Creativity and hats: when E De Bono met JK Rowling


All creativity is merely judicious plagiarism. Voltaire

The other half of last week’s seminar was run by James Steel, a five-time published novelist, who challenged us to define creativity.

I think I muttered something about mind maps and others talked about mood and flow.

James offered us Edward De Bono’s Thinking Hats which immediately put me in mind of the sorting hat in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Was this, I wondered, one of the many secrets of her success?

She certainly nods to at least one other work about a boarding school, paying homage to Geoffrey Willans, the genius behind Nigel Molesworth and St Custard’s (google it, you won’t regret it, especially if you have school age children) with the name Hogwarts.

Frankly, if it works for her, I want some too. I’m right there with Voltaire on this point. I am more than happy to ‘respond’ to other people’s ideas, and, equally, to learn from their thinking processes.

De Bono’s hats are a bit different from the sorting hat, it’s true. The idea is you put on your:

  • white hat to define your goals, think about the stuff you have and the stuff you need and how to get it
  • red hat to think about your feelings and instincts about your project
  • black hat to consider its problems and dangers
  • yellow hat to think about the benefits
  • green hat to conjure new creative ideas and options
  • blue hat when you’re doing sequencing and management tasks

I found this a very helpful exercise. James believes that it allows you to be clear about what you’re doing, what kind of thinking you’re doing specifically. You need to think all of this stuff through, he says, but if you try to do it all at once, like a computer running too many applications and processes, your brain will freeze or melt.

Another benefit is that the hats can help break down a big project into smaller, less intimidating chunks.

We also noticed, and this is possibly the best bit, that if you put the problems and dangers into a category, the black hat, they don’t dominate. So often when I think of ideas, I dismiss them early on after coming up with some kind of ‘fatal problem’ which I suddenly think scuppers the whole thing. This way, you allow yourself to think through those important fault-lines but then park them and get on with other aspects of the work. It seems a very effective way to silence the horrendous voices of doubt. Or is that just me?

Like another one of our tutors on the course,  Dennis Hamley, James advised us not to neglect the subconscious. So often problems and difficulties in a story are magically solved after a night’s sleep, or something clicks when you’re doing the laundry (or is that just me?) with your brain in neutral.

This leads to the frustrating conclusion that the harder you try for great ideas, the less you are likely to find them. ‘Distract yourself,’ said James.

Right. Who can I copy that off?

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Posted in creativity, reading, Writing, writing novels
8 comments on “Creativity and hats: when E De Bono met JK Rowling
  1. Laura Zera says:

    Another good post, so thank you! I hope that you keep taking classes *forever*. 🙂

  2. Bloomin’ eck! This is obviously a process for someone who can compartmentalise.

    So, what happens if you spend valuable writing time wondering if what you’re thinking is a feeling (red hat) or a problem (black hat) and what if one thought requires black and red hat thinking…do you end up with a sort of murky brown hat? And how does James fit all those hats on his head without disturbing his amazing hair.

    My hat hurts.

  3. Sorry Nichola I’ve got my Waitrose hat on and therefore can’t answer you

  4. Good ;job Cathy, Some very good ideas. xoox

  5. Whoops,, typo in comment. My bad. I sorry 🙂

  6. zencherry says:

    I lost my hat…will a bandanna do? 😉
    I love your classes! It’s like open uni! Woo hooo! 😀

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