Edward De Bono's
Six Thinking Hats

Outlining the Basics 

Introduction  

Imagine having one idea that could change your life for good...

Have you ever been struck by the notion of a great concept? Then you also know the feelings of excitement that can accompany your terrific idea. Strangely enough these feelings often cause your perception to narrow. 

Instead of using all the thinking capabilities you were born with, only a couple of them seem to function properly any longer. Depending on whether you're a natural optimist or pessimist, you'll either plunge ahead with your concept, or you will have given up on it before you've even tried...

Okay, so you have this great concept. Now what?

How will you make it work? If you want to turn your concept into a successful project, you'll need to make a realistic assessment of all the aspects that come with your concept. Preferably using all of the valued neurons that make up your total thinking capacity. 

Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats techniques help you to a balanced assessment of your ideas, problems and challenges. By asking you to wear six different thinking hats that represent the six different aspects of how you can possibly think. To your right you see an overview of the questions that are typical for each of the six thinking hats.

Once you've answered all the questions, you'll know you've looked at your concept from every possibly viewpoint. Which will make it far easier to come to well-considered conclusion of what to do with it. 

You can use Six Thinking Hats for anything you deal with in life. Use it in your business, use it at school or use it at home. And as a side affect you'll find the overall quality of your creative thinking improve tremendously. Leading to more and more concepts to evaluate until one day you awake with a killer concept and your life will never be the same again... 

So, why would I want to wear six different thinking hats?

Traditional arguing involves two or more parties opposing each other. Whatever one party offers as an input to the discussion, the opponents will come forth with critique. There are several reasons for this: discovering the truth, investigating certain subjects, defending viewpoints, just winning an argument or coming to a synthesis of the various standpoints. 

Even if we agree mostly with our discussion partners, we are still inclined to focus on the details we disagree on. "Yes, BUT..." This habit doesn't do justice to the input as a whole. We will overlook valuable points of consideration and lose a lot of time bickering over rights and wrongs. Arguing isn't constructive nor creative. It may result in some improvements but it won't lead to innovation. Arguing is simply not going to build you new roads...

De Bono's Six Thinking Hats offer us a simple yet powerful alternative to discussion. With this method we investigate together the facts, the feelings, the pro's and cons, and the creative solutions we can come up with. De Bono calls this parallel thinking. The result of this is a sincere dialogue in which personal gains are set aside in favor of working together to reach clarity. 

Use the Six Thinking Hats to assess existing problems, innovative ideas, work processes, study topics, possible decisions, solve disputes and much, much more. The method is simple, but extraordinarily effective. This has lead to the situation that many prominent organizations have implemented this technique in their daily businesses today.

Learning the methods and techniques of De Bono's Six Thinking Hats is easy. Yet it will strongly affect your thinking. It is concrete, tangible, simple to use and changes all thinking behaviors instantly.

 


Six Colored Hats - Six Types of Thinking

The colors of the hats are: white, red, black, yellow, green and blue. These colors were chosen for a reason. They're associated with certain situations which will help you remember the objective of each separate hat.

  • White Hat
    Focus your thoughts on information - the facts and figures. What info is available? How do we get it?
       
  • Red Hat
    Unlimited use of feelings, intuition and emotions which don't have to be justified.
       
  • Black Hat
    Warning! Difficulties, dangers and problems. What can go wrong? And does this comply with our knowledge and experience?
       
  • Yellow Hat
    Focus the thinking on benefits, values and attainability. What are the positives?
       
  • Green Hat
    Conscious creative effort. Generating ideas and looking for alternatives. Solving problems.
       
  • Blue Hat
    Managing of the thinking itself. Defining the topic, giving the summaries, making decisions and drawing conclusions.

Six hats with six different colors, all representing a different aspect of your thinking. When you wear a specific hat, the rule is you stick to the kind of thinking it represents. When you want to switch to a different style of thinking, you need to switch hats as well.

An extended overview of the separate hats can be found on the right column of this page.


Preparing a Session

What's are we focusing our thinking on then? 

First of all you need a concept. An idea, a problem to solve, a product to create, a service to promote etcetera. What is your thinking going to focus on? What are we thinking about? What are we working towards? What results do we expect of this thinking session?

Thinking in itself is the most effective is we have clarity about what we want to think about. In general your thinking can be focused in two ways:

  • determine a general subject in which a specific area is made the focus of our thinking - to generate new ideas.
       
  • determine a specific subject that has a clearly described focus for our thinking - to solve a problem, improve a process, accomplish a task, overcome a difficulty, add a new feature.

Practical examples:

  • "I would like to think in general about how people at home brush their teeth".
       
  • "I need some better designs for a toothbrush".
       
  • "I need stronger material for the brush of a toothbrush".

Some typical thinking pitfalls

When describing your concept, be specific about where you want your thinking to go. If you want to think about designing an umbrella, a broad description for you focus - like "Preventing people from getting wet" - will not suffice. You could end up with the conclusion that all bus stops need shelters. Add to your concept description. Use several descriptions. 

