The Yellow Hat

The Six Thinking Hats (Hats), developed by Dr. Edward de Bono is a powerful tool for decision making, solving problems, or developing new product ideas. The Hats are a simple, easy-to-learn tool that ensures teams work together to develop optimal solutions. The Hats forces teams to explore subjects in parallel; everyone focuses on one hat at a time, in a short amount of time.

debono Compared to less productive tools such as brainstorming, the Hats avoid argument and confrontation. The Hats directs teams to focus on an optimal decision, not one based on ego, emotions, or personal agenda. Everyone is forced to develop pros and cons of a subject, not just a single point-of-view.


The Hats require everyone to look at a topic holistically (from all points-of-view). A holistic analysis ensures all benefits and risks are identified; the goal is to develop the optimal solution for the organization, not one based on an individual’s personal agenda clouding the discussion.

sixhats-1A key element of the Hats, is the yellow hat. The yellow hat focuses on benefits and feasibilities of a topic. Often depicted as the pros (compared to the black hat, cons), the yellow hat forces team members to develop benefits and values (along with justification) of why the topic is beneficial. Even if someone is against the idea, they still have to develop benefits and reasons how the idea can provide value.


As with all creative exercises, yellow hat analysis needs to be driven by questions. Several helpful questions when analyzing the benefits and advantages are:

  • What ideas, suggestions, or proposals are there for how to approach this problem?
  • What is the benefit of this?
  • What positives are there for this idea?
  • What could be done to make this faster?
  • What could be done to make this work better?
  • What could make this cheaper?
  • Under what conditions would this work?
  • What would it take to make this proposal acceptable?
  • What is your vision for how this could work?

Most discussions are based on arguments, I am right, you are wrong, focusing on satisfying the ego rather than developing the best options. The Hats unbundles and separates thinking, to think of multiple perspectives and develop the best options. Also, the process avoids thinking of too many things at once.

Parallel Thinking

The Hats helps you explore subjects in a disciplined way, focus on individual aspects of the subject, balance thinking, and maintain discipline (don’t jump between hats). In addition, the Hats create structure in important conversations, and allow all sides to be heard. Use the Hats the next time you want to thoroughly analyze a topic and ensure the optimal decision is made for the benefit of the organization.

Improve the Business With DMAIC


DMAIC is a data-driven, five step improvement cycle within the Six Sigma process. it is an excellent tool to identify root causes of problems and develop solutions. DMAIC stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. The goal is to improve processes or products to achieve the Six Sigma level of 3.4 defects per million.

Six Sigma is a data-driven improvement process to eliminate defects. It was developed in the 1970s by Motorola Corporation. The goal of Six Sigma is to achieve 3.4 defects per million instances (sigma (σ) is the Greek letter used to measure statistical variability in a process). Defects are considered anything outside of base specifications, typically derived from customer needs or manufacturing requirements. Six Sigma leverages data and statistical measures to solve problems and improve processes.


Define is the first step of the DMAIC process. Under this step it is necessary to clearly define the goal of the exercise (e.g., problem, process, product). You need to also define who the customer is that is experiencing the problem and determine overall objectives. In addition, it is helpful to Define the overall process where the problem occurs.

The second step is Measure. This step focuses on objectively developing baselines and understanding deviations from the norm. This data-collection step is critical to ensure the entire process is moving in the correct direction to understand “what is happening” in the environment. An effective method to gather data and understand the problem is to “go to the spot” and see the problem first-hand.


Talk to people experiencing the problem or do the process yourself and understand what causes the problem to occur. In addition to gathering qualitative data, gather quantitative data to identify any patterns that can be statistically analyzed to identify patterns. Gathering data is critical for effective analysis using statistical tools.

Go to the spot

The goal of step three is to Analyze the data you gathered and determine the root cause of the problem. During this step the team needs to understand what is causing the problem, when the problem occurs, where it occurs, etc. This step requires strong critical thinking and patience to ensure a careful review of the data leads to the identification of the root cause.


Step five is to Improve; develop, implement, and test a solution for the problem. This step focuses on developing creative solutions to eliminate the root cause of the problem. Teams should use tools such as the Six Thinking Hats or Random Word to develop creative ideas. The team can leverage the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) cycle to test new ideas and determine which ideas result in improvements and eventual elimination of the problem. Within this step, the team develops new ideas, tests, then implements.


The final DMAIC step is Control. The purpose of this step is to ensure improvements are sustained. It is critical to monitor the improvement steps and measure any deviations from the norm. This step is extremely important to ensure the root cause of the problem you identified eliminates the problem from reoccurring. If the problem reoccurs it is time to analyze what is occurring and develop a new solution.


Let’s look at a real-world example. A large chemical company sells a two-stage adhesive that bonds plastic pipes; the company sells business-to-business (B2B). The company has received a product complaint from a customer. The customer bought the two-stage adhesive to join plastic pipes and it is not working; the adhesive is gelling before the two components are mixed.

Chemical Plant --- Image by © Keith Wood/Corbis

It is imperative to solve the problem and get the customer new product that is not defective. Most importantly, the customer needed a replacement, non-defective product ASAP. They have their own customers that need the product for several large projects. There is a lot of pressure to get this figured out quickly.

The team has Defined the problem and outlined the entire process from obtaining raw materials to shipping finished goods. In addition, the team has outlined three goals of the exercise.

    • Determine root-cause of gelling
    • Implement actions to verify if root-cause is issue
    • Develop procedures to reduce issue to zero defects

The team then gathers data to Measure the current situation. The team interviewed workers in the engineering lab, the quality lab, production areas, and the warehouses. In addition, the team called customers to understand details of the problem (when it occurred, where, etc.).


Through phone interviews it was determined there was large amounts of inventory in customer stock. In addition, the team identified that all gelling was only in batches produced from Nov 2016 to January 2017. In addition, the team then measured production levels from the past 18 months. Customer order data was gathered to understand which customers received the faulty product. The team also identified that 164 complaints of defective product was noted from five U.S. states.

Phone interviews

The Analysis determined that the batches used a new formula of the adhesive (the only batches to use this new formula). It was also determined that 39,899 total items were produced. As the team gathered a large amount of data, and took the time to properly analyze the data, they identified several potential root causes. A fishbone diagram was developed to graphically represent possible causes and narrow-down the most likely issues.


Within this step the team also identified that a supplier of one of the key components of the adhesive had to cease operation due to hurricane damage to their manufacturing facility. The purchasing department identified a new vendor of the same raw material to ensure production was not affected. The new raw material was quickly added to the production process to ensure all deadlines were met. Unfortunately, the raw material from the new vendor was not properly tested by the QA group before being introduced into production. The team narrowed in on the raw material as being the root cause of the gelling problem.

Bags of material

After analyzing all the possible causes, it was time to Improve the process and ensure the problem does not reoccur. A list of possible recommendations was developed; the focus was to eliminate the problem and ensure the customers were satisfied. The cross-functional team (engineering, quality, manufacturing, marketing, procurement) developed recommendations to avoid the problem and improve the overall process to ensure this problem is not repeated.


To ensure the problem was Controlled and the solution was effective, the team developed a new process. Each step of the process (which was noted in the Define step) had a new monitoring step added to ensure every batch produced meets specifications. And most importantly, ensure customers do not get defective products.


A quality control (QC) chart was produced and hung in the engineering lab, the quality lab, and within the production area to ensure everyone reviews and understands the new process. The goal was to ensure that any time a new material is introduced; it must be reviewed by engineering and tested by QA before using in production. This visual communication device was an excellent reminder for everyone to follow the process.

The team and senior leaders knew everyone was trying to do the right thing by making sure production was not delayed and product shipped to customers on time. This was a good example of how important it is to ensure testing is not skipped. Everyone understands that quality is the most important aspect of the business.

A town hall meeting was conducted to share the problem and solution with the entire company. The goal was to continue the development of a root-cause analysis mindset to encourage ongoing continuous improvement throughout the organization. Most importantly, the team worked together to properly go through the DMAIC process and identify the problem and develop solutions quickly, without blame. The goal was to fix the problem and ensure the customer was satisfied.


