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The Six Thinking Hats and How to Use Them

by Julie Maness | December 10, 2020

What is your natural approach to decision-making? Do you have an instinctive “feel” for what should be done? Or do you take ample time to analyze data and understand the problem before making a move?

Evidence shows that the best decisions are made when we have mechanisms in place to counteract our natural blind spots—which may mean learning to think in ways that may feel uncomfortable or unnatural.

This is the premise of one of our favorite books on group decision making—The Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. In easy, approachable language, de Bono walks us through six thinking processes or “hats.”

All of us are capable of thinking in all six ways, but most of us have one or two hats that we are most comfortable wearing. De Bono recommends that whenever we need to make an important decision, we do two critical things:

  • Invite people into the discussion who represent a cross-section of these instinctive ways of thinking
  • Structure your discussion so that ALL participants collectively consider the problem wearing all six “hats.”

We’ve found that in business and project management, understanding and implementing the concept of six thinking hats has led to more effective meetings, stronger project teams, and an overall sounder approach to making decisions.

Curious about the approach? Understanding the six hats is a great place to start.

The Six Thinking Hats

Green Hat:

A person that is a green hat thinker is strong at generating new and innovative ideas.  This person is valuable in a situation when creative solutions to a problem need to be developed but can sometimes have a difficult time zeroing in on a path forward.

Red Hat:

A red hat thinker strongly integrates emotion into their thinking process.  This person will make decisions primarily with his/her gut reaction or intuition.  They also tend to be keenly aware how others may react emotionally to a decision.  On the other hand, they can struggle to see a problem logically.

Blue Hat:

A blue hat thinker is a process-driven individual.  This person typically makes a great meeting facilitator or project manager because they keep the team on track.  A blue hat thinker is usually the one that decides which types of thinking hats are needed at a specific time and direct people to wear a certain hat.  Blue hat thinkers are action-oriented, so they may have a hard time slowing down to engage their other thinking processes.

Black Hat:

A black hat thinker is someone that looks at things with a critical eye.  This individual is very strong at identifying risks that may occur.  It is always a good idea to have a black hat thinker involved in the planning process of a project because they will help make the plan stronger by identifying potential pitfalls. At the same time, black hat thinkers can be reluctant to take necessary risks.

Yellow Hat:

A yellow hat thinker is someone that sees the positive or the benefits of a decision.  A yellow hat thinker also helps keep the team’s spirits up during stressful times.  It may sound strange, but a yellow hat thinker and a black hat thinker can make a very powerful pair when it comes to problem solving or developing a project plan.  I typically find myself fulfilling the yellow hat thinker role and have discovered that when I work with a black hat thinker we come up with well-rounded solutions to problems.

White Hat:

A white hat thinker is someone that analyzes data that is available to them and uses that as a key input in their decision-making process.  A white hat thinker works well with the green hat thinkers.  For example, when a green hat thinker comes up with new ideas or solutions, the white hat thinker can find the data which may support the solutions.  White hat thinkers can become stronger by getting in touch with their red opposite or being willing to accept intuition and emotion into their decision-making.

Six Thinking Hats and how to Use Them

Using the Six Thinking Hats

The Thinking Hats can be used in a number of ways. First, leaders and meeting facilitators can think about which type of thinkers should be involved based on the type of meeting, problem, or situation at hand.

Second, leaders can use the framework to help their team fully think through a complex problem. For example, a decision-making meeting might use the following format:

White Hat – Examine the data related to the problem.

Red Hat – Check in on what everyone’s instincts are telling them.

Black Hat – Consider what assumptions you’re making, the risks you’re facing, and what could go wrong if you pursue your instinctual response.

Yellow Hat – Consider the upside. What opportunities or benefits could arise from your proposed course or courses of action?

Green Hat – Think about creative alternatives you haven’t considered yet. What are you missing?

Blue Hat – Wrap-up. Synthesize the viewpoints into a collective decision or clear “next steps.”

Interested in implementing this with your team? Download this “cheat sheet” and pass out to your team to guide discussion! For more insights and tools, check out www.thepersimmongroup.com/insightsandtools.


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