Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats method.

Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” Method

Read time: 5 minutes


Any meeting or and workshop where you’re solving problems or making decisions will benefit from “Six Thinking Hats”.

In most meetings, people express their thoughts haphazardly.

This can lead to confusion, unfocussed discussions, and difficulty reaching a consensus.

Six Thinking Hats is a useful technique to help your teams think together.

The “Six Hat” method was developed by Dr. Edward de Bono.

A “hat” indicates a role. A hat can be put on or taken off with ease. A hat is also visible for everyone else to see.

The hats help organise thoughts as people know when to focus on facts, emotions, benefits, risks, and other aspects of the problem.

Although the hats are usually imaginary, a poster of the different hats can be useful in the room where a group is working.

The method provides a way for groups to experience the power of parallel thinking.

Let’s get into it…

What are the Six Hats?

White Hat

Facts and figures, data and information

White hat-thinking covers facts, figures, information needs and gaps.

“I think we need some white hat-thinking at this point ...” means “Let's drop the arguments and proposals and look at the data.”

Red Hat

Emotions and feelings, hunches and intuition

Red hat-thinking covers intuition, feelings and emotions. The red hat allows the thinker to put forward an intuition without any need to justify it.

“Putting on my red hat, I think this is a terrible proposal.”

Usually, feelings and intuition can only be introduced into a discussion if they are supported by logic.

Often, the feeling is genuine, but the logic is spurious.

The red hat gives full permission to a thinker to put forward his or her feelings on the subject at the moment.

Purple Hat

Judgement and caution

Purple hat-thinking conveys judgement and caution. It is the most valuable hat.

It is not in any sense a negative hat. This is NOT a “devil's advocate” hat.

The purple hat is used to point out why a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use or the policy that is being followed.

The purple hat must always be logical.

Yellow Hat

Positivity and optimism, constructive

Yellow-hat thinking is the logical positive.

Why something will work and why it will offer benefits.

It can be used in looking forward to the results of some proposed action.

But it can also be used to find something of value in what has already happened.

Green Hat

Creativity, movement, provocation

Green hat-thinking offers creativity, alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, provocations and changes.

Blue Hat

Control, conducting events

Blue hat-thinking provides overview or process control.

It looks not at the subject itself but at the “thinking” about the subject.

“Putting on my blue hat, I feel we should do some more green hat-thinking now.”

How to use the Six Thinking Hats?

There are two types of use for the Six Hats:

Occasional Use

This is the most common. At a meeting or in a conversation someone suggests the use of one of the hats – then the conversation continues.

The hat that has been introduced is only used for 2 or 3 minutes.

This occasional use of the hats allows someone to ask for a particular type of thinking or to suggest a switch in thinking.

Planned Sequence Use

You set up a sequence of hats in advance, and the thinker(s) goes through one hat after another.

This enables a subject to be covered quickly and effectively. This is useful where there is disagreement and no useful thinking is being done.

Some example sequences and their uses are shown below…

Three different colored hats are shown on a white background.

Yellow / Purple / Red
For a quick assessment of an idea

A green hat and a white hat next to each other.

White / Green
To generate ideas

A pair of green and purple hats on a white background.

Purple / Green
To improve an existing idea

A pair of blue and green hats on a white background.

Blue / Green
To summarize and spell out the alternatives

A pair of blue and yellow hats next to each other.

Blue / Yellow
To see if the thinking has had any benefits

How Six Thinking Hats is different

Directions, not descriptions

The hats are directions, not descriptions of what is to happen.

When you use the hats to help thinking, it is not a matter of saying whatever you like and then using the hats to describe what has been said. You should set out to think in a particular direction, e.g.

"Let's have some white hat-thinking here" means deliberately focusing on information.

Everyone now tries to think of available information, needed information, questions to be asked, other ways of getting information, and so on.

"I want your red hat on this" is a specific request for feelings, intuition and emotions on a particular issue.

Not categories of people

There is a huge temptation to use the hats to describe and categorise people, such as "she is a purple hat" or "he is a green hat person."

That temptation must be resisted. The hats are not descriptions of people but modes of behaviour.

Every person must be able and skilled to look in all the directions.

Benefits of using the Six Hats

Power of combined thinking

The intelligence, experience and knowledge of all the group members are fully used. Everyone is looking and working in the same direction.

Time-saving

Subjects can be fully explored more quickly when everyone thinks in the same direction.

Where points of view are at odds, they are laid out alongside each other rather than argued out.

Later on, if it is essential to decide between the two, a decision is made. Time savings of 50% or more are commonplace.

Removes egos

Confrontational and adversarial thinking exacerbates the ego problem. Six Hats thinking removes it.

With the Six Hats method, you exert your ego by performing well as a thinker under each hat.

The Six Hats method provides a neutral and objective exploration of a subject — argument does not.

One thing at a time

With the Six Hats method, you all try to do only one thing at a time.

There is a time when you look for danger (purple hat).
There is a time when you seek new ideas (green hat).
There is a time when you focus on information (white hat).

We do not try to do everything at the same time.

Conclusion

If you use “Six Thinking Hats” you solve the challenge of unproductive, biased, and disorganized thinking in workshops and meetings.

Remember, Six Hat Thinking leads to more efficient, balanced, and effective problem-solving and decision-making.


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About the Author

Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through WorkshopBank.com

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