The Six Thinking Hats technique of Edward de Bono is a model that can be used for exploring different perspectives towards a complex situation or challenge. Seeing things in various ways is often a good idea in strategy formation or complex decision-making processes.
Uses of 6 Thinking Hats
Simplify thinking by allowing one to deal with one thing at a time. De Bono identified six styles of thinking and assigned a colour to each one. One thinking style is not inherently better than another; it’s just a different way of looking at something.
Allow switching in thinking from one style to another. He likened switching to putting on and taking off a hat. The combination of colours and hats provides an idiom that instructs how to think without being offensive. By turning thinking into role-playing with simple rules, it does not threaten a person’s ego or personality.
Each of the Hats is named for a colour that is mnemonically descriptive of the perspective one adopts when wearing the particular hat. For example the devil’s advocacy is what one engages in when wearing the Black Thinking Hat.
White Hat (think of a sheet of paper): FACTS and FIGURES; neutral and objective view; focus on information available, what info is needed, how it might be obtained.
Red Hat (think of fire, warmth): EMOTIONS, FEELINGS, intuition, hunches; focus on quickly expressing without explanation nor justification required.
Black Hat (think of a stern judge wearing black robe): LOGICAL NEGATIVE support; focus on pessimism, why something is wrong, being judgmental and critical.
Yellow Hat (think of sunshine): LOGICAL POSITIVE support; focus on optimism, benefits, what’s good, being constructive.
Green Hat (think of growing plants): CREATIVE and LATERAL thinking; focus on change, innovation, invention; new ideas, possibilities, concepts, perceptions, paradigms.
Blue Hat (think of the sky, cool): CONTROL of THINKING PROCESS; focus on thinking about thinking, overview; being cool and in control of the overall process and use of other hats.
De Bono’s hats are indicative of both emotional states as well as frames of mind (i.e., perspective from which an issue is viewed). He noted: “Emotions are an essential part of our thinking ability and not just something extra that mucks up our thinking” (1985, p27). One thinking style (or hat) is not inherently “better” than another. A full, balanced team recognizes the need for all hats in order for the team to consider all aspects of whatever issues they are facing.
Individual use: Consciously using one hat or another for every thinking moment is overkill. 6TH is for occasional usage when a person may want to sort out one’s thoughts by putting on a particular hat. To handle a more difficult or complex issue, a formal structured sequence would be laid out beforehand.
Group use: De Bono calls the act of deliberately having everyone wear the same hat at the same time Parallel Thinking. Topics are explored together factually and emotionally. It is a vast improvement over traditional adversarial thinking where people take sides and argue back and forth hoping that some useful outcome will emerge.
Note that 6TH is not a labeling exercise. Example: “He is in Accounting and is a Black Hat thinker.” or “Those Marketing guys only think with the Yellow Hat on.” The hats are categories of thinking behavior and not of people themselves.
Good thinkers are comfortable wearing all six hats and learn to easily switch them. Parallel Thinking calls for everyone to contribute under each hat.
Main Benefits of Six Thinking Hats.
Allows one to say things without risk. Very strong in preventing the Spiral of Silence.
Create awareness that there are multiple perspectives on the issue at hand
Provides a convenient mechanism for ‘switching gears’, thinking in deliberate different ways
Set rules for the game of thinking
Temporarily focus thinking on one aspect
Helps individuals expand their thinking capacity by adopting a perspective that is not necessarily their own
Leads to more creative thinking through unhampered dialogue that builds on each other’s contributions
Improves communication, since egos are not threatened and people are never personally attacked
Improves decision making, because attention is given to all aspects of a problem/opportunity (pros, cons, gains, risks, etc.)
The Hats may be used in many different sequences depending on the nature of the issue. But here is a typical agenda for a situation where a problem has just surfaced and a fix is needed within the next half hour. The team leader will facilitate by wearing the Blue Hat and lead the team of 5 workers through the thinking process.
Blue Hat (2 mins): State purpose of the meeting and expected outcome. Show hat sequence and time limits to be used.
White Hat (10 mins): Present the facts of the problem.
Green Hat (3 mins): Generate ideas on possible solutions.
Red Hat (10 secs): Using intuition, vote with hands on the most practical solution from the list.
Yellow Hat (3 mins): Identify the benefits of the solution picked.
Black Hat (3 mins): List the drawbacks and risks.
Red Hat (10 secs): Get everybody’s “Go/ No Go” gut feeling.
Green Hat (3 mins): Identify means to overcome concerns raised under the Black Hat.
Blue Hat (5 mins): Summarize and create an action plan. Adjourn the meeting