Has anyone ever asked you to stay in “White Hat” mode while you are generating new ideas in a meeting?  Have you found yourself Black Hatting”—judging ideas as quickly as they come up? 

As you are working on your 2021 plans or on any creative idea, this a tool/idea you might find helpful. It works with groups and it works as a self-discipline. Some of the most effective brainstorming/planning sessions I’ve participated in embraced this concept of the White Hats and Black Hats.  It is really hard for most of us not to jump in with a judgement, especially for people who like to be in control.  Haven’t we all been in groups with someone who constantly makes judgements?  In my experience, if you can set the tone in the first 15 minutes of this kind of session –and the moderator will have to continuously remind us to stop shutting down each other’s ideas—it will help keep everyone more open and creative. (This is a good endorsement for having a moderator, otherwise the CEO or other “top dogs” will tend to influence the group too much.) 

I’ve seen this simple concept work well with groups of 50 leaders and I use it with myself every day to jumpstart my thinking before I paralyze myself with analysis.  Have you ever tried to write something and found it difficult to begin?  That might be your Black Hat judge “grading your paper” before you even begin! 

White Hats – While getting the initial creative flow going, keep everyone in their white hats.   White hats are worn in the time for information gathering in the brainstorming session. No idea is too crazy in this phase. In order to get to a “flow” state, don’t judge anyone’s idea.  Sometimes the “craziest” ideas can be a trigger that leads to genius solutions! 

Black Hats   When we find ourselves offering a judgement or shutting down an idea, we are wearing our Black Hats. Black Hats will unintentionally “step on” an idea by pointing out problems early.  Of course, there is a time for that, but not while trying to generate new ideas in the first place. 

After you’ve developed a list of ideas (love those giant flip charts), the group can enter an analytical phase to choose the best 3-5 new ideas to be further developed. That’s a good time to see who has energy around certain ideas for the teams. Those are the folks who will “flesh out” each new concept. What do you do with an idea no one will volunteer to lead?  Drop it! You should have enough exciting opportunities to spend positive energy on those!

As always, if you would like to discuss this topic, your business valuation, your value drivers, buying or selling, feel free to reach out to me at 224-688-8838 or email me [email protected].   

Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio