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kill the black hat_smallOK, that’s a bit dramatic, but it is the title of a great exercise that allows people who don’t usually get the opportunity to speak in group meetings to put their point across.

There is a relatively well worn concept that people within meetings tend to take on specific roles: ‘the idea generator’, ‘the strategist’, ‘the data miner’, ‘the gut feeler’, ‘the editor’ and so on.

Indeed, Edward deBono went on to expand on this idea saying that there are six of these traits or characters and they are all essential to the progress of an idea. They should be challenged and set against each other to test and develop tactics and ways of working.

The characters are as follows:-

Title Colour Trait
Managing Blue Does this achieve the goal?
Information White What are the facts?
Emotion Red How does this feel?
Discernment Black Is this realistic?
Optimism Yellow Is this beneficial?
Creativity Green Is this innovative?


I have seen training courses where the delegates are given different coloured hats for them to wear when either they change their outlook, or the strategy changes and a new perspective is needed.

Using this approach can be really effective. For example, you should always start and finish with the Management (Blue) approach, referring everything back to the goal. There is however a potential problem. If one or more people openly and constantly judge and point out the flaws in ideas that are presented to the group, they can supress any further contribution from the quieter members.

At Copper Road we call this Black Hatting and we don’t like it.

There is a cracking exercise to get everyone in the room participating and contributing ideas, without suffering comments from the constant critic.

If this is the first time you do this with your team, then you’ll need to break it into two parts. The first is a practice run. It’s pretty important that you do this before you attempt a ‘real project’. I’ll explain why a bit later.

The trick is to isolate the Black Hat and relegate it to the bench for the first part of the exercise. We bring it back at the end, it is an essential part of the overall process, but for now, to the sin bin.

The Practice Run

We use an imaginary scenario chosen so that no-one in the room has any experience of it. The more ridiculous the better.

The pitch

Typically, the pitch will run something like this.

“You all work for a company that makes the plastic blanks for credit cards. You print the designs and send them to somewhere else for them to have the chip and magnetic strip added.

But now with everyone using the internet and Apple Pay you have just lost your three biggest clients. All at once, all in the same day.

There is a board meeting in 30 minutes where the fate of the company is to be decided, so this is what we’re going to do.

Everyone is to get a pad of paper and for the next 10 minutes you should write down any and every use for credit card sized bits of plastic that you can think of. No editing, no judgement, no second thoughts. Out of these ideas we’re going to choose between 3 to 5 of them to present to the board as items that we can manufacture and sell to a different market.

It doesn’t matter whether you can think of one idea, ten ideas or a hundred, just get writing.

I’ll start the ball rolling. (Write them on a flip chart)

  1. Windscreen de-icer
  2. Pooper Scooper”

Set the time at exactly 10 minutes. Stop people from comparing notes and encourage them when they start looking blankly into space. The point of this is that there is no wrong answer. This practice run is to demonstrate how effective unfettered brain dumping can be.

The Delivery

After 10 minutes call time and get everyone to stop. Now ask them to tell the group how many ideas they have written down. The number tends to go from 1 or 2 to over 20, depending on the individual.

Start by asking the person with the least number of ideas to read them out to the group. If anyone has the same (or similar) idea to the one that’s been read out they should put a line through it on their own list.

No criticism, no judgement, no editing. Every idea gets written up on the flip chart, screen or whiteboard.

Then ask the person with the next highest number of ideas to read them out and repeat the process until you reach the one with the highest number of ideas, by which time they have will only have 10 or so left.

What you will end up with is a list of over a hundred unique and novel ideas that no one person could have thought of on their own.

The Black Hat

The ideas on the board are now pretty anonymous. So now it’s time to put the black hat on. Now it’s time for everyone to cast a critical eye over the ideas. Some of them will be frankly ridiculous, but out of that list you’ll distil a small number of viable, interesting concepts.

Choose 5 of them to ‘take to the board’.

The whole process should take no more than 20 or 30 minutes.

Why go through all of this?

The reason to run this practice session is that once everyone is engaged with the idea it becomes extremely powerful. People who are naturally creative get to see others produce insightful ideas. People who are normally quiet at the back of the room are given space to air their own ideas. It democratises the creative process and then gives the editing role to everyone that participates. What really drives home how useful this can be is when you choose a ‘problem’ that no-one has any experience in. No-one can say, ‘yeah we tried that before, it didn’t work.’

Once this has been completed, take a break and then present the group with a problem that you really need solving, but remember to kill the black hat first.