We can’t stop thinking, can we? Therefore, thinking is a natural, on-going, uncontrollable process, isn’t it? 

But is it really? Can one not train the brain to think in a better manner, think only of particular things, and take active steps to change the way one is thinking? Therefore, thinking can be classified as a skill that can be improved and enhanced. 

During group discussions and debates, it is important that people think individually, yet cohesively enough to make winning decisions. Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono teaches us to be able to group different manners of thinking to bring out the best in those group debates, discussions, and brainstorming sessions. De Bono gives a method in which thinking can be compartmentalized and effectively give time to each thought to make thinking, especially when there are many thoughts vying for attention, extremely efficient.

The Six Thinking Hats And Their Rules

When too many thoughts crowd our mind, or there are many thinkers in the group, we need a process to de-clutter the mind and be able to think clearly, categorizing the emotional thoughts from the logical ones and the creative ones. The Six Thinking Hats are color-coded to make categorizing easier.

How does one apply the concept of thinking hats? 

Let us see how the ‘hats’ method comes in handy in an organizational setup. A manager in a group think tank wants to know how his team is emotionally reacting to some piece of information. Since he knows that they will be hesitant to show true emotions in public, the manager can say, ‘let us put on the red hat.’ It becomes a signal to the team that they can openly discuss emotional thoughts, etc.

One has to keep some rules in mind while using the six thinking hats concept. Using the six thinking hats becomes easier when the people in the group become well versed with the terminology of the six thinking hats.

The hats can be for single-use as well as be used in sequence. Single-use of hats denotes concentration or focus on one type of thinking. For example, if the leader of the group says, ‘we need to use green-hat thinking for this problem.’, the group will know that they need to use alternative ideas for their discussion.

When it comes to sequential use, one should remember that only the leader of the group can decide the color of the hat that needs to be used, and in which sequence. The leader however must keep in mind that he should be able to understand clearly which hat needs to be used when. Moreover, hat-users need to be disciplined and avoid idle talk. Their focus should be the thinking hat and thoughts in question.

Using the hat well is a matter of practice and gets better with time. Therefore it is important that all the members of a group get a chance, and spend at least a minute wearing the hat. Let us discuss each hat color individually.

Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono

 The Neutral White Hat

If we imagine ourselves as a robot, applying algorithms and calculating outputs neutrally, without necessitating interpretation, we can actually visualize a robotic voice even!

White Hat thinking is akin to the robotic manner of functioning. It deals with facts and figures rather than opinions. While donning the white hat, one works with the information that is available and identify any information that will be needed. White-hat thinking has no room for arguments.

In white hat thinking, one also ascertains what information is missing and how to get it. Since white indicates neutrality, the aim is to be objective, neutral and stick to statistics and hard facts.

White-hat thinking is best used right at the beginning of a discussion when the speaker provides the group with information. It is also used at the end when the speaker wants to debrief the group to confirm that everyone is on the same page. White-hat thinking works best when one wants to discuss strategies, scope, budget, etc.

The Emotional Red Hat

The emotional red hat is the absolute opposite of the objective, neutral white hat. It allows group members to be able to express emotions, feelings, and intuitions. Emotions such as dissatisfaction, satisfaction, enthusiasm, ambivalence, can be conveyed without needing to justify or explain. 

When it comes to donning the red hat, one has to be careful, especially with intuition, because though it is an accumulated experience, it is not always correct. Additionally, one must also be careful of mixed feelings that do not fit any particular category.

When in a group, donning the red hat is an opportunity that everyone must get, as it’s only fair to know what everyone feels about the topic. Just as everyone gets involved in expressing their emotions, it is essential that everyone’s emotions are truly respected. This is done when each and every person in the group actively listens to the speaker to avoid condescension.

The Cautionary Black Hat

Staying within, and keeping the group within the law, adhering to values, rules, and ethics, as well as keeping a vigilant eye on difficulties and problems, is the role of the black hat. This hat is all about being cautionary and warns against foreseeable dangers and any negative outcomes that one could face.

