I first read this book about 15 years ago, and remember using the techniques in the book to facilitate a couple of sessions. I had forgotten about the Six Thinking Hats till I recently reviewed, Teach Yourself to Think, another book by Edward de Bono (you can read my review here). In just 177 pages, de Bono has written a book which can teach anyone a simple, but very effective technique to help manage meetings, facilitate group sessions and more importantly, solve problems. So what is the Six Thinking Hats technique? It is a parallel thinking method which allows people to look in the same direction at any point in time with the aim of exploring a particular subject fully and deriving multiple perspectives for making a decision. Edward uses a house to describe parallel thinking in the following way: There is a large and beautiful country house. One person is standing in front of the house. One person is standing behind the house. Two people are attending at each side of the house. All four have a different view of the house. All four are arguing (by intercoms) that the view each is seeing is the correct view of the house. Using parallel thinking they all walk around and look at the front. Then they all walk around to the side, then the back and finally the remaining side. So at each moment, each person is looking in parallel from the same point of view.
The six thinking hats is a technique that forces people to think in a parallel way, whereby they are all thinking about something in the same way. It doesn’t mean they all have the same thoughts, but they are all just thinking in the same direction. According to de Bono the hats have a variety of uses such as:
- Solving problems
- Managing meetings
- Facilitating groups
The hats can be used in group situations or by an individual to structure their thinking process. Also all the hats can be used together in a situation or you can chose to use one or more depending on what the situation requires. While this is a small book, it has 43 chapters,but that’s down to de Bono’s writing style. He tends to break content into smaller chunks that are easier to digest. The book is dominantly divided into six parts, and yes, you guessed right, each part focuses on a hat. Following is a brief review of each hat.
The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures. So when the white hat is in use everyone focuses exclusively on information. Questions like this maybe used with the white hat:
- What information do we have?
- What information is missing?
- How are we going to get the information we need?
Like a computer which gives facts and figures without giving any interpretation or opinion, so is the white hat.
The red hat gives the emotional view in a situation. It is all about feelings. The red hat gives us the opportunity to express feelings, emotions and intuition without any need to explain or justify them. It’s purpose is to express feelings as they exist and not to justify or judge them. During red hat thinking people will make statements like:
- I feel that idea had potential
- The idea is very unusual
- I feel this is a risky venture
According to de Bono, the red hat legitimizes emotions and feelings as an important part of thinking.
The black hat is about caution and being careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea or suggestion. It is the most used and perhaps the most important of all hats because it stops us doing things that are illegal, dangerous and unprofitable. When using the black hat to look at suggestions and ideas, be it in a meeting or on an individual basis, it helps to identify what is not going to work and what to avoid. Here are types of questions you are likely to hear when using the black hat:
- What will happen if we take this action?
- Will it be acceptable?
- How will people react?
- What can go wrong?
At some point in any decision making process we need to consider risks, dangers, obstacles, potential problems and the downsides. This is what the black hat can help with.
The yellow hat covers hope and positive thinking. It is optimistic. Under the yellow hat focus is on identifying the benefits of suggestions and ideas, and the possibilities of implementing them. It pushes people to find the value in their ideas and suggestions. Therefore it’s about constructive thinking and making things happen. With yellow hat thinking you will hear statements like:
- What about recycling the water? There are new methods that make it very economical.
- We can improve the water supply by building a dam on the river.
Yellow hat thinking is concerned with positive assessment, it is generative. From it come concrete proposals and suggestions and how to act on them.
The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas. Under this hat people are allowed to put forth new ideas, and also modify, to improve existing ones. With the green hat you can set out a specific time for each person to make a creative effort. It is under the green hat that possible courses of action are put forward. The green hat also helps to overcome some of the challenges identified under the black hat. The green hat may suggest modifications or new ideas. During green hat thinking you may hear statements like:
- Let’s have some new ideas on this
- We need a new approach
- This demands a green hat solution.
This is the last hat. It is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process and the use of the other hats. The blue hat is responsible for managing all the other hats through the thinking process. The blue hat defines the situation at the beginning of the thinking process, lays out the purpose and sets the agenda for the session. The blue also manages the changing of hats by ensuring that the relevant hat is worn at all times. The blue hat is typically worn by the person facilitating the session. Blue hat thinking is responsible for summaries , overviews and conclusions.
Throughout the book de Bono goes into detail about each hat, being clear about what it is, how to use it and when to use it. He employs lots of examples, so you have a clear understanding of the six hats. I have no doubt that after reading this book, you will be confident enough to use the six thinking hats technique. You should go get your copy now!