Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats is an exploratory thinking and decision making tool to help groups explore options and consider different perspectives.
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What are Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats?

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is a powerful decision-making tool that provides a framework for parallel thinking. It encourages individuals and teams to approach problems from different perspectives, leading to more comprehensive, well-rounded solutions. The technique was developed by Dr. Edward De Bono, a renowned psychologist, and author on the subject of creative thinking. His groundbreaking work has been widely adopted by businesses and organisations worldwide, helping to improve the quality of their decision-making processes.

The Six Thinking Hats method is based on the premise that our thinking can be divided into six distinct modes or “hats.” Each hat represents a different way of thinking, and by consciously switching between them, we can develop a more holistic understanding of a situation. This approach ensures that all aspects of a problem are considered, and it can lead to more effective decision-making and problem-solving.

How are the Six Thinking Hats used?

The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and teams to facilitate focused, efficient, and structured discussions. The hats can be used in any order, depending on the problem at hand and the desired outcome. Typically, a facilitator will guide the group through the process, ensuring that everyone stays focused on the current hat and avoids jumping between different modes of thinking.

To use the Six Thinking Hats effectively, it’s essential to understand the purpose and function of each hat. Participants should be encouraged to fully adopt the mindset associated with each hat, and to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. By embracing the various modes of thinking and engaging in open, honest discussions, teams can gain a deeper understanding of the issues at hand and develop more innovative and effective solutions.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the Six Thinking Hats and their respective roles and functions.

The Six Thinking Hats

1. White Hat – Facts

Six Thinking Hats - 1. White Hat - Facts

The White Hat represents objective, data-driven thinking. When wearing the White Hat, participants should focus on gathering and analysing information, seeking out facts, figures, and evidence to support their conclusions. This hat encourages a thorough examination of the situation, ensuring that decisions are based on accurate, reliable information.

While wearing the White Hat, it’s important to remain neutral and unbiased. Participants should avoid making assumptions or drawing conclusions based on personal beliefs or opinions. Instead, they should strive to base their judgments on objective, verifiable data.

2. Blue Hat – Process

Six Thinking Hats - 2. Blue Hat - Process

The Blue Hat is responsible for managing the thinking process itself. It focuses on organising, planning, and directing the conversation, ensuring that the group stays on track and effectively utilises the other hats. The Blue Hat also helps to establish the desired outcomes and goals for the discussion, and it can be used to monitor progress and assess the results.

When wearing the Blue Hat, participants should act as facilitators, guiding the group through the various stages of the thinking process. They should also be prepared to intervene if the conversation becomes unproductive or derailed, refocusing the team’s efforts and encouraging constructive, goal-oriented thinking.

3. Green Hat – Creativity

Six Thinking Hats - 3. Green Hat - Creativity

The Green Hat represents creative, lateral thinking. It encourages participants to explore new ideas, generate alternatives, and challenge conventional wisdom. When wearing the Green Hat, individuals should strive to think outside the box, considering unconventional approaches and seeking novel solutions to problems.

Creativity is a crucial component of the Six Thinking Hats process, as it enables teams to develop innovative, groundbreaking ideas that might not have been considered otherwise. The Green Hat encourages open-mindedness and a willingness to take risks, fostering an environment in which imaginative, original thinking can thrive.

4. Red Hat – Feelings

Six Thinking Hats - 4. Red Hat - Feelings

The Red Hat symbolises emotional, intuitive thinking. It allows participants to express their feelings, hunches, and gut instincts about a particular issue or proposal. When wearing the Red Hat, individuals should focus on their emotional reactions and consider how the situation makes them feel.

Emotions can play a significant role in decision-making, and the Red Hat provides an opportunity for participants to acknowledge and explore their feelings in a structured, constructive manner. By sharing their emotions openly and honestly, team members can gain a better understanding of their own reactions, as well as those of their colleagues.

