Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats is a step-by-step method for decision making based on solid psychological research. Each hat represents a different perspective from which to view a problem - and it works. Just ask the government of Sri Lanka. After the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, a German organisation pledged a substantial amount of money to assist in the reconstruction process. But there was a hitch. This organisation would not release the funding until the Sri Lankan government had developed a specific plan for renewal. Five months after the disaster, there was still no plan in place and still no funding. Not until Sir Peter Low, director of Edward de Bono Training in Singapore, was invited to facilitate a strategic planning session, during which the officials would use De Bono methods to come up with a reconstruction plan. Sir Peter was made Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 2003 for his achievements in charity fund-raising and the promotion of international goodwill through cultural exchanges through the choir which he founded in 1970. The first two days of his visit to Sri Lanka were spent in the capital, Colombo, where he introduced 47 government officers to the Six Hats method as well as some components of Lateral Thinking and the Direct Attention Thinking Tools (Datt). After a day of rest on the third day, the officers were transferred to Kalutara, a secluded village on the coast of the small island nation, where Sir Peter facilitated a strategic thinking session to work out a plan for reconstruction using the hat methods. Each coloured hat symbolised a way of thinking and offered a different perspective from which to view the problem. Red is emotional, black is critical or negative, yellow is positive, blue is the big picture, green is creative, and white represents the facts. The next day he and Linda Low, de Bono master trainer, and Sir Peter's business partner and his wife, taught Lateral Thinking and Datt. 'Lateral Thinking focuses on creativity and the effort of coming up with new perspectives when approaching a problem. 'When discussing the problem from each hat's perspective, Lateral Thinking provides the methods to come up with alternative ways of approaching the problem,' Sir Peter said. Datt involves 10 simple, focused strategies for sharpening perceptions and directing thinking in a more comprehensive, effective and efficient way. Sir Peter and his wife helped the Sri Lankan officials to open their minds to the possibilities, while prioritising what was important to them. 'With these methods, co-operative thinking between the various groups was more evident. And by the end of the second day of thinking, a basic blueprint was on the wall, photographed and taken away for immediate further action,' Sir Peter said. On day three he took time off to relax and enjoy the Sri Lankan hospitality. Most important were days four and five. On these days, Sir Peter facilitated the formation of a plan that would lead to the reconstruction of the devastated Sri Lankan villages. Twelve hours later, the plan was complete. Directly after submitting the plan, the German organisation released the promised funding. By September last year, 80 per cent of the plan had been implemented in the south, while efforts in the north were hampered by guerrilla activities. Further evidence of success came about nine months later - the Sri Lankan civil service sent nine more senior officers from different departments to Singapore to be trained in the de Bono methods. The success of the Sri Lankan government aside, individuals can benefit from using de Bono's methods for career and personal development. Do you have a job offer and you are not sure you should accept? Do you want to stay in Hong Kong or return to your native country? Do you want to send your children to boarding school? Should they go to the United States, Britain or Australia? Should they go at all? Sir Peter said these were all questions that could be solved simply by using the techniques of Edward de Bono. He said there were three ways to learn more about the Six Hats, Datt and Lateral Thinking, or any of the other de Bono programmes. The first way was for entire companies to attend a talk in a large lecture hall. This was a good way to get everyone on board at the same time, Sir Peter said. The second way was to attend a public course at the Hong Kong Management Association. He offers these courses every month. By far the most common way to learn about de Bono's methods, however, is through an employer's in-house training. Usually, Sir Peter first teaches members of the management team, who are then responsible for creating a culture that supports the new thinking. Then he introduces the techniques to the company's teams. Sir Peter said that the programmes were not always effectively integrated into a company's structure. Many times there was not one person on site who 'owned' the programme or there was not a structure to support the continual use of the lessons learned. However, when it was supported well, as in the case of the Sri Lankan government, the programme worked perfectly. Edward de Bono developed the programme in 1972. He said he hoped the concepts would be integrated into schools. His philosophy was that it was not just reading, writing and arithmetic that children needed to learn, but that thinking itself was a skill. It was the way we should be reading, writing and doing maths, the possibilities and the questioning behind the learning that concerned him. These lessons translate perfectly to the world of work and to our complex adult lives. So, pick a hat, any hat. Try it on for size and imagine the possibilities.