When it was first introduced in 1985 by Edward de Bono in his book ‘Six Thinking Hats’, the namesake tool took the training and creative thinking worlds by storm.
Edward was a Maltese physician, psychologist, and philosopher who used the Six Thinking Hats in advising government agencies, but also envisioned it to be a practical tool for everyday problem solving. He used the concept of ‘lateral thinking’ or ‘parallel thinking’ – a method of solving problems indirectly, often in creative and surprising ways – as the base for this tool.
What Is the ‘Six Thinking Hats’?
Six Thinking Hats is a tool often used in coaching to help an individual or group of individuals look at a problem in six different ways – in order to provide alternate ways of thinking about a problem and provide different perspectives. It helps people extract themselves from their usual patterns of thinking to come up with a solution that is a result of having done an assessment of the situation in a complete manner.
By the time one is done with the Six Thinking Hats technique, one can expect to be left with a rich collection of insights that can help an individual decide their next steps without any doubt or confusion. So, the next time you find your clients struggling to make a decision or reverting to their old thought patterns that haven’t served them, you can make use of this tool.
How Does It Work?
Each of the six thinking hats is of a different colour that represents a different style or lens of thinking. You start the process by explaining the concept to the client and then getting them to ‘wear’ a hat before facilitating the thinking process by asking coaching questions. This can be done in both an individual or group setting as well. When in a group, you can have each group wear a particular hat and discuss the idea at hand through one particular lens and then have all groups come together and share their respective perspectives before coming to a conclusion.
Also, it is imperative that you or the facilitator of the exercise (in a group setup) records the answers so that the client can reference it once the exercise is over.
1. White Hat: The Objectivity Hat
Think of this as the information gathering hat. When the client wears this hat, they need to focus on the available data and look at the bare facts in an objective manner – without any judgments. When wearing this hat, you can ask your client the following questions to facilitate gathering facts and insights:
- What do we know?
- What do we need to know?
- Where can we get this information from?
2. Yellow Hat: The Optimist Hat
When wearing the Yellow Hat, the person looks at issues in the most positive light. There is no room for negativity when wearing this hat – the idea is to almost accentuate the benefits and values that come from the idea at hand. The questions to ask can be:
- What are the strengths?
- What are the benefits?
- What is the value?
3. Black Hat: The Risk-Management Hat
The Black Hat is all about being cautious and assessing risks. By wearing this hat, your client gets to explore all potential pitfalls and roadblocks, weaknesses in the plan/idea, and more. The idea, by wearing this hat, is to eliminate or find ways to overcome these potential pitfalls. Here are some possible questions to ask:
- What are the weaknesses?
- What are the potential pitfalls?
- Do you see anyone or anything standing in the way of success?
4. Red Hat: The Feeling Hat
The Red Hat represents feelings and instincts. When a client puts on this hat, they are meant to operate through their gut sense, intuition, and sixth sense. They are encouraged to express their feelings and hunches on the topic without having to justify anything logically. Some questions you can ask include:
- What is the right choice for you, intuitively?
- What does your gut say?
- What are your feelings on this? Is there any other way?
5. Green Hat: The Creative Hat
When an individual adorns the Green Hat, there are no limitations on what they can do. Any ideas, possibilities, alternatives that would have been considered illogical or impractical are welcome when wearing the hat of creativity. You can ask the following questions:
- What are some new ideas?
- What if…?
- Can you think of any more alternatives, if there were no restrictions or rules?
6. Blue Hat: The Process Hat
This hat is all about process thinking, control, improving efficiency, and the effectiveness of the thinking process. Here you can let the client have some time to process and arrive at decisions and analyse problems – and encourage them to write it all down. The intent is to define the problem at hand very clearly – so have an agenda, ask for summaries, and aim to reach conclusions. Some questions you can ask include:
- What is the goal?
- What have you learnt?
- What are the next steps?
Things to Note
- It’s important to remember that in a team setup, some members may find thinking with some types of hats challenging – possibly due to neurodivergence – and may need some reassurance or support. It is also a possibility that they also excel while wearing some other hats! So, one can use this technique as a way to play to everyone’s strengths or help them get more comfortable about other ways of thinking.
- Some colours may have cultural implications depending on which region’s clients you are coaching, so you may need to pick new colours for one or more of your hats. In China, for instance, a green hat can mean an unfaithful spouse and might be considered offensive.
It’s fine to use any colours that are appropriate for you and your client/team. As long as all six hats are of different colours, you’re set!
- Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
- The Ultimate Coaching Guide by Vikram Dhar & Rashmi T.K
1. Who invented the Six Thinking Hats?
The Six Thinking Hats was introduced by Edward de Bono in a book by the same name. He was a Maltese physician, psychologist, and philosopher who used the Six Thinking Hats in advising government agencies, but also envisioned it to be a practical tool for everyday problem solving.
Edward used the concept of ‘parallel thinking’ – a method of solving problems indirectly, often in creative and surprising ways – as the base for this tool.
2. What are the benefits of using the Six Thinking Hats technique?
There are several benefits of using the Six Thinking Hats technique. Some of them include: more organised thinking, enhanced creativity, stronger interpersonal skills, better thinking skills, better decision-making capabilities, greater inclusivity in teams, and getting better at thinking from different perspectives.
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