3 Thinking Skills to Improve Your Intellectual Horsepower



“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

Here are 3 simple thinking skills I tend to use each day. 

There are some more advanced thinking skills, but here I’m boiling down to a set of 3 skills you can use today.

In fact, you can even use them while you read this post. 

I’ll go through the thinking skills in order from simpler to more complex, so you can use them right away.

Ask and Answer Better Questions

Let’s start by getting a quick definition of what thinking is.

What is thinking?

You just did it.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s think of "thinking" as simply asking and answering questions. 

If you want better answers, ask better questions.  And that’s the key to skilled thinking and developing your thinking skills.

Remember that. 

Every day, you have a new chance to practice your thinking skills by asking better questions.

Use the following thinking skills to improve your thinking, by asking and answering better questions.

3 Thinking Skills

Here are 3 thinking skills that I use fairly regularly:

  1. How Might That Be True?
  2. Plus Points, Minus Points, and Interesting Points (PMI), by Edward de Bono
  3. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono

Technique #1: How Might That Be True?

This habit helps you develop intellectual curiosity, connect better with people, and build rapport versus create instant conflict.

When you hear something new, or information that conflicts with what you think you already know, ask yourself the following question:

“How might that be true?" 

This simple question will open your curiosity

It also helps you build rapport with people you interact with.  This second point is especially important if you want to learn from those around you.  If you’re quick to prove people wrong, people won’t share information with you.  Rather than fight somebody on a point right from the start, you can help them explore the point.

You don’t have to agree.  Instead, simply explore the possibility. 

Sometimes people have good information or knowledge, but it’s generalized so it appears to be wrong, but within it lie kernels of truth or insight.

Don’t throw that away.

Thinking Skill #2: Plus Points, Minus Points, and Interesting Points (PMI)

I think of PMI as Edward de Bono’s simplified version of Six Thinking Hats.  PMI is simply Plus Points, Minus Points, and Interesting Points. 

Basically, all you do is ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the plus points?
  2. What are the minus points?
  3. What are the interesting points?

This helps you expand your thinking. 

Notice how the plus points are first.  This helps find the good first, before shutting it down with minus points.  By looking for interesting points, you find yet another class of insights.  This is where you might find some unexpected "ah-has."

Thinking Skill # 3: Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats is Edward de Bono’s hard-core thinking technique, and it’s highly effective. 

You can use it for yourself or even in a room full of people. 

The beauty of the Six Thinking Hats is that you explore multiple perspectives for more complete thinking.  The Six Hats are:

  1. White Hat – the facts and figures
  2. Red Hat – the emotional view
  3. Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”
  4. Yellow Hat – the positive side
  5. Green Hat – the creative side
  6. Blue Hat – the organizing view

The most effective way I’ve found to turn these into action is to turn the hats into simple questions:

  • What are the facts and figures? (White Hat)
  • What’s your gut reaction?  How do you feel about this? (Red Hat)
  • Why can’t we do this?  What prevents us?  What’s the downside? (Black Hat)
  • How can we do this? (Yellow Hat)
  • What are additional opportunities? (Green Hat)
  • How should we think about this? (what are the metaphors or mental models)  (Blue Hat)

If you’re in a room full of people, rather than fight on topics, you can team up. 

Go to the whiteboard, write the list of questions above, and cycle through them as a group. 

Instead of tug-of-war, you’re now teaming up on “what are the facts and figures?” … 

… “why can’t we do this?” … “how can we do this?” … etc. 

This technique helps “black hat critics” step out of character and your reduce the overall energy drain of fighting point by point. 

Instead, you improve your overall thinking as a group.

What are your favorite thinking techniques?

You Might Also Like

How Might That Be True


Six Thinking Hats

How To Use Six Thinking Hats

Asking Better Questions

Photo by Capture Queen.


  1. I like all three techniques. Turning the six hats into six questions makes them very easy to use.

    If the subject matter is complicated or confusing, I like to break the entire thing into different areas so that we can deal with one thing at a time. I just add points (the way we add comments to segregate different code areas) and then focus on each point.

    Points make it easy to explain the flow of thoughts to others as well.

  2. I like the Six Thinking Hats technique.

    I’m amazed that you are able to take the time and analyze. I often get lost in the small details so never take the time to look at big picture and work on systems/ techniques.

  3. Hi JD .. how brilliant – thanks for putting thinking so succinctly. I really like those ideas. I do my best to get my head straight at the moment, but it’s difficult, though I know I can and will when I’m free again. Useful references and information .. I’ve always like de Bono.

