As the world's first master trainer for Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' method, Chuck Dymer has gained a global reputation for his captivating and creative lateral thinking workshops. Verity Gough finds out more...
When Chuck Dymer grabbed a book to take on the lengthy commute from his home town of Kansas City to his office in Washington DC, he could never have imagined the impact it would have on his life. Instantly captivated by its simplicity, he decided there and then to leave behind the nightmarish commutes, corporate lifestyle and re-adjust his work/life balance with a new career as a trainer.
Chuck Dymer, Indigo Business Services
The title in question was Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, a corporate publication promoting lateral thinking techniques as a way of generating new business concepts and creating original ideas.
Prior to his opportune discovery, Dymer had meandered from a stint as a systems consultant to a national marketing manager before ending up working for a large software company. Yet, despite his apparent success, Dymer felt disillusioned. De Bono's book was just the catalyst needed to reawaken his passion for work. "It was the inspiration of desperation," says Dymer. "I was under a lot of pressure from the company to relocate and was trying to decide whether to continue with this career or stay in Kansas City."
By the time Dymer had reached the end of the book, his mind was made up. There was a number for those interested in learning more, so he called and asked if he could start up a workshop based on de Bono's methods. After a meeting with the man himself, permission was granted and Dymer became the only person, other than de Bono, to teach the 'Six Hats' method. Eventually, he formed his own international network and was elevated to the status of master trainer.
Following his accreditation, Dymer founded his own company in Kansas City before becoming a full time trainer for Indigo Business Services, the European and UK distributor of the de Bono lateral thinking techniques. Now, 20 years on, Dymer delivers workshops to a host of big-name organisations across the globe – Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Kimberly Clark, McDonald's, Motorola and even The UK National Audit Office, are just a few on the client list.
For the uninitiated, de Bono established his lateral thinking techniques in the 1980s and subsequently developed his 'Six Thinking Hats' method, which aims to simplify the idea-generating process by creating a flexible framework which can be applied to any type of business. "It's very simple," explains Dymer. "What it amounts to is this: modern business is driven by ideas. If my company is making the same products or engaged in the same process as yours, the only thing that differentiates us is the spin or the unique approach that I give to it.
"For companies to compete, whether they are in the public or private sector, they need original ideas and a culture of innovation. It's essentially saying everybody in the company can contribute to the wealth of ideas that the company needs. We encourage people to think creatively."
Dymer makes the point that times are indeed changing and in order to be a success in an increasingly competitive market, companies need to be original. "A hundred years ago, companies were geared to follow set processes in order to become efficient and effective. This is no longer enough."
But Dymer's workshops are based on more than a framework; they are about involving the whole company in the ideas process: "It really is about opening it up to anybody," he adds. "No one has a better understanding of the customers than the sales and retail clerks, and nobody has a better idea about the processes and exchanges of information than an administrator. All of these people have great insights we need to tap into."
Yet, however effective Dymer's training, with a glossary of terms such as 'provocation', 'harvesting' and 'random entry' coined to explain the techniques, is there a concern this American rhetoric will be lost on the characteristically cynical British? Not so, says Dymer. He claims the de Bono techniques work in any culture. It's all down to the way the human brain works.
Pushing the envelope
Incredibly, even after 20 years of teaching the techniques, Dymer remains stoically passionate about his work and is always seeking ways of encouraging businesses to open up to the possibilities created through de Bono's methods. He believes whether you are running a large corporation or a one man show, you need a focus and a structure with which to work and that is essentially what these techniques provide.
"The structure has a language so when people use it, it gives them a common way of talking, to discuss what they are doing and how they are thinking," Dymer says. "Rather than all these things going on in my head, I can now speak to other people about what I am thinking or what I am trying to do, and we can work together as a team on creating ideas. I am still amazed at just how effective this is."
But does he ever get jaded by a process he has been teaching for the best part of two decades? "Well, I know the techniques by now, so I can really pay attention to the audience and sense when people are struggling with a particular technique. I can offer them a different way of phrasing it or approaching it," Dymer says. "Another thing that keeps me passionate is that the techniques have an interesting way of tapping into industry groupings. For example, at the moment the police force is showing a great interest in creative thinking methods. It's exciting for me to learn about new industries and organisations."
So what's next? For a man who has achieved global recognition for his training skills, surely there is little left to accomplish? Dymer is looking forward to his next project, a book developed with the Indigo Business team. "We plan to let people know there is a systematic way they can get started with creative thinking," he explains.
"When people get frustrated and ask how they can build an innovative culture, where do they begin or who do they choose, we have a very systematic, useful and successful approach that can help. I think it needs to be captured."
Dymer's boundless enthusiasm for his work has helped him move in tandem with an ever-changing business environment, allowing him to rejuvenate deflated companies and inject an inspirational dose of creativity into flagging corporations. And despite the incremental rise of alternative training methods on the market, Dymer remains characteristically optimistic. "It's a very big pie out there and there is room for everyone," he adds. "We're just glad to be a part of it."
Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' method is based on the following principles:
White Hat: Information
The first hat focuses on the data available and what you can learn from it, in particular examining the gaps in the knowledge you have and either trying to fill them or taking account of them.
Red Hat: Feelings
The second stage looks at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion as well as getting you to think about how others will react emotionally to the issue and how to understand the responses of people who may not follow your reasoning.
Yellow Hat: Benefits
At this stage, you begin to think positively and view all the benefits in an optimistic light, particularly in terms of the value of the decision. It is designed to keep your thinking positive.
Black Hat: Caution
Using 'Black Hat' thinking, you are encouraged to look at all the bad points of the decision both cautiously and defensively to understand why it might not work. This highlights any weak points in a plan and allows you to adjust, eliminate or prepare contingency plans to counteract them.
Green Hat: Creativity
This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem through a unrestrictive way of thinking. This means very little criticism of ideas and is the point at which a number of creativity tools can be implemented.
Blue Hat: Managing the Thinking
The final hat stands for process control and is generally worn by those chairing meetings. It comes into its own when ideas are drying up or thinking becomes stagnated in which case the 'wearer' may direct things towards 'Green Hat' thinking to generate creativity or 'Black Hat' thinking when a contingency plan is called for.