Six Thinking Hats

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This article explains the Six Thinking Hats, developed by Edward de Bono in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful decision making method.

What are the Six Thinking Hats?

Six Thinking Hats or Edward de Bono’s Six Hats is a good decision making technique and method for group discussions and individual thinking.

Combined with the parallel thinking process, this technique helps groups think more effectively. It is a means to organize thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive manner.

Edward de Bono is the founding father of this six thinking hats technique and wrote a book about this called the Six Thinking Hats in 1985.

A thinking hat is a metaphor for a certain way of thinking. By mentally wearing different thinking hats people are forced to look at a problem from different perspectives.

Thus a one-sided way of thinking is excluded and new insights are created. 

He distinguishes six different frames of mind in which the brain can become sensitive. 

Each of these frames of mind can be found in the brain and create conscious thoughts for certain aspects of the issues that are being discussed, (e.g. gut feeling, pessimistic views, neutral facts).

Six thinking hats frame

The six different frames of mind (six thinking hats) are identified in the shape of a hat and each of the hats is a different colour:

White

Information: consider only information that is available, what are the facts?

Red

Emotions: intuitive reactions or expressions of feelings (but no justification required).

Black

Judgement: logic applied to identification of mistakes or  barriers, looking for a mismatch.

Yellow

Positive view: logic applied to the identification of opportunities, looking for harmony.

Green

Creativity: statements of provocation and investigation, hearing what an idea is about.

Blue

Thinking: thinking about thinking.

Extra information

The coloured hats are used as metaphors for the various states of mind. Switching to a certain type of thinking is symbolized by wearing a coloured hat, literally or metaphorically.

These six thinking hats metaphors provide a more complete and comprehensive segregation of the types of thinking than the prejudices that are inherent to the immediate thoughts of people.

All these thinking hats help people to think more deeply about a certain topic.

Parallel thinking

In ordinary and unstructured thinking, this method seems unfocused. The thinker moves from critical thinking to neutrality, to optimism, etcetera, without structure or strategy.

The process of the six thinking hats introduces the process of parallel thinking. Many people are used to ordinary thinking and they unconsciously navigate on their own habits.

Sometimes these are effective and sometimes they are not. What is certain is that when people think in a group using their individual thoughts, they often fail to come to an agreement.

As a consequence, there are no discussions.

The power of the ego and the identified preference for black hat thinking can lead to disastrous meetings.

Even with courtesy and good manners and clear common objectives in cooperative thinking activities, people have a natural tendency for the so-called “spaghetti-thinking” in which one person is thinking about the advantages whereas another is considering the facts and so on.

Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats prevent this, so that everybody shares each other’s opinions about the problems, advantages, facts, reducing distraction and supporting thought cross pollination.

This will be accomplished because everyone will put on a hat together, for instance the white hat. After the attendants have expressed their thoughts in a round of discussion, they will put on the next hat.

In this way all the attendants will think in the same way at the same time. The only exception is the facilitator, who will tend to keep the blue hat to ensure that the discussion will progress effectively.

Strategies and programmes

After the six types of thinking have been identified, different programmes can be created.

These are sequences of hats that structure the thinking process towards a clear goal.

A number of these goals have been included in the materials that support the franchise training of the six thinking hats method, however, it is often necessary to adapt these for individual purposes.

Sequences always begin and end with a blue hat, the group agrees on how they will think together, then they do the thinking and finally they evaluate the outcomes of the thinking process and what to do next.

Sequences (and indeed hats) may also be used by individuals who work alone or in groups.

The following division can be made:

  • Initial Ideas – Blue, White, Green
  • Choosing between alternatives – Blue, White, Green, Yellow, Black, Red
  • Identification of solutions – Blue, White, Black, Green
  • Fast Feedback – Blue, Black, Green, White
  • Strategic planning – Blue, Yellow, Black, White
  • Process improvement – Blue, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Red
  • Problem-solving – Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black
  • Performance assessment – Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What is your experience with the Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for good decision making?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Silverstein, D., Samuel, P., & Decarlo, N. (2009). The Innovator’s ToolKit: 50 Techniques for Predictable and Sustainable Organic Growth. Wiley.
  2. De Bono, E.  (1985). Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management. Little, Brown, and Company.

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