5. Yellow Hat – Benefits

Six Thinking Hats - 5. Yellow Hat - Benefits

The Yellow Hat is focused on positive, optimistic thinking. It encourages participants to identify the potential benefits, opportunities, and advantages of a given situation or proposal. When wearing the Yellow Hat, individuals should strive to see the bright side, focusing on the positives and seeking out reasons for optimism.

By emphasising the potential upsides, the Yellow Hat helps to counterbalance the natural tendency towards negativity and criticism. It encourages individuals to adopt a solution-oriented mindset, considering how challenges can be overcome and problems can be solved.

6. Black Hat – Cautious

Six Thinking Hats - 6. Black Hat - Cautious

The Black Hat represents cautious, critical thinking. It encourages participants to identify potential risks, problems, and obstacles associated with a given situation or proposal. When wearing the Black Hat, individuals should focus on identifying potential downsides, considering the worst-case scenarios, and anticipating potential difficulties.

While the Black Hat can sometimes be perceived as negative or pessimistic, it plays a crucial role in the Six Thinking Hats process by ensuring that potential issues are identified and addressed. By adopting a critical, cautious mindset, participants can make more informed, realistic decisions, ultimately leading to better outcomes.

Examples of using the Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats can be applied in a variety of contexts, from business meetings and brainstorming sessions to personal decision-making and problem-solving. Here are a few examples of how the technique might be used in practice:

  • A marketing team might use the Six Thinking Hats to develop a new advertising campaign, exploring the target audience’s needs and preferences (White Hat), generating creative ideas for the campaign (Green Hat), assessing the potential risks and benefits (Black and Yellow Hats), and considering the emotional impact of the campaign on consumers (Red Hat).
  • A project manager might use the Six Thinking Hats to evaluate a proposed project, gathering relevant data and information (White Hat), setting goals and objectives (Blue Hat), identifying potential challenges and opportunities (Black and Yellow Hats), and considering the team’s gut instincts about the project’s feasibility and success (Red Hat).
  • An individual might use the Six Thinking Hats to make a personal decision, such as whether to accept a job offer or relocate to a new city. They could gather information about the job and the city (White Hat), weigh the pros and cons (Black and Yellow Hats), consider their feelings and instincts about the decision (Red Hat), and brainstorm alternative options (Green Hat).

Limitations of the Six Thinking Hats

While the Six Thinking Hats is a powerful tool for decision-making and problem-solving, it’s not without its limitations. Some potential drawbacks of the technique include:

  • It can be time-consuming, particularly if participants are not familiar with the process or struggle to switch between the different modes of thinking.
  • It requires a skilled facilitator to guide the discussion and ensure that the group stays focused on the current hat.
  • It may not be suitable for all situations or problems, particularly those that require quick, decisive action.
  • It can be challenging for some individuals to adopt the mindset associated with each hat, particularly if it conflicts with their natural way of thinking or personality.

Despite these limitations, the Six Thinking Hats remains a valuable tool for teams and individuals seeking to improve their decision-making and problem-solving abilities. By encouraging diverse, comprehensive thinking, the technique can lead to better outcomes and more innovative solutions.

Summary of the Six Thinking Hats

In conclusion, the Six Thinking Hats is a powerful decision-making and problem-solving tool that encourages individuals and teams to approach issues from multiple perspectives. By consciously adopting the mindset associated with each hat, participants can develop a more holistic understanding of a situation, leading to more effective, well-rounded solutions.

The Six Thinking Hats technique consists of six distinct modes of thinking: White Hat (facts), Blue Hat (process), Green Hat (creativity), Red Hat (feelings), Yellow Hat (benefits), and Black Hat (caution). By understanding and applying these modes of thinking, individuals can enhance their ability to think critically and creatively, ultimately leading to better decisions and outcomes in both their personal and professional lives.

Six Thinking HatsTemplate

Click the link to download this template and use it to explore in your organisation.

Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats


 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

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