Edward De Bono’s Six Hat Thinking (Julia)

An Overview

white hat The White Hat calls for information known or needed. “The facts, just the facts.”
yellow hat The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.
black hat The Black Hat is judgment – the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.
red hat The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.
green hat The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.
blue hat The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed.
In Detail
White Hat – Facts & Information

Participants make statements of fact, including identifying information that is absent and presenting the views of people who are not present in a factual manner. In many thinking sessions this occurs immediately after an initial blue hat, and is often an extended action with participants presenting details about their organization and the background to the purpose of the thinking session. The key information that represents the inputs to the session are presented and discussed. Key absences of information (i.e. information needs) can also be identified at this point.

Commercial examples are:

  • Our sales data are two years old
  • Energy efficiency legislation is expected to impact our ability to run our business in the next five years

Red Hat – Feelings & Emotions

Participants state their feelings, exercising their gut instincts. In many cases this is a method for harvesting ideas – it is not a question of recording statements, but rather getting everyone to identify their top two or three choices from a list of ideas or items identified under another hat. This is done to help reduce lists of many options into a few to focus on by allowing each participant to vote for the ones they prefer. It is applied more quickly than the other hats to ensure it is a gut reaction feeling that is recorded. This method can use post-it-notes to allow a quick system of voting, and creates a clear visual cue that creates rapid if incomplete agreement around an issue. Alternatively it may be used to state ones gut reaction or feelings on an issue under discussion. Finally this hat can be used to request an aesthetic response to a particular design or object.

Commercial examples are:

  • That role in the company doesn’t appeal to me.
  • I’d like to do that but I feel uncertain about it.
  • I’m frustrated that we have let the situation get this bad!

Black Hat – Being Cautious

Participants identify barriers, hazards, risks and other negative connotations. This is critical thinking, looking for problems and mismatches. This hat is usually natural for people to use, the issues with it are that people will tend to use it when it is not requested and when it is not appropriate, thus stopping the flow of others. Preventing inappropriate use of the black hat is a common obstacle and vital step to effective group thinking. Another difficulty faced is that some people will naturally start to look for the solutions to raised problems — they start practising green on black thinking before it is requested.

Commercial examples are:

  • We will be facing strong competition in that market
  • What if we cannot get enough capital together to support the investment?
  • We might not be able to make it cheaply enough for our customers to buy it

Yellow Hat – Being Positive and Optimistic

Participants identify benefits associated with an idea or issue. This is the opposite of black hat thinking and looks for the reasons in favour of something. This is still a matter of judgment – it is an analytical process, not just blind optimism. One is looking to create justified statements in favor of the idea or issue. It is encapsulated by the idea of “undecided positive” (whereas the black hat would be skeptical – “undecided negative”). The outputs may be statements of the benefits that could be created with a given idea, or positive statements about the likelihood of achieving it, or identifying the key supports available that will benefit this course of action

Commercial examples are:

  • That would be useful in market X
  • That would reduce the environmental impact of our activities
  • This approach will make our operations more efficient

Green Hat – New Ideas

This is the hat of thinking new thoughts. It is based around the idea of provocation and thinking for the sake of identifying new possibilities. Things are said for the sake of seeing what they might mean, rather than to form a judgement. This is often carried out on black hat statements in order to identify how to get past the barriers or failings identified there (green on black thinking). Because green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity, it can take many forms.

Commercial examples are:

  • What if we provided it for free?
  • Could we achieve it using technology X instead?
  • How would someone from profession X view this

Blue hat – The Big Picture

This is the hat under which all participants discuss the thinking process. The facilitator will generally wear it throughout and each member of the team will put it on from time to time to think about directing their work together. This hat should be used at the start and end of each thinking session, to set objectives, to define the route to take to get to them, to evaluate where the group has got to, and where the thinking process is going. Having a facilitator maintain this role throughout helps ensure that the group remains focused on task and improves their chances of achieving their objectives. The blue hat is also an organization of thinking. What have we done so far? What can we do next?

Commercial examples are:

  • We’ll follow this program of thinking to start the day – does everyone agree?
  • OK time to move on to some yellow hat thinking
  • Stop there – you are getting into debate. Lets do some black hat and surface all the issues together first

Application Method

Typically in use a project will begin with an extended white hat action, as everyone gets “on the same page” creating a shared vision of the issue being addressed. Thereafter each hat is used for a few minutes at a time only, except the red hat which is limited to a very short 30 seconds or so to ensure that it is an instinctive gut reaction, rather than a form of judgement. This pace is believed to have a positive impact on the thinking process, in accordance with Malcolm Gladwell‘s theories on “blink” thinking.

This ensures that groups think together in a focused manner, staying on task, it also ensures that they focus their efforts on the most important elements of any issue being discussed. However, it also has the potential to create conflict if not well facilitated, since people can feel “railroaded”. To avoid this it is important to notice when there is any significant difference of opinion on the thinking process or the area in which it should focus.


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Filed under Julia, Secondary Research, Trends Research

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