Six Thinking Hats

October 26th, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Creativity | Ideas | Innovation | Mind

“If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd”. Edward de Bono

Dr Edward de Bono introduced a simple, but powerful technique called the Six Thinking Hats[1]. The technique outlines different thinking styles that are associated with a different coloured hat. This parallel thinking approach forces each of the participants in a team meeting or focus group to adopt the particular thinking style represented by each coloured hat. By conceptualizing each type of hat, the person focuses on the style of thinking associated with each colour. For example, when wearing the RED hat a person will state what he or she feels about a particular situation. Wearing the YELLOW hat compels people to think about the positive aspects of a topic or situation, while the GREEN hat encourages people to adopt a creative thinking focus. The Six Thinking Hats encourage even the most pessimistic or negative people to think of the positive outcomes of a given situation.  By adopting the Six Thinking Hats technique in meetings or problem solving sessions, participants have found that they achieve a number of outcomes, including:

  1. Efficient meetings where meeting time is cut by one to two thirds of traditional meetings
  2. Productive meetings with solid outcomes generated from different thinking styles that can be explored further
  3. Quickly identifying alternative solutions to problems
  4. Effective thinking techniques where participants experience different perspectives using parallel thinking

A summary of each hat is outlined in the Figure below:

The key factor in successfully using the Six Thinking Hats and applying them in a practical situation is to better understand the sequence that the hats are used. The following diagram shows a typical sequence when using the Six Thinking Hats and applying them in a practical setting or meeting.

When considering a specific problem or topic it is best to start with the WHITE hat as this allows all the background information to be presented and documented. Once the problem or topic is fully defined then the RED hat is used to ask participants how they feel about the problem or situation. Participants’ feelings are documented. The general tendency for a proportion of people in a meeting, at this stage, is to present the negative aspects of the problem or situation, however in this process the next step is to use the YELLOW hat to capture the positive aspects of the problem or situation from all participants. This step is then followed with the BLACK hat when everyone considers the negative aspects of the problem or situation. The BLACK hat is then followed by the GREEN hat where everyone is encouraged to use creative thinking to overcome the negative issues but also develop new alternatives to solving the problems or resolving the situation. The RED hat is used again at this stage to gauge the feelings of participants. Generally, most participants who were previously concerned about the problem or situation would now be feeling more positive after having gone through the process of using the different hats. Finally, it is always appropriate to use the BLUE hat as this allows participants to evaluate whether the process has offered solutions or conclusions. The BLUE hat also provides process control to ensure the right technique or approach was used by participants. If a solution or resolution was not identified then another approach or process would be suggested as more appropriate in solving the problem.

Add your comments on whether you have found the Six Thinking Hats effective in your business and personal life.

Dr John Kapeleris


[1] De Bono, E. (1999) Six Thinking Hats, Back Bay Books, New York

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