Resist the temptation of looking for deeper meanings though. The general purpose of using the Six Thinking Hats is to come to constructive and creative thinking. Utilize your thinking for practical solutions.

Example:
"People don't want a drill, they want holes". Not completely true: people want the holes for a reason, they serve a purpose. Thinking along these lines can easily distract you from the original objective: designing a better drill.

To help the focus stick to our subject, it's useful to summarize the results of each separate hat session. This will also help the group to feel we're actually accomplishing something. Which in turn helps to keep all participants motivated and actively involved.


Applying the Six Different Hats

How do I use these Six Thinking Hats then?

You can use the method in two ways:

  • Incidental
    A particular hat is used in itself to emphasize a certain way of thinking or switch to a different style. Before and after using the hat the conversation is a traditional argument or discussion. Utilizing the hat this way can for example serve as a time-out which helps to clear the thinking.
       
  • Systematical
    Decide on a topic you want to think about. Determine a sequence for using the hats: your thinking agenda. Then use the different hats in turn. 

The systematical approach is particularly useful when:

  • The thinkers have different opinions and dig in their heels leading to a dispute.
       
  • The discussion is becoming incoherent and leading nowhere.
       
  • There is little time available while a subject does deserve a thorough investigation.

Different sequences for different focus points

First of all: there's no such thing a THE right sequence for using the Six Thinking Hats. Sequences differ according to subject and participating thinkers. Also remember that in reality every hat can be used as many times as is desirable. 

There are certain guidelines you can use. You'll find a brief overview of usable sequences in the column to your right - below the explanation of the separate hats.

Do not attempt to memorize them though. This will complicate the practical use of the hats as you would be spending more time on remembering the recommended sequence than on the thinking itself.

Let the facilitator of a meeting - the one wearing the blue hat - propose a sequence or if time allows, decide on this as a group. But even with a set sequence: if applicable - be flexible!

How much time do you spend per hat?

You can do an incredible amount of thinking in a relatively short period of time. Especially when it is known their is little time and you have a clear idea of what you're wanting to achieve with your thinking. Your thoughts will be sharper and the time limit prevents your thoughts from abbreviations.

With very practical topics 90 seconds per hat can produce an impressive amount of output. Also it appears to be wise to limit the time even more for people who are used to endless discussions.

Of course the timing also depends on the number of people participating. But in general 3 to 4 minutes per hat suffices - as a group!

Rules of thumb for timing:

  • Allow limitless time for white hat when much information needs to be digested. But keep the thinking focused on subject!
       
  • Don't limit black hat thinking as long as new viewpoints are brought forward. Breaking off prematurely will always result in strong resistance.
       
  • For the same reasons also don't limit yellow hat thinking. 
       
  • Be flexible with green hat thinking: switch to a different hat once the flow of ideas has stopped. You can always come back to the green hat later on. Only when using specific creative thinking methods allow for enough time to utilize them.
       
  • Restrict red hat thinking to 30 seconds to prevent people from wanting to explain or justify their feelings. Only allow more time when intuition and feelings form a major part of our subject. (For instance when acceptability of a new idea is an issue.)   

Always limit the thinking session for each hat at forehand. If it turns out to be appropriate, allow for extra time. The timing is the task of the facilitator wearing the blue hat.

When do I apply this thinking method?

The Six Thinking Hats method organizes the thinking, specifically when thinking in a group. It can be applied in the following situations:

  • Meetings - more than 2 people
    Both the incidental as the systematical application of the hats is useful during meetings. Important is that all participants are always wearing the same hat! 
    The facilitator usually has the blue hat on and structures the dialogue. But everyone can make blue hat suggestions.
       
  • Conversations - two people
    The most common way to use the hats during a conversation between two people, is incidental. Use the hats to guide the thinking and to ask for a different point of viewing the topic.
       
  • Individual
    Though the hats were originally 'designed' for interpersonal use, they can be used in individual situations as well. They structure your thoughts and prevent people from forgetting certain ways of thinking. It does take discipline!

Key Points to Remember

  • Always think in the style of the hat you're wearing. Any other ideas and thoughts that surface are to be ignored.
       
  • The hats represent a style of thinking. They do NOT describe people, thinking habits or thoughts.
       
  • Instead of arguing use parallel thinking to display different views next to each other and compare later.
  • Follow the ritual of the hats and the colors. Take the method as a serious game. And stick to its rules.
       
  • The hats are meant to simplify the thinking and make it more efficient. So don't complicate things!

Concept Evaluation Wizard

This software program is especially designed to help individuals through a disciplined Six Thinking Hats sequence when evaluating a personal or business concept, topic, idea.

The Concept Evaluation Wizard guides you through this process by asking you to define your concept and then presenting you the typical questions that belong to each hat. You fill in your answers and when you're done, you save your work as an html-document. Open it in your browser for a bird's eyes view of what you wish to evaluate. Or print your thoughts to separate documents, one for each separate hat, for relaxed contemplation. Then, and only then, you draw your final conclusions and make your decisions.

Though the Concept Evaluation Wizard was designed mostly for individual concept evaluation, it can be used with groups as well.

Click here for more detailed information about this software.

Blue Hat
Managing the Thinking Process

A cool blue sky allowing you the overview over the thinking processes which take place. Here's the manager's blue hat. You take a little distance from your thinking and watch the process unfold. Guide it and control it. And draw the conclusions in the end.

  • Sets the agenda.
  • Sets the timing.
  • Decides on the next step.
  • Keeps everyone on the focus.
  • Handles requests.
  • Keeps the discipline when using the hats.
  • Handles the summary and conclusions.
  • Asks for decisions.

White Hat
Information Available & Needed

Imagine white paper and computer print-outs. Most of the time paper is white. The white hat, just like most paper, refers to information and facts. So when you wear it, stick to the fact and figures. Only objective information is what you want right now.

  • What information is available?
  • What information would we like to have?
  • What information do we need?
  • What information is missing?
  • Include both sided of disputed information.

Red Hat
Intuition and Feelings

Imagine the red glow of a soaring fire. You're sitting close. Feel the warmth coming from the flames. The red hat refers to your feelings and emotions. Those can be based on complex experiences and aren't always easily analyzed. Usually they're left out of the discussion since they're neither based on facts nor logic. Yet feelings which are heard stop nagging in the back of your head. Thus sharing them helps to clear your thinking. 

  • Take no more than 20 to 30 seconds
  • This is to signal intuition, feelings and emotions.
  • Remind yourself that no explanation is needed!
  • Give feelings and intuition validity.

Black Hat
Caution, Difficulties, and Problems

Have you ever experienced the feeling your future seemed to look pitch black? Only troubles, mistakes, problems and all sorts of dangers awaiting... You were wearing a black hat. Very useful at times. Now wear this hat to alert you to where you could go wrong.

  • What could be the possible problems?
  • What could some of the difficulties be?
  • What are points for caution?
  • Right now we are using the black hat, so you must make a real effort to come up with the negatives.

Yellow Hat
Benefits and Feasibility

Remember a bright and sunny day. Walking outside in a gentle breeze, how easy it gets to feel optimistic about life. Your yellow hat represents the positive and logical aspects of your thinking. So it's not about your hopes! Your statements have to be backed up by reason as well. Looking for benefits, added value and observing how realistic your expectations will be. 

  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the positives?
  • What are the values?
  • Are there savings?
  • Is there a competitive advantage?
  • Is there potential value?
  • Is there a concept in this idea that looks attractive?

Green Hat
Alternatives and Creative Ideas

What happens in spring when the winter resides? Leaves grow back on the trees and bushes, the first flowers unfold in the young and lush meadows and all is vibrant with the creative energy of life. Your green hat represents your conscious creative efforts. New ideas arise, innovative solutions pop up. No logic required this time. Just let your imagination run wild.

  • We need further alternatives.
  • We need to make a creative effort.
  • Are there other ways to do this?
  • What else could we do here?
  • How else might we carry through this concept?
  • What are the possibilities?
  • What will overcome our difficulties?

Short Sequences

First ideas:

  • blue - definition of subject
  • white - ready knowledge
  • green - generating ideas

Evaluation:

  • yellow - benefits and valuable elements
  • black - dangers and difficulties

Improvement:

  • black - inventory of weak points
  • green - improving those points

Explanation:

  • white - factual situation
  • green - possible causes

Direct action:

  • red - gut feelings
  • black - dangers and difficulties

Choice:

  • green - possible alternatives
  • yellow - positives of alternative
  • black - negatives of alternatives
  • red - gut feelings

Emotions:

  • red - feelings
  • white - actual situation
  • green - different viewpoints
  • blue - conclusion

Chances:

  • yellow - benefits
  • white - ready knowledge
  • green - creative action

Decision:

  • green - alternatives
  • blue - compare alternatives with needs
  • red - choose alternative

Longer Sequences

Problem Solving:

  • blue - definition of problem
  • white - available info
  • green - possible solutions
  • yellow - reality check solutions
  • black - weak points solutions
  • white - connect to info
  • blue - draw conclusion

Creative Effort:

  • blue - purpose of creativity
  • white - topic info
  • green - generating ideas
  • yellow - idea benefits
  • black - idea down sides
  • green - solving down sides
  • red - gut feelings

Investigation:

  • blue - definition of investigation
  • white - available info
  • green - hypothesizing
  • white - investigate more info
  • blue - summarize

Decision Making:

  • blue - topic of decision
  • green - offer alternatives
  • white - factual situation
  • yellow - suitability alternatives
  • black - un-suitability alternatives
  • red - making the decision
  • black - assessing decision

Communication:

  • blue - necessity
  • white - topic description
  • green - alternative views
  • red - choice of approach
  • black - assessing choice

Books by Edward de Bono

 

 

 


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Happy Heart Software 2004 Patricia Ritsema van Eck