The Six Thinking Hats and how they impact you!

Presented by Edward de Bono in 1986, the Six Thinking Hats is a thought experiment and roleplaying technique used to sense check decision making.  It can serve as a team-based problem solving and brainstorming technique, and can also be used as a solitary tool when there is a focus on overcoming cognitive biases.

The human brain is a funny old thing and it’s as misunderstood as it is lazy; the six hats ‘game’ challenges the natural way of thinking by using different types of thinking as a role. The hats can either be metaphorical or literal. I have previously posted about cognitive biases and the impact they have on our thinking, this is a great tool to use for challenging or overcoming cognitive biases.

The basic premise is that people think and reason in a specific way based on their personality type combined with what it is that they are thinking about. The aim of the six hats is not to change a person’s natural style but to highlight that it is possible to challenge thinking, in the hope of providing more possible outcomes.

Edward de Bono identified six types of one-dimensional personalities or “Thinking Hats”.   People are generally not just one of these ‘hats’ and will often have qualities of more than one. Each ‘hat’ is intended to be used for around two minutes, aside from the red hat which is a little different.

The six “Thinking Hats” are:

The Six Thinking Hats and why you should know them all!

Blue Thinking Hat – The Big Picture

A commonly heard term is Blue Sky Thinking, this is the ‘consider all factors’ hat this is where the formulation how to think can be decided, what to think about, what the outcomes may be and what is being examined. This is the kind of thinking that is done when there is little or no pressure being applied.

White Thinking Hat – Facts and Information

This is the hat of reason and feasibility, this is free from passion and is generally used to examine what is known, agreed upon and assesses information that can be shared.

Red Thinking Hat – Emotions & Ego

It’s important to remember that feelings are ‘of the body’ and emotions are ‘of the mind’, for example; fidgeting and irritability is not an emotional reaction but a physical one whereas the emotion behind that could be fear, sadness.

Of all the hats this is the one that should be used for the shortest amount of time, usually about thirty seconds, because this is what we would call the gut reaction, staying too long in this mode of thinking can be dangerous.

Black Thinking Hat – Critical Judgement

This is the hat that weighs up the pros and cons and ultimately gets us ready for decision making. This is the mode of thinking used when there are a few options, and there is a need to decide which to employ.  Where the white hat is optimistic, the black hat is sceptical.

Yellow Thinking Hat – Positive

The yellow that is the one that believes that everything will turn out fine, the best possible outcome will present itself and can be a little idealistic. There is some weighing of pros and cons but not in the critical judgment way of the black hat.

Green Thinking Hat – New Ideas

The green hat does not consider practicality or even logic. It is the hat of new ideas and out of the box thinking; this is used lots for brainstorming and thought-showering sessions.

Sequences for Six Thinking Hats

This Six Thinking Hats model should be used on specific projects, or challenges only and not grand agendas or concepts. When used on a specific, a sequence can be employed rather than all interested parties coming to the table with their red hat on.

Initial IdeasBlue, White, Green, Blue
Choosing Between AlternativesBlue, White, (Green), Yellow, Black, Red, Blue
Identifying SolutionsBlue, White, Black, Green, Blue
Quick FeedbackBlue, Black, Green, Blue
Strategic PlanningBlue, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green, Blue
Process ImprovementBlue, White, White (Other People’s Views), Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue
Solving ProblemsBlue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue
Performance ReviewBlue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue

Knowing the Six Thinking Hats can lead to better decision making that is considered, but challenged, ensuring that the thinker does not end up paralysed by thought.

Comment below your thoughts or experiences with cognitive biases or decision-making techniques.


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