The customers were extremely impressed with the thoroughness of the analysis and the quick response from the team. In addition, the customer’s confidence was renewed to ensure the relationship continues. In addition, several members of the team visited key customers to explain what was learned, why the problem occurred, and what the company was doing to ensure this does not happen again.

Customer meeting

DMAIC is an excellent process to improve existing products, processes, or services. It helps create a continuous improvement mindset throughout the organization to continually focus on eliminating defects. Using qualitative and quantitative data to drive analysis ensures a data-driven methodology is used to make critical decisions. DMAIC is easy to learn and use. If you do not have a formal root-cause analysis process, DMAIC is a great tool to use, even if the organization does not use Six Sigma.

    1. Observe some important aspect of the marketplace or your business
    2. Develop a tentative explanation, or hypothesis, consistent with your observations
    3. Based on your hypothesis, make predictions
    4. Test your predictions by conducting experiments or making further careful observations. Record your observations. Modify your hypothesis based on the new facts. If variation exists, use statistical tools to help you separate signal from noise.
    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between the hypothesis and the results from experiments and observations.

So stop guessing. Use a formal process that leverages data to make decisions. Discipline and systematic processes ensures a higher probability of success that knee-jerk reactions or a scatter-gun approach to solving problems.

A Whack on the Side of the Head


I love dusting off old, classic books and getting inspired by great authors. Roger von Oech wrote a classic book on creativity in 1983, A Whack on the Side of the Head. Whack is a great read that provides a fun, simple overview of the creativity process.

I hadn’t read this book in several years but it is one of my favorites. I typically give this book as a gift to help motivate people to embrace creativity and improve their lives and business. The author explains 10 mental blocks, and the four roles in the creative process.


There are ten “mental locks” to creativity and von Oech provides guidance how to overcome them. These mental locks are myths of creativity that often hinder our creativity. Anyone can improve their creative thinking skills; it just takes motivation and learning a few tools. The ten myths von Oech notes follows:

  1. The Right Answer
  2. That’s Not Logical
  3. Follow the Rules
  4. Be Practical
  5. Play is Frivolous
  6. That’s Not My Area
  7. Don’t Be Foolish
  8. Avoid Ambiguity
  9. To Err Is Wrong
  10. I’m Not Creative

Von Oech also outlines four roles within the creative process, explorer, artist, judge, and warrior. Each role oversees the four steps of creativity. The need to shift between different thinking methods is critical as we move between each role.


The explorer searches for new information and resources. The artist creates new ideas. The judge evaluates the benefits of each idea and decides which offer the highest probability of success. And, the warrior puts the idea into use. Creativity requires the flexibility to move seamlessly between each role.

Anyone can improve his or her creative thinking skills. Like any other skill (e.g., playing the piano, skiing, shooting free throws), creativity requires using the proper tools and practice. Most importantly it takes commitment to become a creative individual. The information within this book will help you overcome barriers to creativity and allow you to navigate the creative process by adopting each role.

Roger failure

As the global business environment becomes increasingly competitive, technology rapidly iterates, socio-economic issues influence behavior, and ongoing political and environmental challenges all industries, every person within an organization needs to develop creative thinking skills. The need for continuous improvement and the development of new business and product concepts is critical to stay ahead of fast-moving competitors. Complacency and acceptance of the status quo is a recipe for disaster.

A Whack on the Side of the Head should be a part of everyone’s library. Along with classic creative thinking authors such as Dr. Edward de Bono, Michael Michalko, Doug Hall, and many others – von Oech provides a great foundation to improve your creativity skills. I also recommend his other book A Kick in the Seat of the Pants as well as his deck of cards, Innovative Whack Pack.

A kick in the pants

Teams need to use deliberate and systematic methods to drive creative thinking. A structured method of creativity ensures effective and efficient creativity sessions. Having mental flexibility along with the foundational creative thinking skills allow anyone to develop new ideas to change the business and delight customers. The more everyone in the organization challenges themselves, stretch their thinking, and use creative thinking daily, the higher probabilities of business and product success.

Whack Pack

Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man

   Gossage book

The stars of the “Mad Men” advertising era were David Ogilvy and Rosser Reeves (among others). Another advertising legend, though less well-known was Howard Luck Gossage. Gossage was the driving force behind the success of the advertising agency Weiner & Gossage (W&G) and he challenged the established norms and status quo of the advertising industry. Gossage was referred to as “The Socrates of San Francisco”.

