November 2014

Six Hats Methods and Lean by Dennis Sergent 
"We have met the enemy, and he is us", says the beloved cartoon character Pogo.  Our experience teaches us that most of our performance problems originate from faulty thinking that precedes faulty outcomes.  So a natural place to look at how to improve outcomes is to examine the thinking that precedes our actions.  In a 2010 poll by IBM, 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the #1 leadership competency of the future. So, it makes sense for us to consider improving our creative capabilities.
Six Thinking Hats TM are part of a set of practical tools from Edward de Bono’s thinking and problem solving toolkit.  He is often called the father of “intentional creativity” and a pioneer in brain science, he described practical ways to demonstrate how our brains naturally function and learning, then using new methods to get better results.  His concept of lateral thinking helps explain why certain exercises, like random word exercises, or challenging assumptions, will create new ideas.  
This does not suggest a cliché of creativity training, no silly exercises or games, play acting or tossing of toys, certainly no wearing of wacky hats.  The "six hats" are a metaphor used through simple methods to solve real problems, and thus become a more creative person, team and organization.
Creativity is a discipline and skill that anyone can master for better problem solving - with a little knowledge and practice.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” and he was right, we need this different kind of thinking.  De Bono’s Six HatsTM process has been described as “the most important change in human thinking for the past twenty-three hundred years”.  With that kind of promotion, let's explore the process.  These “six” hats are a metaphor for the directional nature of thinking and with practice we learn to tap into the power of collaborating with other people, thinking at the same time about the same things in the same ways.
Before we get too far into the Six Hats methods, let's spend a minute or two on historical thinking methods.  
Traditional Western thinking by the Greeks used argument and adversarial thinking, where each "side" of an issue would take a position to prove that the other side was wrong.  This method lacks a constructive, creative or design element and is intended only to discover the "truth", but does not work to build or create anything, a significant limitation.
Next we have linear or pattern thinking, where people try to think "more" or "better" or "harder" in the same direction of their knowledge and experience, instead of changing direction.  Effort in the same direction does not necessarily succeed and assumes certain boundaries, perceptions, concepts and limitations.  A metaphor for this kind of thinking is that you cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper
Another more modern way of thinking is lateral thinking or provocative thinking to change concepts and perceptions.  In most real life situations the concepts and boundaries are not given, but are assumed.  Lateral thinking seeks to first identify and then change the concepts and boundaries.  It also attempts to use the perception part of thinking, where we organize our external world into the pieces we can process.  Since our brain is self-organizing with asymmetric patterns and a need for moving across patterns. Lateral thinking is used to achieve such 'lateral' movement.
Last, we have the parallel thinking method Designed by Edward de Bono to be cooperative, directional and coordinated.  Parallel thinking is best understood in contrast to traditional argument or adversarial thinking.  In parallel thinking, each thinker is given simple directions for thinking in parallel with all the other thinkers.  Statements or thoughts are documented separately in parallel and then considered by the whole team of thinkers.  The first “round” of thinking is guided by the metaphor of a colored thinking hat.  Each type directs cooperative thinking, usually starting with one and moving through all six different types of thinking.  In the final stage, the way forward is coordinated and 'designed' from the parallel thoughts of the team. This is the Six HatsTM method.
I greatly respect his work and invite you to read his book "Serious Creativity", a summary of de Bono’s many books and thinking tools. You’ll see many examples and different ways to use these “Six Hats” to generate ideas and solutions.  It is a great way to get started on a new project or set of problems.

Dennis Sergent is the owner of Sergent Results Group, helping people and their organizations get better at everything they do through continuous improvement. Dennis is Vice Chairman of the MLC Board and has led more than 100 change programs over 20 years with a singular focus on the values of customers, communications, and teamwork. He creates teams to serve commercial, government, and private customers. 


Lean in Action: What is the Effect of Lean on Safety Management?
By Thomas A. Smith

“The test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still maintain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Back in the 1980’s American companies made many visits to Japan to see for themselves what World Class Manufacturing was all about. One of the differences they saw immediately was the priority companies gave to safety.

Craig Long, VP and Executive Director of Performance Solutions by Milliken led several study missions to Japan to learn about world-class manufacturing. He visited over 40 operations and in every case they started with a safety briefing. At one plant, his contingent said, “We are not here to learn about safety, we are here to learn about world-class manufacturing.” The Japanese manager replied, “We have to start with safety. It’s how we earn the trust of our people. It allows us to ask them to participate in other improvement activities.” Milliken has gone on to become one of the safest and productive companies in the U.S. And it does it with zero safety managers on-site. Safety is run by its associated at the plant level.
But the lesson about the importance of safety to American managers seems to have been lost. American management still does not recognize the connection between safety and productivity. To this day deep down inside most American managers believe you can have high production or high safety but you can’t have both at the same time. Safety is still the responsibility of the safety department.

Consider the following:

  • U.S. employers pay over $50 billion per year in direct workers' compensation costs. That’s over $1 billon per week.
  • Each prevented lost-time injury or illness saves $37,500.
  • Nearly 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2012.
  • More than one-half of the nearly 3.0 million private industry injury and illness cases reported nationally in 2012 were of a more serious nature that involved days away from work, job transfer, or restriction (DART cases).
  • Annual Gallop polls consistently reveal over 50% of American workers are not engaged in their jobs. And another 25% are actively disengaged which means they work against what management is trying to achieve.

Basically, lean management is about removing waste from your operations. Companies have made great strides in learning how to remove the seven forms of waste in operations: overproduction, time, motion, transportation, processing, stock on hand, movement and making defects/rework.
American management doesn’t seem to understand that employee injuries constitute the eighth and worst forms of waste. First, a person has been physically harmed while performing their job. That creates the real possibility of workers losing respect for management. Second, it stops production and no matter how fast you put things back to work you can never recover the time it takes to do that.
Two things are clear about lean management. One is you cannot run a lean operation unless 100% of your employees are enthused, empowered and engaged and on-the-job. That means if even one person is injured, lean is not happening. You won’t have any extra people sitting around at the ready to replace an injured worker. The other is, the data clearly shows our present ability to manage safety is woefully inadequate when it comes to running a business using lean methods.
Presently, safety management relies heavily on compliance and controlling the behavior of workers as the methods to reduce employee accidents. Its objectives are to maintain the status quo by complying with safety rules and regulations and fixing the workers. Lean management relies heavily on participation of worker’s ideas and creativity and gives them the freedom to change things for the better. Its objective is continual improvement by fixing the system to meet the needs of customers.
As management leaders learned to become lean, they had to transform the management system, not just reform it. Transformation of the management system requires a change of the objectives. To reform a system means you keep the system as it is and change its behavior. To be effective, safety must now go through a transformation to to meet the needs of lean management. Just managing to meet safety specifications and maintain the status quo is no longer “good enough”.
Thomas A. Smith “Smitty” has worked with management and hourly workers for the last 30 years to help them apply continual improvement theory and methods to safety management. He has presented research papers on the subject at the 17th and 19th International Deming Conference, Fordham University, New York City. You can read more of his articles or purchase his book: Systems Accidents at He can be reached at or 248-391-1818.


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