The Six Thinking Hats and How to Use Them

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“The Law of Win/Win says, ‘Let’s not do it your way or my way; let’s do it the best way’.”  — Greg Anderson

In the book, Six Thinking Hats, Edward De Bono presents a framework for organizing and improving thinking.

Six Thinking Hats is a way to look at a problem from multiple perspectives.

Switch Hats to Switch Your Thinking

By using a metaphor, the hat, it’s easy to switch modes of thinking by switching hats.

The main idea is to turn destructive arguments into constructive thinking.

The approach is to have people wear a certain imaginary hat depending on what type of thinking is needed for the moment

The Six Thinking Hats at a Glance

The six hats in Six Thinking Hats according to Edward de Bono 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

How To Use the Six Thinking Hats

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

  1. White HatWhat are the facts and figures?
  2. Red HatWhat’s your gut reaction?  How do you feel about this?
  3. Black HatWhy can’t we do this?  What prevents us?  What’s the downside?
  4. Yellow HatHow can we do this?
  5. Green HatWhat are additional opportunities?
  6. Blue HatHow 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.

3 Key Themes

Here are 3 key themes of the Six Thinking Hats framework:

  1. Thinking your way forward over judging your way forward.
  2. Parallel thinking over argument, adversarial, and confrontational.
  3. Setting direction for thinking over describing what perspective your thinking was.

Explore Multiple Perspectives with Skill

Normally, when we look at a problem, we might get stuck looking at the negative side, or the positive side.  Or, we might look at it in terms of just the facts, and ignore how we feel about it.

With Six Thinking Hats, you explore six different views of a problem, by putting on an imaginary hat for each perspective.

This technique can help you as an individual to explore a problem more robustly and to get unstuck from your thinking. 

And it’s a powerful technique for teams to help everybody on the team look at different angles of the problem.

The imaginary hats also help people step out of their comfort zone and explore alternative or even competing views.  

And it’s a powerful thing, when everybody wears the same hat at the same time, so everybody is helping each other see the positive, see the negative, see the facts, etc.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways from Six Thinking Hats:

  • By switching hats, you can switch points of view.
  • It’s easier to ask somebody to wear another hat, than tell them to change their thinking
  • You can reduce time in meetings spent arguing towards constructive dialogue
  • You can better balance thinking, particularly in a group (for example, creativity with negativity or emotional perspective with facts)

4 COMMENTS

  1. I think it’s a great technique.

    I’ve found a way to make it effective at work. When a meeting gets stuck, I list a question for each hat on the board:
    * 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)

    We then walk the questions as a team, with each other vs. against each other.

  2. […] Wear a hat. The most effective technique I’ve found to help a group use cooperative controversy is to “wear a hat.” The team puts on their Devil’s advocate hat and beats the idea up toether. We then wear another hat to work together to figure out ways we can make the idea work. The hat makes it comfortable for people to switch perspectives. This is along the lines of Six Thinking Hats. […]

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