The black hat enables one to scrutinize all available information and evidence to weed-out mistakes and to be prepared for any other errors. The black hat helps in finding elements in the policies, strategies, ethics, etc that could contradict each other and thus create a functional error.

While the black hat makes one cautious, one has to be careful to not make finding errors an obsession. Just as too much of anything is not good, donning the black hat for too long and too often can be detrimental. At the same time, the black hat is essential for decision-making.

The Optimistic Yellow Hat

The yellow hat focuses on positivity, having an optimistic outlook, and potential benefits. Our brains are wired to be wary of danger and be on the lookout for trouble. Therefore it is difficult to naturally master the yellow hat.

To master the use of the yellow hat requires one to develop value sensitivity that is, to see positivity even in the most futile idea. Positivity isn’t easily apparent, especially when the benefits of the idea aren’t clear to the group. That is why donning the yellow hat is most beneficial when thinking of marketing strategies for brand image, advertising strategies, etc.

The yellow hat, however, can also be deluding. Keeping it on for too long can make one stay in a cocooned world of fantasy. Therefore, it is essential to remember to stay tied to reality and see the positive infeasible, achievable ideas. The yellow hat encourages and motivates teams to make things happen.

The Creative Green Hat

Donning the green hat allows a group to get creative, open their minds to new concepts and ideas, and look for alternatives to existing ideas. It is a free ticket to crazy, zany ideas where one can put faith in the most impossible ideas that one would otherwise never consider.

The green hat opens doors to new possibilities that can create a vision for the future. Moreover, the green hat is a great change from the black hat difficulties the group could be facing. For example, if the black hat points out a big risk in the new marketing campaign, the green hat can help in coming up with new creative ideas or make creative improvements in the existing strategy.

The creative hat, most importantly, encourages everyone in the group to be creative, even the ‘non-creative’ members. It helps bring out the most unexpectedly successful ideas!

The Controlling Blue Hat

The blue hat is the remote control of the thinking hats. It defines the aim of the session, helps gain perspective of how to conduct the thinking or brainstorming session, gives an overall perspective of a discussion, and is thus most commonly worn by the leader of the group or the facilitator. The blue hat is donned to understand or address the parameters of the session.

Donning the blue hat enables one to chart out which other hats will be needed for the discussion. Furthermore, it is donned by the leader or facilitator throughout the discussion or session and is thus a permanent hat. Being a procedural hat, the blue hat announces the procedures of the discussion, changes of hat colors, and most importantly oversees the discipline in the group.

The blue hat seeks an outcome, conclusion, decision, or solution at the end of a discussion and lays the course for what actions need to be taken after the session.

Time, Money And Solution

The Six Hats theory is successful due to 3 main reasons. Because it saves time, saves money, and most importantly leads to a solution. There are examples and testimonials of people who have benefitted by using the Six Hat theory. 

  1. A couple, after reading about the theory in the Financial Times, wrote a letter to the author about how the theory helped them sort out an argument they were having about buying a large country home. They compartmentalized each idea and thought, and came up with a mutual decision within ten minutes flat!
  1. The ABB Corporation was able to reduce their 20-day multinational project team discussion to only 2 days after they incorporated the Six Hat theory.
  1. Statoil, the Norwegian multinational oil and gas company had an issue with a $100,000-a-day oil rig that was sorted by a certified trainer in just 12 minutes with the Six Hat theory. It saved them a lot of money.
  1. The Six Hat theory offers solutions. For example, if four people in a car do not see eye-to-eye where the route is concerned, the Six Hat theory will help them choose the best route.

The Six Hat theory is a formidable thinking tool that can point out solutions anytime group thinking or brainstorming is involved. It removes disorganized thought process and makes thinking more efficient. It is the solution to thinking about a solution!