The Six Hats of Critical Thinking and How to Use Them

Have you ever sat in a meeting to discuss a problem or issue only to find the thinking process of participants to be a barrier to progress? No matter how well the agenda might be structured, discussions head off on multiple tangents as participants interact with both the issue to be discussed and each other’s different thinking styles. At the heart of the issue is that human thinking is unstructured, and this can be reinforced when diverse types of thinking drive individuals or groups to think in even more diverse ways, which in turn leads to adversarial thinking. Once adversarial thinking takes over, the chances of reaching resolution and buy in are limited!

One of the proven successful methods to organise both group and individual thinking is the six thinking hats, also known as De Bono’s six thinking hats. The method has been first introduced in 1985 by Edward De Bono in a book with the same name. The methodology seeks to structure the thinking of individuals and groups into parallel themes, or “parallel thinking”.

Solving problems using the six thinking hats model requires looking at suggestions problems or issues with structured types of thinking, each type being represented with a coloured hat. The key to success is that each type of thinking is adopted by each participant at the same time, so thinking is in sync. Thinking sessions are facilitated, the facilitator determining which thinking hat should be worn at a given time. Order can vary but the white hat is normally worn first:

White hat; information

This hat represents the facts and the information available about the suggestion, problem, or issue. During this phase, the participants only share the information and facts about the matter in hand. No further development in the thinking process should be done. Question asked during this phase might be “what is the available information?” or “what are the facts that we have?”

Black hat; what’s bad?

Wearing the black hat drives attendees to think about the matter cautiously and defensively. The aim of this part is to identify the cons and the disadvantages and why the suggestion, problem, or issue might not work based on logical reasons. Thinking in this phase is focused on warnings, risks or negative aspect only. Questions asked during this phase might be “what are the risks?” or “I see this not working because…”

Yellow hat; what’s good?

In contrast to the black hat, the yellow hat seeks to reflect an optimistic attitude. The stakeholders think from an optimistic point of view about the suggestion, problem, or issue. This hat helps to spotlight the advantages and benefits of the matter at hand. Questions asked during this phase might be “what are the advantages of applying the solution?” or “why do you think it is workable?”

Red hat; emotions

The “emotions hat” allows the stakeholders to express their feelings about the suggestion, problem, or the issue, and their gut reactions toward it. This hat is used to understand the different emotional reactions such as love, hate, like and dislike. Importantly, the red hat does not aim to understand the reason behind these feelings. Participants do not need to justify their emotional reactions. Questions asked during this phase might be “what do you feel about the suggestion?” or “what is your gut reaction toward the suggestion?”

Green hat; creativity

This hat represents the creative thinking part of the discussion. During the phase, this hat fuels the stakeholder’s thinking to innovate or seek creative solutions for the problems or look to suggestions from a creative perspective. Questions asked during this phase might be “how can we expand our thinking to capitalise on the opportunity?” or “what can we grow this into?”

Blue hat; discussion bookends

This is the process control hat where the meeting leader manages difficulties during the discussions. In wearing this hat, the facilitator makes sure that the guidelines of the six thinking hat process are applied. This hat can be used to moderate the process, encourage participation, and summarise decisions at each stage of the discussion.

In the author’s experience the six thinking hats process can facilitate reaching better decisions, faster, and in a spirit of collaboration. Adversarial thinking and discussion gives way to logic and reasoning.

Source; Colin Morrell, Mutarem Management