Parallel Thinking explained

Parallel Thinking - Toolshero

Parallel thinking: this article explains the concept of parallel thinking in a practical way. The article starts with the definition of this term, followed by a general explanation and examples of situations in which this thinking style can be applied. You will also find an explanation of how you can apply parallel thinking in your personal life and what the benefits of this thinking style are. Enjoy reading!

What is parallel thinking?

Parallel thinking is a problem solving tool that has become very popular in recent years. Also known as lateral thinking, or Six Thinking Hats, the method involves looking at a problem from multiple perspectives to arrive at creative solutions.

Paralell thinking was developed by Edward de Bono, a renowned physician, psychologist and author. His technique is based on the idea that conventional or linear thinking hinders creativity and leads to an incomplete view of things. Parallel thinking encourages the user to approach problems from different angles, leading them to more innovative solutions.

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Origin of parallel thinking

The concept of parallel thinking was first introduced in the 1985 book Six Thinking Hats. Before that, Edward de Bono had already established himself as an authority on creativity and innovation.

In Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono presented the idea that traditional thinking, in which individuals take opposing viewpoints and fight them out, often leads to unproductive and confrontational discussions.

Instead, he proposed a new approach. People have to put on different “hats” or modes of thinking to explore a problem from different angles.

The principles and process of parallel thinking

In his book, Edward de Bono elaborates on the principles of parallel thinking:

Focus on exploration

The primary purpose of parallel thinking, according to De Bono, is to explore a problem. Not to argue or defend different points of view. By focusing on exploration, people can work together to create creative solutions to complex problems.

Use the metaphor of the six hats

Parallel thinking requires the users to use the metaphor of six different hats representing six different modes of thinking. These modes include:

  1. White hats (facts and objective)
  2. Red Hats (emotional and intuitive)
  3. Black hats (critical and careful)
  4. Yellow Hats (optimistic and positive)
  5. Green Hats (creative and generative)
  6. Blue Hats (organizational and strategic)

One hat at a time

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, when using parallel thinking, individuals should wear a maximum of one hat at a time. This means that everyone in the group thinks in the same mode and focuses on the same aspect of the problem.

Respect and appreciation

Parallel thinking encourages respecting and appreciating each other’s ideas and points of view. By accepting and considering different points of view, individuals can work together to find creative solutions to complex problems.

Focused thinking

Parallel thinking is a structured thought process, meaning that individuals must follow a specific sequence of steps to explore the problem. This helps ensure that all aspects of the problem are considered and no important information is overlooked.

Focus on solutions

The ultimate goal of parallel thinking is to find creative solutions to complex problems. By exploring the problem from multiple perspectives and focusing on solutions, individuals can work together to find the best possible solution.

Example of parallel thinking in action in the workplace

Suppose a marketing team needs to come up with new ideas for an advertising campaign. Normally, the team would start by discussing a single idea one at a time. They discuss the pros and cons and then move on to the next idea.

This linear approach to thinking can be limiting, according to de Bono, because it values one idea over another and can hinder creativity and collaboration.

With parallel thinking, the marketing team would approach the brainstorming session differently. Instead of going through each idea one by one, they would first try to agree on the specific problem or goal they want to solve or achieve.

Then specific roles are assigned to each of the parts of the brainstorming session. These are the different hats talked about in the book “Six Thinking Hats”.

The team members would then each explore the problem from their assigned perspective simultaneously. For example, the devil’s advocate would argue against any idea, while the creative visionary would come up with bold and unconventional ideas. The practical problem solver would think about how to implement each idea in the real world.

While doing this, they share their thoughts and ideas with each other and they reinforce each other’s insights to refine their own thinking. By the end of the session, the team would have generated a wide range of ideas, which were explored from multiple angles.

This parallel approach to thinking can be very effective for marketing teams as it allows more creativity, collaboration and innovation in the brainstorming process.

How do I apply parallel thinking in my personal life?

Applying parallel thinking to your daily life can be a good way to develop your problem-solving skills. Here are some tips to get you started:

Identify the problem or decision you need to make

Start by identifying the problem you want to solve or the decision you need to make. This could be a personal or professional issue, a creative project, or anything else happening in your life.

Give yourself different roles

Once you’ve identified the problem, you’re supposed to assign different thinking roles to yourself. For example, you can take on the role of a “creative visionary” to generate new ideas. You can use the role of “practical problem solver” to think about the feasibility of the ideas. The “critical evaluator” role can be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each option. It is important that you do this in a disciplined way. It may take some practice to get better at this.

Explore every perspective

Take the time to explore each perspective one by one. You are supposed to look at the problem or decision from every angle.

Deepen every perspective

As you explore each perspective, you build on the ideas and insights you generate from each perspective. That can help generate new ideas and insights that you might not otherwise have considered.

Evaluate and select the best option

After exploring each perspective, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each option and select the best one. This may include reviewing each perspective to consider how each option fits into the broader context of the problem or decision.

By integrating parallel thinking into your daily life, you can become a more effective problem solver and decision maker and approach challenges with a more open and creative mindset.

Benefits of parallel thinking

Parallel thinking is a powerful tool that can help managers tackle problems and challenges in new and creative ways in business. By encouraging employees to consider multiple perspectives and ideas at the same time, parallel thinking enables them to explore a wide range of possibilities and generate innovative solutions to problems that arise in day-to-day work.

One of the main benefits of parallel thinking is that it can help reduce conflict and improve communication in group situations.

By encouraging all participants to explore ideas from multiple angles, parallel thinking can foster a collaborative and supportive environment where all contributions are respected.

Another benefit of parallel thinking is that it can help people overcome mental blocks and break old thinking patterns. By challenging employees to consider ideas that seem counterintuitive or unconventional, parallel thinking can open up new avenues of exploration and discovery that can help gain a competitive advantage.

Whether you’re trying to solve a complex problem, generate new ideas, or simply broaden your perspective on the world, parallel thinking can be a powerful tool for enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills.

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about parallel thinking? Do you ever apply parallel thinking? Or do you have other methods to look at things from different perspectives? Do you have a favorite thinking style? Are you actively trying to prevent tunnel vision? Or do you easily go along with what is already on the table? Do you have other tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Blelloch, G. E. (2009). Parallel thinking. In PPOPP (pp. 1-2).
  2. Cohen, M. D. (1981). The power of parallel thinking. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2(4), 285-306.
  3. De Bono, E. (2016). Parallel thinking. Random House.
  4. Peterson, T. O., & Lunsford, D. A. (1998). Parallel thinking: A technique for group interaction and problem solving. Journal of Management Education, 22(4), 537-554.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). Parallel Thinking (De Bono). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Published on: 06/26/2023 | Last update: 06/26/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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