Book Review – Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

six-thinking-hatsSix Thinking Hats is an old book that teaches a technique that will never grow old. The book was first published in 1985, but the lessons it teaches are timeless. In the book Edward de Bono teaches about how to run meetings for solving problems, making decisions and looking for ideas using a simple technique called the Six Thinking Hats.

This technique consists of 6 different hats that allow us to look at an issue from 5 varying perspectives and one hat for the person who will be facilitating the meeting. The book is structured in a logical way that first introduces us to the purpose of the six hats and then gives an in-depth explanation of each hat.

The hats themselves are based on different colours to distinguish their different functions. The book describes each hat as follows:

  • White Hat: White is neutral and objective, this hat deals with facts and figures.
  • Red Hat: Red suggests anger (seeing red), rage and emotions. The red hat explores the emotional view.
  • Black Hat: Black is sombre and serious. The black hat is careful and cautious. It points out the weakness in an idea.
  • Yellow Hat: Yellow is sunny and positive. The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.
  • Green Hat: Green is grass, vegetation, abundant and fertile growth. The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.
  • Blue Hat: Blue hat is cool, and it is also the colour of the sky, which is above everything else. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organisation of the thinking process and the use of the other hats.

Following is a review of each chapter in the book.

Chapter one – Introduction

Introduces why the hats are effective and useful. De Bono uses a lot of metaphors in this chapter to describe the power of using the six hats.

Chapter two – Six hats, six colours

In this chapter the six hats, their colours and what they stand for are introduced.

Chapter three – Using the hats

How to use the hats is the subject of this chapter. Four ways to use the hats are described, which are:

  1. Single use: Where the hats are used to request a particular way of thinking.
  2. Sequential use: The hats are used one after the other in a sequence.
  3. Group and individual: The hats may be used to facilitate thinking during a group session. Also, an individual can use the hats to structure their own thinking.
  4. Individuals in groups: In a group meeting, individuals can use the hats to structure their own personal thinking.

Chapters 4 – 42

These chapters form the main bulk of the book and they describe in detail how to use all the hats. You will read about:

  • How to use each hat
  • How not to use each hat
  • Examples of the hat in use
  • The type of results you should expect from using each hat
  • Types of questions you can ask for each hat

Since the blue hat is different to the other 5 hats, the chapters on this hat show us how to use it to facilitate thinking with the other hats. There are lots of sample statements and illustrations given to show us how to use it effectively.

A great feature of each chapter is the summary chapters which appear at the end of the group of chapters describing each hat. Each summary chapter gives a good overview of the hat and you can read it quickly to get a top-level understanding of the functions and uses of each hat.

Chapter 43 – Benefits of the Six Hats Method

We all want to know the benefits of techniques before we invest time in learning and using them. This chapter solves that problem by summarising what the benefits of using the six thinking hats are. The key benefit described is related to how they help to make decisions. De Bono put it this way:

“In practice, one of the most striking things about the use of the Six Hats method is that decisions seem to make themselves. When you come to the final blue hat, the decision is often obvious to everyone present. This seems hard to believe in theory but happens often in practice.”

The book ends with a conclusion, which reminds us of the purposes of the six thinking hats:

  1. simplify thinking by allowing the thinker to deal with one thing at a time, and
  2. switch thinking, for example the hats can be used to get people to move away from negative thinking to more positive thinking.

This is not a big book, but it gives a very good grounding on the subject it’s teaching, in this case the Six Thinking Hats. You will come away from reading this book ready to give the Six Thinking Hats a try. I certainly did that. Also remember, you don’t have to be an expert to use the technique, the benefits of being able to focus on one perspective at a time and the practice of switching how you are thinking using the hats are immense advantages whether for your own individual thinking or a group session.


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