The Black Hat

First it was the scene I was watching on Grey’s Anatomy where Dr Hahn refused to do an inoperable tumor surgery onto a ten year old, against the decision of the hospital team. The team, then led by my favorite character Dr Bailey, went on with the surgery anyway.

Throughout it all, Dr Hahn was very critical with just every step they took, and every suggestion the team members gave, she gunned them down with all the impossibilities and the ‘no it cannot work’ response. Exasperated, Bailey barked back with ‘ You’ve been gunning down all our ideas, since you are so smart why don’t you give us suggestions on what to do instead of criticizing all that we have tried to do?!’

Fast forward, some hours later. At the kopitiam, post training. The team of us was having a post dinner meeting. The dojo gang is the organizing committee for the upcoming aikido.seminar in March. We had come as far as putting the respective people into the respective roles- chairperson, treasurer, programs, promotions and logistics etc. Then it came down to planning the week-long program right from scratch. And then…someone in the team did exactly like what Dr Hahn did. She gunned down just about every single thing others said. Every single suggestion was met by critical ‘no it can’t happen, it won’t’ response. All things negative on why this and that cant and won’t work etc, without her giving any solution to how it can work.

To put it simply, I was irritated. But I kept my mouth shut, although seething that the meeting was going no where, wasting precious time. It was midnight and all I wanted to do was to go back and back to my Grey’s Anatomy dvd, dammit.

Then somehow, I remembered EdwardDeBono and his 6 Thinking Hats system.

And obviously, this missy in our team was wearing a big black hat that night. She was basically manifesting what, in the 6 Thinking Hat System describes as

Black hat – Critical Judgment

Participants identify barriers, hazards, risks and other negative connotations. This is critical thinking, looking for problems and mismatches. This hat is usually natural for people to use, the issues with it are that people will tend to use it when it is not requested and when it is not appropriate, thus stopping the flow of others. Preventing inappropriate use of the black hat is a common obstacle and vital step to effective group thinking.

My mister, who was just as irritated but because of his nature/upbringing, squarely but sternly pointed out to our missy that she was making it impossible for the meeting to proceed if she kept gunning things down without offering feasible solutions. That kind of mellowed her down a bit, but I was not sure if  it was because she was a bit apprehensive of being told off upfront like that, which not many Asians can take (and when my man is stern, my man IS stern–big eyes et al)…OR she realised the fact that she was slowing down the meeting. Either way, she mellowed but no, she didn’t stop this annoying thing she was doing.

Whatever it is, the point is, in all projects or in every effort which requires team work, there is bound to be somebody who will be wearing that big, ugly (i’m not biased, just pissed that I couldn’t get back to my dvd last night, heh) black hat. How can we deal with such people? Yank the black hats off them? Point out this annoying trait to them in a straightforward manner? Ignore them?

Now that I’ve had a great Saturday and calmer when reflecting upon last night’s incident, I realized that actually, our missy with the black hat did come up with many valid concerns, only at the wrong time i.e during the brainstorming session. Hence, her weakness was that her critical thinking hat was used at the wrong time, instead of at the time when the team could use her critical thinking as tool to check on our blind spots.

I’ve learnt two things from this incident. Firstly, as much as people who wear black hats into meetings are a tad (or extremely annoying, IF you have Grey’s Anatomy waiting at home), we do need them, provided at the right time – to be asking the right questions to have our blind spots covered and leaving no stones unturned. This will lead us to being more well-prepared with all contingency plans during the execution of the plans and following through the project.

Secondly, I learnt that many stupid, reckless mistakes can be avoided if we wear black hats from time to time during decision making processes (but it has to be after the brainstorming session) and that black hats are most effective if based upon past experiences and not just  empty nay say.

It’s a good thing I didn’t snap at our missy with the black hat that night. It would have caused me to have a bad weekend. And I’m not sure what coloured hat I was wearing today, probably none at all because we simply vegged out on the sofa after we came back from SolarisMontKiara and popping pringles and watching episode after episode of Grey’s Anatomy. That doesn’t require much thinking, does it?

4 thoughts on “The Black Hat

  1. I just went for the 6 hats training late last year, but the trainer was so crappy. I didn’t buy this 6 hats thing coz in my opinion, if you wanna use it, everyone participating in the meeting must consciously know what 6 hats is all about, if not, the person who decides to don the black hat (while consciously or not)like the example in your entry, will get eggs thrown at her.

  2. Rozas,
    Heh..I thought of trying to ‘sangka baik’ by applying that my team mate wore the black hat and hence that’s why she was like that. The other way to look at it was that she was being an absolute pain in the ass that night and that ain’t a nice thought to think about a friend. So a black hat it was. hee😛

  3. Yeah, or perhaps playing devil’s advocate too..but sometimes, I realise, some people are born black hatters..they only think of the problems and difficulties.

    Anyway, saya ada jemputan pat KL hujung minggu ni. Boleh tak awak emel saya beberapa tempat makan yang boleh saya kunjungi di kawasan KL atau Damansara?? Kalau tak balik-balik makan tempat sama pat KL. tk u!🙂

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