Six Thinking Hats

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Six Thinking Hats
Author Edward de Bono
Subject Psychology
Genre Self-help
Publisher Little Brown and Company[1]
Publication date
1985[1]
Pages 207
ISBN 0-316-17791-1
Preceded by Masterthinker's Handbook (1985)
Followed by I Am Right, You Are Wrong (1991)

Six Thinking Hats is a book by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats. "Six Thinking Hats" and the associated idea parallel thinking provide a means for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively.[2]

In 2005, the tool found some use in the United Kingdom innovation sector, where it was offered by some facilitation companies and had been trialled within the United Kingdom's civil service.[3]

Underlying principles[edit]

The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged, and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop tactics for thinking about particular issues. de Bono identifies six distinct directions in which the brain can be challenged. In each of these directions the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered (e.g. gut instinct, pessimistic judgement, neutral facts). None of these directions are completely natural ways of thinking, but rather how some of us already represent the results of our thinking.

Since the hats do not represent natural modes of thinking, each hat must be used for a limited time only. Also, many will feel that using the hats is unnatural, uncomfortable or even counter productive and against their better judgement.

A compelling example presented is sensitivity to "mismatch" stimuli. This is presented as a valuable survival instinct, because, in the natural world: the thing that is out of the ordinary may well be dangerous. This mode is identified as the root of negative judgement and critical thinking.

Six distinct directions are identified and assigned a color. The six directions are:

  • Managing Blue - what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal?
  • Information White - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions Red - intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Discernment Black - logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative
  • Optimistic response Yellow - logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity Green - statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes

Coloured hats are used as metaphors for each direction. Switching to a direction is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either literally or metaphorically. These metaphors allow for a more complete and elaborate segregation of the thinking directions. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea the thinker may come up with.

Strategies and programs[edit]

Having identified the six modes of thinking that can be accessed, distinct programs can be created. These are sequences of hats which encompass and structure the thinking process toward a distinct goal. A number of these are included in the materials provided to support the franchised training of the six hats method; however it is often necessary to adapt them to suit an individual purpose. Also, programs are often "emergent", which is to say that the group might plan the first few hats then the facilitator will see what seems to be the right way to go.

Sequences always begin and end with a blue hat; the group agrees together how they will think, then they do the thinking, then they evaluate the outcomes of that thinking and what they should do next. Sequences (and indeed hats) may be used by individuals working alone or in groups.[4]

Parallel thinking[edit]

In ordinary, unstructured thinking this process is unfocused; the thinker leaps from critical thinking to neutrality to optimism and so on without structure or strategy. The Six Thinking Hats process attempts to introduce parallel thinking.

Many individuals are used to this and develop their own habits unconsciously. Sometimes these are effective, other times not. What is certain is that when thinking in a group these individual strategies will not tend to converge. As a result, discussion will tend not to converge. Due to the power of the ego and the identified predilection to black hat thinking in the majority of western culture, this can lead to very destructive meetings. Even with good courtesy and clear shared objectives in any collaborative thinking activity there is a natural tendency for "spaghetti thinking" where one person is thinking about the benefits while another considers the facts and so on. The hats process avoids this. Everyone considers and all look in the same direction together. For example, a façade of a house (metaphorically speaking) and then the group will turn to the backyard. These can also be problems, or the benefits, or the facts, reducing distractions and supporting cross pollination of thought. This is achieved because everyone will put on one hat, e.g., the white hat, together, then they will all put on the next hat together. In this way all present think in the same way at the same time. The only exception is the facilitator, who will tend to keep the blue hat on all the time to make sure things progress effectively. The blue hat tends to be the outward-looking, leader/trail blazing hat that attracts the leaders of all groups. The hats are not a description but a way to look at things. Therefore such methodology aids in better design. This is because as a designing system it is based on a creating system rather than an adversarial confrontational thinking system such as dialectic were there is somebody having opposite position.

Application method[edit]

Whilst the ideas of the hats themselves provide significant benefits, there is more to the six hats method as applied within de Bono thinking systems and as trained under his franchise. In particular the phase at which the hats are used is highly relevant.

Typically, a project will begin with an extended white hat action, as everyone gets "on the same page" creating a shared vision of the issue being addressed. Thereafter each hat is used for a few minutes at a time only, except the red hat which is limited to a very short 30 seconds or so to ensure that it is an instinctive gut reaction, rather than a form of judgment. This pace is believed to have a positive impact on the thinking process, in accordance with Malcolm Gladwell's theories on "blink" thinking.

This ensures that groups think together in a focused manner, staying on task, it also ensures that they focus their efforts on the most important elements of any issue being discussed. However, it also has the potential to create conflict if not well facilitated, since people can feel "railroaded". To avoid this it is important to notice when there is any significant difference of opinion on the thinking process or the area in which it should focus.

Summary[edit]

Using a variety of approaches within thinking and problem solving allows the issue to be addressed from a variety of angles, thus servicing the needs of all individuals concerned. The thinking hats are useful for learners as they illustrate the need for individuals to address problems from a variety of different angles. They also aid learners as they allow the individual to recognize any deficiencies in the way that they approach problem solving, thus allowing them to rectify such issues.

De Bono believed that the key to a successful use of the Six Thinking Hats methodology was the deliberate focusing of the discussion on a particular approach as needed during the meeting or collaboration session. For instance, a meeting may be called to review a particular problem and to develop a solution for the problem. The Six Thinking Hats method could then be used in a sequence to first of all explore the problem, then develop a set of solutions, and to finally choose a solution through critical examination of the solution set.

So the meeting may start with everyone assuming the Blue hat to discuss how the meeting will be conducted and to develop the goals and objectives. The discussion may then move to Red hat thinking in order to collect opinions and reactions to the problem. This phase may also be used to develop constraints for the actual solution such as who will be affected by the problem and/or solutions. Next the discussion may move to the (Yellow then) Green hat in order to generate ideas and possible solutions. Next the discussion may move between White hat thinking as part of developing information and Black hat thinking to develop criticisms of the solution set.

Because everyone is focused on a particular approach at any one time, the group tends to be more collaborative than if one person is reacting emotionally (Red hat) while another person is trying to be objective (White hat) and still another person is being critical of the points which emerge from the discussion (Black hat).

Usage[edit]

Speedo Researchers are said to have used the six thinking hats in the creation of swimsuits. "They tried the “Six Thinking Hats” method of brainstorming, a green hat for creative ways to attack a problem, a black one to look at the feasibility of those ideas. They “reverse brainstormed,” picturing how to make a swimmer go as slow as possible with oversized goggles and a suit compressing the body so parts stuck out, creating drag"[5]

Publication data[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Amazon.com listing, Hardcover edition, retrieved March 7, 2012.
  2. ^ de Bono, Edward (1985). Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management. Little, Brown, & Company. ISBN 0-316-17791-1 (hardback) and 0316178314 (paperback).
  3. ^ Kamal S. Birdi, No idea? Evaluating the effectiveness of creativity training, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 29 No. 2, 2005, pp. 102-111, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
  4. ^ Six Thinking Hats; Official training materials, DeBono Thinking Systems
  5. ^ Spanx on Steroids: How Speedo Created the New Record-Breaking Swimsuit