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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

February 9, 2000. All rights reserved.

What Color Is Your Thinking Cap?: Donna Coulson

You have heard the expression "Put on your thinking

cap," but did you know that there are many thinking caps to chose

from? Six in fact, says Donna Coulson, a management consultant

who runs Live Your Life Staff Development in Red Bank. She will teach

members of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners about

"The Six Thinking Hats: Lateral Thinking to Improve Your


on Thursday, February 10, at 6 p.m. at the Palmer Inn. Call


Cost: $34.

"Lateral thinking," Coulson explains, "is basically


at things in different ways. The greatest enemy of thinking is


The father of lateral thinking is Edward De Bono, whose 1986 business

book, "The Six Thinking Hats," explained to entrepreneurs

how they can try different approaches to a problem or issue. Each

approach is typified by a color: The Red Hat looks at a problem from

the emotional side — the passionate side. "Most business


have a lot of red because they are passionate about what they do,"

says Coulson.

The White Hat is the facts and figures, both known facts and


The Black Hat is the Devil’s Advocate — the perspective of


what could go wrong, while the Yellow Hat represents positive,


thinking and input. The Green Hat looks at a problem creatively, from

the perspective of innovation, and finally, the Blue Hat, is the


the perspective that pulls all of these visions together.

Typically Coulson puts business people in groups of six or seven to

tackle a business problem and each person is literally given a hat

(Coulson says she has about 100 now) and must tackle the issue


to the color. "Somebody owns the problem and then everyone else

at the table plays one of the hat roles," says Coulson.


it’s hard. Some business owners are always going to be optimists,

or passionate, and they might miss a pertinent business trend. For

example, the Black Hat basically says what else can you do? Is this

going to work? It makes people look at things not just


Coulson was introduced to "The Six Thinking Hats" by a boss

at Prudential, where she worked for 14 years as a an editor of the

personnel publication, and as a trainer and developer. She has a BA

in communications from Douglass College, Class of 1977, and an MA

from Rutgers. She helped her husband launch his own automotive


in Red Bank ("I cut my teeth on his business," she says) and

then started doing strategic planning with New Jersey Natural Gas.

She has been teaching small business management at Brookdale Community

College since 1988 and is studying to be a professional coach.


I’m in my consulting role, I tell people what to do," she


"When I’m in my coaching role, I ask people what they want to


With a wardrobe of multicolored hats, business owners essentially

learn how to be their own coach, consultant, and board of directors,

says Coulson. "You learn how to ask people discovery questions,

you learn about listening, responding, working with people to decide

what goals they want to set," she says.

And no business is complete without each hat represented. What color

hat is missing from your business?

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