In today’s world of online communities, viral news stories, and the blurring of real and fake news, the story of Howard Luck Gossage shows that everything new is really old. An advertising legend from the 1950s and 1960s Gossage changed the way the advertising industry operated. He was decades ahead of his peers in terms of building communities and spreading viral messages.

Gossage ad

In Steven Harrison’s excellent book Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man, Harrison provides a great deep-dive into the life of Gossage. Harrison follows Gossage from his beginnings to becoming one of the advertising industry stars. The book outlines the creative and innovative ways Gossage “zigged” when everyone else “zagged”.

Gossage was extremely demanding of his self. He changed the advertising landscape with his excellent marketing skills, along with being one of the top copy writers of his time. He wrote all the copy and headlines himself, and was not open to ideas or recommendations. He was headstrong, arrogant, and a master of public relations (PR); he set out to change the advertising industry. The goal of his work was to create an “event” that would generate ongoing publicity through various media.


He focused on creating stunts or spectacles that would be shared through multiple media. The objective of his advertising was to create successful propaganda. He wanted the original advertising message amplified. Unlike the larger agencies at the time, he avoided expensive mass-media and focused on creating a focused message to a targeted audience.

Pink Air

Gossage felt headlines must generate headlines of its own. His conversationalist writing style pulled readers in and allowed them to feel as part of a family or community. The style was based on creating information loops; keep the conversation going – send out information, receive feedback, and repeat.

Gossage quote

He felt an advertisement must have a big idea to catch someone’s attention. It needed to be simple, yet be impactful for other media to amplify the message. Mainstream press and broadcast media had to be seen as an integrated part of any communication plan.

W&G focused on being different not just in how it created advertisements, but how the agency operated as well. It was focused on being a large agency, it was about working on impactful projects to continuously create and innovate new ideas. Rather than bill clients based on the amount of media purchased, W&G charged based on work and ideas (upsetting many of the large agencies). Also, W&G avoided the trend to push advertising through a massive mainstream media buy.


Most agencies focused on buying large amounts of mass media for an attrition-type advertising campaign. W&G focused on developing an impactful advertisement that pulled people in, created a conversation, and developed a community of like-minded people. The goal was to find the targeted group of people who were interested in the content. The majority of the successful campaigns was low-budget but centered on great headlines, copy, and design.


Unlike the larger, mainly white male agencies, W&G was small, only about 15-20 people. Located in a refurbished firehouse in San Francisco, W&G was racially diverse – women, Asians, blacks, etc. They focused on creating a learning environment and encouraged employees to continue their education and engage with diverse groups of people. The agency culture mirrored the changing times of the 1960s and the atmosphere within San Francisco. Celebrities, politicians, and business leaders frequented the firehouse.

The agency was the center of the changing culture and social environment of the 1960s. The firehouse became the nucleus for the exchange of new and radical ideas to challenge the status quo. W&G would sponsor speaking events creating a center for radical ideas and creating awareness of important events and people. For example, Gossage promoted Marshall McLuhan, creating a mainstream celebrity. The goal was not financial gain for Gossage (he did the work pro-bono), but getting McLuhan’s message and research to the mainstream.


Later in life Gossage focused on social and environmental issues. He applied his skills to radical causes, partnering with the Sierra Club and helping to create Friends of the Earth. Being in the center of the counter-culture of San Francisco in the 1960s, Gossage developed campaigns to save the Grand Canyon and Redwood Forests, and worked on creating a revolution in the small Caribbean island of Anguilla. Gossage felt advertising should be used for the greater good; large, important causes. He wanted to change the world.


He was a marketing genius who wrote amazing advertisements. He always focused on creating something new and exciting. He changed the way advertising agencies operated. A famous Gossage quote, “If you’re stuck with a lemon, make lemonade” epitomizes his mindset and spirit, to work incredibly hard to create change.


Further Reading

Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves

The Book of Advertising Tests; A Group of Articles that Actually Say Something About Advertising by Lord & Thomas

Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy