Utilize Six Thinking Hats To Better Solve Problems & Make Decisions

Posted by on Feb 28, 2020 in Creativity, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Six Thinking Hats | 0 comments

The Six Thinking Hats, co-designed in 1983 by Dr. Edward de Bono with Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson and Eric Bienstock, was developed to improve creativity and lateral thinking.  It helps us overcome one of the biggest enemies of thinking which is complexity.  When thinking is clear and simple, it becomes more enjoyable and more effective.

Unlike when I was growing up, very few people today wear hats.  Hats today tend to define a role and are used as part of a uniform, which itself defines a role.

With regard to how we think, using hats to do so isn’t as far fetched as you might think.  Here are some old sayings you may be familiar with…

… I’ll have to put on my thinking hat and consider your proposal.

… Put on your thinking cap!

… We’re in a difficult position!  We’ll need to put on our thinking hats to see how we’ll get out of this mess.

The six thinking hats are meant to be conditioning triggers that allow emotions to play a role in how we think about something and that is why there are six different colored hats.  Each has a color: white, red, black, yellow, green, and blue and provides the name of the hat and relates to its function.

White Hat: White is neutral and objective.  The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures.

Red Hat: Red suggests anger (seeing red), rage and emotions.  The red hat gives the emotional view.

Black Hat: Black is gloomy and negative.  The black hat covers the negative view and why it cannot be done.

Yellow Hat: Yellow is associated with sun and being positive.  The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.

Green Hat: Green is the color of grass, vegetation and fertile growth.  The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.

Blue Hat: Blue is cool and is the color of the sky, which is above everything else.  The blue hat is concerned with control and the organization of the thinking process.

It is easy to remember the function of each hat if you remember the color and the associations.  When using the hats in practice, they are always referred to by their color and never by their function.  The reason for this is because if you ask someone to give their emotional reaction to something, you are unlikely to get an honest answer because people think it is wrong to be emotional.  Therefore the hats are referred to directly:

… “I want you to take off your black hat,” or “For a few moments let us all put on our red thinking hats.”

The purpose of the six thinking hats is the following:

  1. Defined role-playing.  The purpose is to restrict ego defense, which is responsible for most of the practical faults of thinking.  The hats allow us to say things that we would not otherwise say without risking our egos.
  2. Attention directing.  In order to overcome being reactive, we must have a way of directing attention to one aspect after another.  Using the six hats allows us a way to direct attention to six different aspects of the matter.
  3. Convenience.  The six thinking hats provides a very convenient way of asking someone to switch gears and take on another role displaying a different emotion.
  4. Alter chemical balances in the brain.  The hats become conditioning triggers that prevent us from jumping back and forth between reason and emotion.
  5. Establishes rules.  People are very good at learning the rules of the game and the six thinking hats establish certain rules for the game of thinking.

Using the six thinking hats in practice requires a team to wear all six hats one at a time.  A possible sequence for conducting a session might be the following:

  • Blue Hat:  Used by the facilitator to define the purpose. (5 min.)
  • Everyone switching to Red Hat:  How does everyone feel about the problem or decision? (5 min.)
  • Everyone switching to White Hat:  Share information with the team. (10 min.)
  • Everyone switching to Yellow Hat:  What went well?  Share good news. (10 min.)
  • Everyone switching to Black Hat:  What challenges did we have? (10 min.)
  • Everyone switching to Green Hat:  Share ideas. (10 min.)
  • Everyone switching to Red Hat:  How do we feel now? (2 min.)
  • Blue Hat:  Facilitator defines agreed actions and next steps. (6 min.)

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