De Bono believed that if the various approaches could be identified and a system of their use developed which could be taught, that people could be more productive in meetings and in collaborating within groups and teams by deliberately using the approaches. These approaches (thinking strategies) where represented as thinking hats. Each hat has it’s own color and (more importantly) it’s own thinking lane.
The key point is that a hat is a direction to think rather than a label for thinking. The key theoretical reasons to use the Six Thinking Hats are to:
- encourage Parallel Thinking
- encourage full-spectrum thinking
- separate ego from performance
- White hat : Information & reports, facts and figures (objective)
- Red hat : Intuition, opinion & emotion, feelings (subjective)
- Yellow hat : Praise, positive aspects, why it will work (objective)
- Black hat : Criticism, judgment, negative aspects, modus tollens (objective)
- Green hat : Alternatives, new approaches & ‘everything goes’, idea generation & provocations (speculative/creative)
- Blue hat : “Big Picture,” “Conductor hat,” “Meta hat,” “thinking about thinking”, overall process (overview)
With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.
This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.
‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.
Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.
Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans ‘tougher’ and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real benefits of this technique, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.
The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.
The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.
It’s a good technique for looking at the effects of a decision from a number of different points of view, where it allows necessary emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be purely rational decisions. It opens up the opportunity for creativity within Decision Making. The outcome developed with this method will be sounder and more resilient than would otherwise be the case. It may also help you to avoid public relations mistakes, and spot good reasons not to follow a course of action before you have committed to it.