Six Thinking Hats - Looking at a Decision From All Points
'Six Thinking Hats' is an important and powerful
technique. It is used to look at decisions from a number
of important perspectives. This forces you to move outside
your habitual thinking style, and helps you to get a more
rounded view of a situation. This tool was created by
Edward de Bono.
Many successful people think from a very rational,
positive viewpoint. This is part of the reason that they
are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at a
problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative
viewpoint. This can mean that they underestimate
resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do
not make essential contingency plans.
Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive.
Emotional people may fail to look at decisions calmly and
If you look at a problem with the 'Six Thinking Hats'
technique, then you will solve it using all approaches.
Your decisions and plans will mix ambition, skill in
execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good
How to Use the Tool:
You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own.
In meetings it has the benefit of blocking the
confrontations that happen when people with different
thinking styles discuss the same problem.
Each 'Thinking Hat' is a different style of thinking.
These are explained below:
With this thinking hat you focus on the data available.
Look at the information you have, and see what you can
learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either
try to fill them or take account of them.
This is where you analyse past trends, and try to
extrapolate from historical data.
'Wearing' the red hat, you look at problems using
intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think
how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand
the responses of people who do not fully know your
Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of
the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try
to see why it might not work. This is important because it
highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to
eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans
to counter them. Black Hat thinking helps to make your
plans 'tougher' and more resilient. It can also help you
to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a
course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real
benefits of this technique - many successful people get so
used to thinking positively that often they cannot see
problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for
The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the
optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the
benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat
thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks
gloomy and difficult.
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can
develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a
freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little
criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can
help you here.
'Blue Hat Thinking' stands for process control. This is
the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running
into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may
direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency
plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking,
A variant of this technique is to look at problems from
the point of view of different professionals (e.g.
doctors, architects, sales directors, etc.) or different
The directors of a property company are looking at whether
they should construct a new office building. The economy
is doing well, and the amount of unrented office space is
reducing sharply. As part of their decision they decide to
use the 6 Thinking Hats technique during a planning
Looking at the problem with the White Hat, they analyse
the data they have. They examine the trend in unrented
office space, which shows a sharp reduction. They
anticipate that by the time the office block would be
completed, that there will be a severe shortage of office
space. Current government projections show steady economic
growth for at least the construction period.
With Red Hat thinking, some of the directors think the
proposed building looks quite ugly. While it would be
highly cost-effective, they worry that people would not
like to work in it.
When they think with the Black Hat, they worry that
government projections may be wrong. The economy may be
about to enter a 'cyclical downturn', in which case the
office building may be empty for a long time. If the
building is not attractive, then companies will choose to
work in another better-looking building at the same rent.
With the Yellow Hat, however, if the economy holds up and
their projections are correct, the company stands to make
a great deal of money. If they are lucky, maybe they could
sell the building before the next downturn, or rent to
tenants on long-term leases that will last through any
With Green Hat thinking they consider whether they should
change the design to make the building more pleasant.
Perhaps they could build prestige offices that people
would want to rent in any economic climate. Alternatively,
maybe they should invest the money in the short term to
buy up property at a low cost when a recession comes.
The Blue Hat has been used by the chair of the meeting to
move between the different thinking styles. He or she may
have needed to keep other members of the team from
switching styles, or from criticizing other peoples'
Six Thinking Hats is a good technique for looking at the
effects of a decision from a number of different points of
It allows necessary emotion and scepticism to be brought
into what would otherwise be purely rational decisions. It
opens up the opportunity for creativity within decision
making. The technique also helps, for example,
persistently pessimistic people to be positive and
Plans developed using the '6 Thinking Hats' technique will
be sounder and more resilient than would otherwise be the
case. It may also help you to avoid public relations
mistakes, and spot good reasons not to follow a course of
action before you have committed to it.