DRMacIver's Notebook

78 Thinking Hats

78 Thinking Hats

This post is breaking the trend and is not based on a random passage from a book, so is a bonus post for today, though it will contain multiple references to books.

In “Six Thinking Hats” Edward de Bono talks about the idea of there being six “directions” that you can pull thought in, each of which is best characterised by a coloured hat. Because he’s de Bono, and thus a self-important asshole, the book opens as follows:

The Six Thinking Hats method may well be the most important change in human thinking for the past twenty-three hundred years.

Uh huh.

He goes on to say:

That may seem a rather exaggerated claim but the evidence is beginning to point that way.

No it isn’t, shut up.

Despite my intense dislike for de Bono as a human being, the book isn’t bad, and has some moderately useful ideas in it, and each of the different directions of thought is one that is useful to push your thinking in.

To quote his description of the hats (page 13):

White Hat White is neutral and objective. The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures.

Red Hat Red suggests anger (seeing red), rage and emotions. The red hat gives the emotional view.

Black Hat Black is sombre and serious. The black hat is cautious and careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea.

Yellow Hat Yellow is sunny and positive. The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.

Green Hat Green is grass, vegetation and abundant, fertile growth. The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.

Blue Hat Blue is cool, and it is also the colour of the sky, which is above everything else. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process and the use of other hats.

The hats pair as White and Red, Black and Yellow, Green and Blue, each defining an opposite direction. The idea is that people adopt a hat at a time, with the hats giving them permission to pull their thinking further in that direction than they otherwise would.

Do de Bono’s ideas work? Yeah, I think they do. Certainly I’ve got some good use out of some of his ideas from another of his books, “Lateral Thinking”, but I think his ideas work for a very simple reason: It’s really hard to come up with things that don’t work. The main thing de Bono’s ideas having going for them is that de Bono is very good at marketing his ideas in a way that only causes most people to dismiss them instead of everyone.

His books are short and kinda interesting, so I don’t recommend against reading them and might read a few more in future, but I think most of the value they bring comes from the fact that not enough people are doing this sort of thing because it would be too weird, and if you want to use de Bono’s work for groups you’re better off looking at something like liberating structures.

Basically, I think that almost anything you can do that pulls your thinking in a direction that it doesn’t naturally gravitate will prove interesting. We’ve been seeing that with the recent use of random readings from books to prompt posts - I’m still finding my feet on that a bit, but I think it’s been very positive and it’s certainly caused me to write things I would not otherwise be writing.

Which ties in to something I’ve been thinking about for years but have never really got around to doing, which is Tarot reading.

Tarot obviously doesn’t let you foresee the future, except insofar as you can already foresee the future because brains are causal reasoning machines that are fairly good at predicting the future on their own. Instead, tarot cards are a tool for randomised prompts for narrative construction, but having those randomised prompts causes you to construct narratives or think about things in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise do.

Learning Tarot “properly” is something I keep putting off, so given the success of the randomised prompts from books, I thought it might be worth integrating some of it into my writing practice. How exactly this plays out will be something to experiment with, but if nothing else it will drive familiarity with the cards.

For convenient linkability I’ll use the cards descriptions from www.learntarot.com (the author of that site also has a book that I’ll be consulting).

Today I drew a pair of cards:

A core theme of the high priestess is intuition and mystery, paying attention to the subconscious. Actions listed include “Using your intuition” and “Seeking guidance from within”. She is described as “the guardian of the unconscious”.

The two of pentacles is, among other things, about fun and flexibility. Actions include “going with the flow” and “doing something you enjoy”. The two of pentancles is described as “There is nothing quite like the feeling of being graceful and effective at the same time.”

This puts me in mind of Focusing and Alexander Technique, two things which are fairly central to my current pursuit of emotional awareness and embodiment work. Focusing is using your bodily sense to learn about your emotional state, while this sort of graceful and effective movement is a key feature of Alexander Technique.

The other thing that is interesting in this link is the idea of “having fun”. How do you know when you’re having fun? This isn’t a rhetorical question. What does “fun” feel like?

I don’t know either to be honest. I’m not very good at fun. I can do interest, I can do spontaneity, I can enjoy things, but fun is weird for me. I’m hoping Focusing will help me unpack that a bit, by paying more attention to the phenomenological character of enjoyment and leaning into it a bit (and yes, I am aware that the fact that “How do I have fun? Let’s learn more phenomenology!” is very much part of the problem. I am not good at either of these cards, which is part of why they are interesting).

I suspect that fun is only visible to you after the fact. If you’re too self-conscious about the fact that you’re having fun, you’ll forget to have fun. Overthinking is a brake on your ability to have fun.

This is part of why the two of pentacles puts me in mind of Alexander Technique. If fun is primarily an embodied state, then the half of you that is embodied is much more able to have fun than your cognitive half. Peter Nobes (my Alexander Technique) teacher relates a story of a standup comic: “Are there any intellectuals in the room? Raise your hand.” (nobody raises their hand) “Good. Intellectuals don’t know how to laugh. They just sit there and stroke their chin and go ah yes I see that’s very funny”. Highly relatable.

One of the ways I have been deploying both sides of this recently - Focusing and Alexander Technique - is to try to have more fun doing exercise. Doing exercise not because I think I should exercise, but because my body invites me to do so and to enjoy it. Using exercise as a way to engage with my embodied self, and to drop into a flow state. So far it hasn’t resulted in a massive amount of exercise, but I’ve done some most days, and the amount I am doing seems to be going up over time rather than down, and at no point have I done any exercise and resented it. This is pretty amazing, and makes me think there might be something to this human notion of “fun” you people are always going on about.