women in senior roles, managers who hold on to outdated ideas (a woman’s place in the home, et cetera), may see this as tokenism, assume that gender policies are a sign of liberalism gone mad and are doomed to fail.

When a woman is hired for that role, chances are this manager will only notice slip-ups and shortcomings, because they’re looking for cues that confirm their assumptions.

The six thinking hats

There are a few ways to keep your views in check and to make sure you’re not guilty of confirmation bias.

A popular method, created by Edward de Bono, is the Six Thinking Hats approach. This way of thinking forces you to consider views outside your usual style of thinking by looking at things from different perspectives.

Before you make decisions, put on all six thinking hats, each representing a different style of thinking.

  • White hat: Focus on analyzing the information you have in front of you. Look at past trends and what you can learn from them. Are there gaps in your knowledge? Can you fill these gaps?
  • Red hat: Look at problems using your gut reaction. How do you feel about the issue in question? How does making a certain decision make you feel? How would others react to your decision?
  • Black hat: Look at your decision as a pessimist. Think of everything that could go wrong and why. Try to see why your decision might fail. While this approach sounds counterintuitive, this is crucial when planning because it highlights the weak points in a plan early on.
  • Yellow hat: Look at your decision as an optimist. Assess the strengths of your plan what you’re doing right. Use this way of thinking as your source of inspiration when times are tough.
  • Green hat: Put the problem aside and focus on thinking creatively. This is a free and easy approach, where you sit back and brainstorm new ideas.
  • Blue hat: Think like a boss. Blue hat thinking is about process and order, so with this hat on, figure out what type of thinking a particular problem needs. For example, if you’re running low on ideas, the blue hat helps you figure out it’s time for green hat thinking. When you’re overwhelmed by what the competition is doing, the blue hat helps you tap into yellow hat thinking.

Confirmation bias is one of the hardest issues to overcome when making decisions. We as humans don’t like to be wrong and we will search for any proof to prove that our way of thinking is right. You don’t have to look too far back in history to note the number of wars that have been waged based on confirmation bias. Countries, let alone businesses have collapsed as a result. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking some of the tough questions necessary to force the rest of the organization to appreciate diversity in thought.

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