Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono first comes off as a gimmick. Why would multinational corporations and major business leaders find so much inspiration from a book about different colored hats? Six Thinking Hats is definitely not the sort of book you want to judge by its cover. It offers an excellent, if quirky, model for organizing and improving your thinking and communication.
The key idea of the book is simple. Thinking is a skill. If you work at it, you can improve. If you neglect to hone your thinking, it will atrophy and deteriorate. If thinking is a skill, as opposed to an experience, something that just happens to you, then there are more and less effective ways of going about it.
When approaching a problem, confusion often reigns due to our inability to distinguish facts from feelings, fears and hopes, the known and the unknown. All these and more swirl around together in our brain making challenges even more difficult to address. This is the issue which the Six Hats method seeks to address.
Simply put, the Six Hats method is a way of breaking down and compartmentalizing your different thought processes. Each of these types of thinking gets its own colored hat.
The white hat is for cold, hard facts. When you put the white hat on, the bigger picture as well as any and all emotional overtones take the back seat. All you care about are data, statistics, indicators. White hat thinking lets you gather the facts without distraction.
Up next is the red hat. This is for letting your team express their feelings and emotions without fear of judgement. When wearing the red hat, the emotions are all that matter. You shouldn’t let logic and reason get in the way of people venting or expressing themselves.
Then there’s the black hat. Put on the black hat when confronting problems head on. No sugarcoating, no optimism. The focus of black hat thinking is on limitations, legal, ethical, and logistical. It’s very helpful to define your working parameters so that you don’t overstep any of these bounds. On the flip-side, there’s the yellow hat. Put this hat on to focus on optimism. Project growth, plan for the future, and set goals. These two hats work particularly well in tandem.
Moving on to the green hat, you can now through creativity into the mix. The first four hats are very good at laying the foundations, clearly dividing the hard facts, emotional considerations, inescapable limitations, and trajectory. Once you have these aspects of thinking clearly delineated, creative thinking has so much more freedom to operate. In a group setting, the green hat is particularly good at getting people to open up. When the whole team is encouraged to think creatively, people often rise to that expectation in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.
And finally, there’s the blue hat. Don the blue hat when you need a bird’s eye view. It’s all about analyzing your processes and procedures in a particularly meta way. The blue hat is for thinking about thinking. It is essentially self-critical. This is absolutely necessary to prevent your thinking from becoming flat or stagnant. It also helps you to bring the processes of the other five hats together as a whole.
Bottom line, don’t be fooled by the funny hats. They function more as a way of engaging your team and easily communicating the solid ideas of the method. The book goes into each hat in great detail, although it is a bit lacking how to string all of the hats together. That aspect is fairly intuitive once you get the hang of it. Clear the deck of all emotional baggage with the red hat. Then pivot to the white hat so everyone knows the facts on the ground. Then maybe try on the green hat for a few minutes to brainstorm. The Six Hats method is unique, quirky, and effective.
Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono is available for purchase here.