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A short guide to Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats


Edward de Bono established his lateral thinking techniques in the 1980s before developing the popular 'Six Thinking Hats' method which aims to simplify the idea-generating process by creating a flexible framework which can be applied to any type of business.

The way in which it works is on the premise that modern business is driven by ideas and if one company is making the same products or engaged in the same process as another, the only thing that differentiates them is the spin or the unique approach that they give to it. As the name implies, participants are asked to separate their thinking into six 'hats' or categories, which are identified using a colour system. For example, the white hat signifies information known or needed, while the red hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition, and the green hat focuses on the creative process.

When each hat is introduced, the team switches to this mode of thinking to tap into their collective knowledge, this helps avoid conflict and time-wasting, eliminates egos and aids creative and constructive planning. It can also be applied on a wider scale, and during the catastrophic tsunami in December 2004, one of de Bono’s trainers was invited to teach the six hats to help unite the aid agencies. Since then the Sri Lankan government insists all aid agencies have to learn the technique.

Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' method is based on the following principles:

White Hat: Information
The first hat focuses on the data available and what you can learn from it, in particular examining the gaps in the knowledge you have and either trying to fill them or taking account of them.

Red Hat: Feelings
The second stage looks at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion as well as getting you to think about how others will react emotionally to the issue and how to understand the responses of people who may not follow your reasoning.

Yellow Hat: Benefits
At this stage, you begin to think positively and view all the benefits in an optimistic light, particularly in terms of the value of the decision. It is designed to keep your thinking positive.

Black Hat: Caution
Using 'Black Hat' thinking, you are encouraged to look at all the bad points of the decision both cautiously and defensively to understand why it might not work. This highlights any weak points in a plan and allows you to adjust, eliminate or prepare contingency plans to counteract them.

Green Hat: Creativity
This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem through a unrestrictive way of thinking. This means very little criticism of ideas and is the point at which a number of creativity tools can be implemented.

Blue Hat: Managing the Thinking
The final hat stands for process control and is generally worn by those chairing meetings. It comes into its own when ideas are drying up or thinking becomes stagnated in which case the 'wearer' may direct things towards 'Green Hat' thinking to generate creativity or 'Black Hat' thinking when a contingency plan is called for.

To find out more about Edward de Bono, read our popular profile on site here

Or our interview with Chuck Dymer here

There are some suggestions for introducing the Thinking Hats concept in an exercise here

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