April 14, 2011

The Essence of a Learning Organization

No, this is not a recipe on how to create a living, learning organization.

Six Thinking HatsThis is simply an incomplete note on what ingredients are needed to complete the recipe. Just like in cooking, once we get the ingredients, we need to know how to mix them and which method of cooking is more suitable than the other - we can grill, bake, fry, you get the idea. A recipe for a learning organization is very complex. It depends on the organization's legacy, culture, people's belief, perception, preference, and readiness.

Six Thinking Hats is a thinking tool popularized by DR. Edward de Bono, and it serves as a good illustration on how a learning organization should work.

Underlying principles

The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be identified, deliberately accessed and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues. Dr de Bono identifies six distinct states in which the brain can be "sensitised". In each of these states the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered (e.g. gut instinct, pessimistic judgment, neutral facts).

A compelling example presented is sensitivity to "mismatch" stimuli. This is presented as a valuable survival instinct, because, in the natural world, the thing that is out of the ordinary may well be dangerous. This state is identified as the root of negative judgment and critical thinking.

Six distinct states are identified and assigned a color:
  • Information: (White) - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions (Red) - instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Bad points judgment (Black) - logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch
  • Good points judgment (Yellow) - logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity (Green) - statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
  • Thinking (Blue) - thinking about thinking

Coloured hats are used as metaphors for each state. Switching to a state is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either literally or metaphorically. These metaphors allow for more complete and elaborate segregation of the states than the preconceptions inherent in people's current language. All of these thinking hats help for thinking more deeply. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea or a product you might come up with. Furthermore, Dr de Bono asserts that these states are associated with distinct chemical states of the brain — however, no details or evidence of this are presented.

(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Thinking_Hats#Underlying_principles)

It is important to understand which state we are currently in. For example, if an idea sounds too alien for us, and we have no clear indication whether it might work, our White hat thinking might be looking for information and fail in doing so, our Black hat thinking might be sounding pessimism, and our Red hat thinking is giving us uneasy, out-of-comfort-zone feeling. What people tend to do is make a decision without putting on the Yellow hat (optimism - understanding that things might work) and Green hat (creativity - understanding that things might work if we look at different options), which means that they are not using their Blue hat, which is the control hat that allows us to switch from one state to another.

This is one way we can learn as individual, or learn as an organization. No blame, no judgment. Just learn.

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