In his bestselling book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono describes a powerful problem-solving approach that enriches mental flexibility by encouraging individuals and groups to attack an issue from six independent but complementary perspectives.
Using the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ for Structured Brainstorming
De Bono created the ‘six thinking hats’ method after identifying six distinct lines of human thought in problem solving. De Bono calls each approach a “hat” and assigns them different colors.
At the heart of the ‘six thinking hats’ method are six different colored hats that participants put on—literally or metaphorically—to represent the type of thinking they should concentrate on while wearing each.
- White is neutral, objective, and fact-based. A white hat is concerned with objective data: “What information do we have? What information do we need? What information are we missing? How can get the information we need? What objective questions should be asked?”
- Red denotes passion, anger, intuition, and emotions. A red hat considers the emotional side of problem solving, which is often neglected or masked in meetings: “What are our gut reactions to the matter at hand?”
- Black is somber, serious, and cautious. A black hat is vigilant, plays devil’s advocate, and encourages derogatory and judgmental behavior: “what are the weaknesses of these ideas? What are the risks? What could go wrong?”
- Yellow represents positive thinking, hope, and optimism to counteract the black hat’s power. A yellow hat plays “the angel’s advocate” and is cheerful and confident: “What are the best-case scenarios? What are the best aspects of this? What are the advantages? Who can benefit from this?”
- Green signifies abundance, growth, richness, and fertility. A green hat is the hat of creativity; it rejects established rules and norms, and invents new approaches: “What are some new ideas on this subject? What is interesting about this idea? What are the variances in these ideas?”
- Blue represents the sky and therefore provides the overarching perspective. A blue hat performs “meta thinking” and is concerned with the organization of the thinking process and the use of other hats. The blue hat synthesizes and reconciles different viewpoints. At the start of a brainstorming session, the blue hat sets the stage for where the discussion may go. The blue hat guides and sustains the discussion, often restating its purposes: “What are we thinking about? What is the goal? What should we do next? What have we achieved so far? What should we do to achieve more?” At the conclusion of the brainstorming session, the blue hat appraises the discussion, and proposes a plan of action.
Use De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Model for Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
An individual working alone may use the approach to consider broader, distinct lines of thought. By changing hats, the individual can switch viewpoints and ensure that he/she is not stuck in specific thinking patterns.
However, the approach is best suited to group discussions (when chaired by a skilled facilitator) in which conflicting ideas may never otherwise be fully synthesized into plans of action. By persuading each participant to think constructively alongside other participants, the ‘six thinking hats’ method taps into group members’diverse perspectives and uses their collective knowledge without destructive conflict.
Using these hats nurtures creativity by letting participants step beyond their typical roles and contribute to developing, organizing, and progressing ideas. Participants can also identify how their cognitive state at any one time shapes how they approach problems.
Recommendation: Read. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats presents a very effective technique for stimulating group creativity. The method can remove mental blocks, organize ideas and information, foster cross-fertilization, and help conduct thinking sessions more productively than do other brainstorming methods.
Complement with Dan Ciampa’s Taking Advice for an excellent framework on the kind of advice network you need on strategic, operational, political, and personal elements of your work and life. Read my summary in this article.