    Many thanks – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  4. This is so weird. Just today I was thinking that we need an organization that promotes thinking and being informed. It sounds silly, but really, it could be hugely beneficial. Imagine: advocates for thinking. I believe curiosity is the most important element of the critical thinking process, so I’m glad you have it first on the list.

  5. @ Avani

    I like your point on points. In fact, it sounds similar to what I do by naming patterns. By naming the point, it’s easier to focus (separation of concerns in action.)

    @ Vered

    I think it’s just practice and training. As I got sent to more training on thinking, I realized just how much of a difference it can make. It took a while for me to simplify it though. The problem with some techniques is they are tough to do on the fly. In fact, one of the ones I need to simplify is Blue Ocean.

    @ Hilary

    Thank you. de Bono never ceases to amaze me. I don’t know if you’ve read his book, Tactices – the Art and Science of Success, but I highly recommend it. It’s an interesting analysis of 50 successful people, looking for patterns.

    @ Melissa

    I agree. I think de Bono set off on this path, but I don’t think it’s mainstream in the U.S. I wish I had the thinking skills I have now, when I was in school.

  6. Hi JD

    It’s amazing how easy it is to simply head for the minus points. Perhaps that’s a function of being too rushed in life; or perhaps it’s an indication of lack of interest; or lack of respect.

    A friend once showed me the “multiple accounts analysis” technique – which I guess takes this a step further and to the decision-making phase. I find that quite useful – but, then again, I haven’t studied this topic at all, so I may be missing out on something that suits me more.

    I’ll give these a go – especially the first one for “everyday” use, so to speak.


  7. @ Juliet

    Those are definitely possibilities. I think it’s also easier to jump to minus points because we get habituated to things going wrong. There are just so many things that can go wrong, that it becomes easier to see the flaws. I think looking to possibility, opportunity, and positivity can take skill. For example, in many cases, you need to shift to the future and use your temporal skills or vision.

    Multiple accounts analysis sounds interesting, and I don’t think I’ve heard of it before.

    I have shared some decision making frameworks before, but I think I need to bump it up a level and explore types of decisions, since some are more fact-based, some are more subjective/value-based, while others are more pattern-based … etc. I also need to post on how intuition can fail you and when it can serve you.

  8. Thanks JD – I haven’t seen de Bono’s Tactices – the Art of Science and Success … I’ll have a look out for it – but it’s been noted into my place of books to buy: so is in my consciousness when I see it!

    Thanks for the recommendation – it sounds interesting, especially as it’s based around 50 successful peoples’ patterns.

    All the best – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  9. J.D.

    This is super stuff. Very helpful. The process of thinking has always been non-linear for me (and it shows) — really, thanks for this. You’re the epitome of what I consider real and authentic folks actively on social media – you share useful, unique, and content — with specificity – to help others.



  10. All,

    This site below has online diagramming capabilities for thinking guides and techniques. It has diagramming templates for roughly 25 different thinking techniques (like the 3 presented by JD), and it also allows you to create your own. This is well worth checking out.


  11. @ Steve

    Thank you. The thinking techniques can help round out your skills, but another approach is teaming up. There are some things that I just defer to other people. When that’s the case, I do my best to whittle the problem down into a very precise question that’s easy to share with others and get feedback on. There’s an art to that, and I’ll post on that another day.

    @ Zilba

    It sounds interesting. I think in this case, thinking “guides” means thought scaffolding.

  12. “How might this be true” is tested in practice and works very well with customers. On one hand you create a meaningful dialogue testing assumptions but at the same time you keep good relations w/o making enemies.

  13. @ Alik

    I’ve found it especially helpful in situations where you default response would be to start proving something wrong. It’s easy to find the flaws. It’s tougher to first see the opportunity.

  14. I know of the white/black hats of advertising well. LOL

    Your article is very informative and appreciated.

  15. @ Jannie

    Ha … some say it’s yeller, just like the mustard.

    @ BunnygotBlog

    The more hats you can wear, the better the perspective. The other beauty is, it helps you also identify what you know, don’t know, and need to know next.

    • Here are a few:

      – How To Have a Beautiful Mind, by Edward de Bono
      – Mechanism of Mind, by Edward de Bono
      – ThinkerToys, by Michael Michalko
      – Brilliant NLP, by David Molden and Path Hutchinson

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