By January 4, 2009 Read More →

How To Use the Six Thinking Hats to Improve Your Thinking

HowToUseSixThinkingHats

Edward de Bono created an effective approach to improving your thinking by directing your attention.  It’s called Six Thinking Hats

If you know how to use the Six Thinking Hats, you can deal with two very common problems.   The first problem is incomplete thinking.  The second problem is deadlocks in meetings.  

I’ve been in way too many deadlock meetings that are absolute energy drains.  I’ve also seen too many ideas fail simply because they didn’t have enough perspective.  Once I discovered Six Thinking Hats, both scenarios became easy to solve.

Why Six Thinking Hats
Here are a couple of reasons for using Six Thinking Hats:

  1. More complete thinking.  Six Thinking Hats helps you leverage more complete thinking.  In the Six Thinking Hats, each hat represents a different perspective (facts, emotions, critic … etc.)  If you think of the problem as a pie, then each hat or perspective is a slice of the pie.  If you only have the Devil’s advocate, then you’re missing several other perspectives.  By cycling through the hats, you get a more complete view.
  2. More collaborative meetings.  By using the Six Thinking Hats, you can get everybody thinking about the problem in a collaborative way.  Everybody can put on the same hat at the same time.  The real key here is that rather than circular or deadlock debates, you focus the group on a particular viewpoint at a time. This is a similar to writing, then editing vs. editing while your write, or brainstorming, then critiquing vs. critiquing while you brainstorm.  The big difference is that rather than just brainstorming and critiquing, you’re looking at the issue from multiple, specific angles.  On the people side of this technique, you’re letting people wear a different "hat", in a safe, constructive way.

Summary of Steps
This approach for using Six Thinking Hats is lightweight and low-overhead, but gets you 80% there without requiring everybody to know the details of the Six Thinking Hats.  The key is to list questions that everybody can focus on and cycle through.

  • Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
  • Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
  • Step 3.  Modify the approach

Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
List a set of questions on the whiteboard to represent the hats.  You can do this either at the start of the meeting or when you hit a sticking spot.
Here’s the Six Thinking Hats:

  • White Hat – the facts and figures
  • Red Hat – the emotional view
  • Black Hat – the "devil’s advocate"
  • Yellow Hat – the positive side
  • Green Hat – the creative side
  • Blue Hat – the organizing view

Here’s an example set of questions you can use to represent the hats:

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

The sequence of the questions can matter.  For example, it wouldn’t make sense to start thinking up solutions before you’ve focused on the problem.

Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
Walkthrough each question as a team.  This is the key.  Rather than debating each other, you’re now collaborating.  You’ll be surprised when suddenly your team’s "Devil’s Advocate" is now showing off their ability to dream up wild solutions that just might work!

Step 3.  Modify the approach.
If it’s not working, change the approach.  For example, you might find that you started with the wrong "hat" or question.  See if switching to another question or hat makes a difference.  The key is to keep this lightweight but effective.

This isn’t a heavy handed approach.  Instead, it’s a subtle shift in strategy from free-for all debate to focusing and coordinating your team’s thinking power in a deliberate way.  This lets everybody get heard as well as really bang on a problem from multiple angles in a teamwork soft of way.

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Photo by Tony Crider

13 Comments on "How To Use the Six Thinking Hats to Improve Your Thinking"

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  1. Louisa says:

    Edward de Bono, six hat thinking – I love it! I introduced it to the general manager of one of the previous companies I worked for. He made me make him a list for his board and could often be heard telling people to put on the damn yellow hat for a second whenever they didn’t want to fall for the latest silly idea that came down from head office.

  2. Jannie says:

    Luckily, I no longer have to attend meetings, the only meetings are in my mind. And since I only have me to boss around, I’m getting a lot done! Practiced guitar an hour each day for the last 3 days, with more of the same planned for months and months ahead.

  3. I never thought to split up the varies ways a person can look at a problem and assign it to an individual. It’s a great idea.

    Making yourself look at a problem with various lenses is a great way to find a new perspective too.

    I’m going to use this idea this afternoon as I lay out my next project.

  4. Rasta Hats says:

    Hmmm, an interesting way to solve problem that involves a group of people. By splitting the problems into smaller section, this will no doubt make it easier to tackle the problem in greater detail…. Thanks for sharing this tip!

  5. JD says:

    @ Louisa

    Very cool. Have you checked out Edward De Bono’s Tactics – the Art and Science of Success? It’s not an easy read, but what’s cool is it’s a compilation of success patterns from studying successful people.

    @ Jannie

    It’s great to be the boss! I wonder which hats you wear while you play? Green? Red? Maybe black while you practice?

    @ Karl

    The hats are great for projects. For example, throw on your creative green hat or positive yellow hat when you’re thinking how to present the vision, throw on your facts and figures white hat when you’re figuring out the business case, throw on your critical black hat when you analyze the project plan.

    The biggest key is finding the right questions that help you switch perspective and get better answers. The better the questions, the better the answers.

    Let us know how it goes.

    BTW – if you’re into projects, check out “Project Management” on my other blog at http://ShapingSoftware.com.

  6. JD says:

    @ Rasta

    No problem. Give it a whirl and let us know how it goes.

    Note that you can use it to improve your own thinking, in addition to group settings.

  7. Akshay Bogawat says:

    I’ve got the “Thinking for a change” book by John Maxwell and have just started reading. I am into the second chapter, but already finding it interesting. One issue which I have always faced while reading books is once I cross over the half-mark. That’s when for some reason I start to loose interest. Not sure how can I overcome this.

  8. JD says:

    @ Akshay

    Thanks for stopping by. Maxwell is the man. He’s a wealth of great books. Thinking for a Change sounds awesome and I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before.

    Here’s a tip – when you read books, go for nuggets. Simply try to find the lessons. When you get bored, hop to another book and find the lessons.

    What I do is I use a little sticky pad. I stick a post it on pages where there’s great lessons, so I leave a random trail through my favorite books.

  9. Genivev L. Pellazar says:

    wow!… I really like the six thinking HATS of Mr.Edward De. Bono,I’ve learned a lot from this topic. I discussed it also to my classmate. It’s really nice, because you will know what level of thinking that you have, and you can develop more to make it more productive.
    I hope that someday I can have some books of Mr. Bono.