2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: Six Hats to Help You Solve Problems

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2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: Six Hats to Help You Solve Problems

At the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in New York City we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café” sessions with our client attendees.
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Friday, June 21, 2013 - 8:00am


At the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in New York City we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café”sessions with our client attendees. Stay tuned as we share the major themes and knowledgeshared during these discussions.

What’s Your Problem? A Parallel Thinker’s Guide to Effective Problem Solving

Bea Boccalandro, Veraworks

Summary of Session

Groups of participants each took on a different employee volunteer program challenge – engaging retail and manufacturing employees, scaling globally and getting leadership buy in, for example – using Edward de Bono’s parallel thinking model. This problem-solving model uses six different types of thinking, known as colored hats, sequentially. The Six Thinking Hats model is likely the most widely used creative thinking model in business, where it has helped create super-fast Speedo swimsuits and other successful innovations.

Why is This Topic Important?

Imagine a world in which every employed individual every week contributed towards alleviating a serious societal issue. What might the world look like? Would we even still have hunger, or homelessness, or heart disease?

It’s easy to see the potential that employee volunteering holds for employees, for business and for the globe. It’s probably what motivates you, day in and day out, to pour your heart and soul into your employee volunteer program.

It’s also easy to see that employee volunteering is still in its infancy, light years away from the lofty vision painted above. It’s extremely rare, for example, for employee volunteer programs to involve anywhere near the full employee base, to involve employees more than a few hours a year or to leverage the full complement of skills employees can offer societal causes.

Given the potential that remains untapped and the serious societal needs that remain unmet, it would be beneficial for employee volunteering to make use of the most effective thinking approach possible. It could help us see weaknesses we’ve missed, explore concepts we’ve never thought of, tap our full collective wisdom, reach solutions sooner and experience fewer hitches.

This is where Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats comes into play. It’s arguably the most highly regarded problem-solving model in the world. Proper tending to our volunteer programs merits a tool this powerful. And that’s what this session did: Simply apply a proven problem-solving tool, the Six Thinking Hats, to employee volunteering in the hopes that it will help our programs achieve their full potential for good.

Big Ideas from the Session:

Below are several ideas and reflections that emerged from participant application of the Six Thinking Hats:

1. Don’t discount hunches
Several groups commented that they found it especially productive, and refreshing to use emotional thinking (in De Bono’s language the Red Hat.) This hat rarely gets used in traditional business meetings. Yet, research finds that great ideas often start as mere feelings or hunches (see Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson).

Using the Red Hat, one group, for example, came up with the idea of “making senior managers jealous” of employee volunteers. This is certainly not the standard approach to obtaining senior manager buy in. Clearly! But I can certainly imagine it being the key innovation that makes an otherwise flat executive engagement strategy thrive.

2. Negative journeys can be positive
When the session got to the place where groups approached their issues using cautious, or Black Hat, thinking, the room’s din increased. Apparently, participants were verbalizing long-stifled concerns.

It’s not surprising that we neglect the Black Hat in our everyday work. A highly prized quality in employees is a positive outlook. Companies measure this in HR surveys and reward employees who always approach challenges with a “can do” attitude. Rightly so. Positive thinking begets positive results. However, despite this workplace emphasis on the positive – indeed, especially because of this bias – being negative for a limited amount of time can help us be more productive when we go back to our usual positive selves.

For example, one participant pointed out that the Black Hat helped her properly understand the scale and severity of risks rather than relating to them as “ominous forces of unknown strength” that she never explored. Being explicit about the negative made her more aware of the magnitude of the risk and confident that it was manageable.

In summary, occasional sessions of deliberately not being positive can make a positive contribution.

3. The most awkward hat is likely the most productive
One group reached the conclusion that the hats that were most uncomfortable were the ones that generated the best ideas. This makes sense, of course, since these are likely the hats we under-use. So, the more we avoid using a certain thinking hat, the more important it is that we use it.

More Resources

I hope this post inspired you to explore the Six Thinking Hats as a way to help your employee volunteer program evolve to its next level of greatness. I’ve used it in my work with several companies with good results. But please don’t try this based on this post alone! Consult de Bono’s work, especially the Six Thinking Hats book, to properly apply this tool.

Bea Boccalandro is president of VeraWorks, a global consulting firm that helps companies design, execute and measure their community involvement, including their philanthropic programs. She also teaches courses and seminars on community involvement for Georgetown University, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, the Points of Light Institute and other organizations; and is a frequent keynote speaker on business involvement in societal issues.


Robert Rosenthal
+1 (415) 241-6865