Six Hats for All the Thinking Angles

This guest post is by Jane Perdue, founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group and a leadership and women’s issues consultant. Jane is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and can also be found doing elearning at Get Your BIG On.

Managers and executive coaches can benefit from the six hat thinking model in formulating questions around a coaching challenge. Here’s Jane’s post.

“It’s always funny when Cora and Walter sit side-by-side in meetings. You can count on Cora to point out everything that’s wrong and Walter to focus on what’s right. They’re the perfect glass half-empty, half-full pair.”

Cora and Walter are also one third of Dr. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats™—an effective antidote to one-note, I’m right/you’re wrong and argumentative thinking styles. The six hat thinking method gives a whole new meaning to putting on one’s thinking cap (I couldn’t resist!).

Dr. de Bono based his method on the premise the human brain thinks in six different ways. He assigned a definition and a color to each of the six thinking styles: judgment and caution (black), positive (yellow), creative (green), emotional (red), thinking (blue), and objective (white). Keep in mind the colors/hats are directions/ways of thinking, not categories of people.

I’ve been in work teams where we used this approach to level the brainstorming playing field amongst introverts, those who are dominant and domineering, and confirmed right-or left-brain thinkers. When implemented effectively into meeting protocols, I’ve seen six hat thinking increase creativity, productivity, personal development and teamwork. It’s a safe way to both modify behavior without attacking it and to encourage innovative thinking. Aha moments happen when our perception changes. Using a different style of thinking can help facilitate those moments of insight. Another reason why I like this approach is the unthreatning way it allows for both logic (head) and emotion (heart) to be introduced. According to Dr. de Bono, “Emotions are an essential part of our thinking ability and not just something extra that mucks up our thinking.” Ready to gather around and try on different hats of thinking?

Black hat. When wearing the black hat, you have total and complete permission to be as pessimistic as you can be. Think cautiously and logically. Consider the logical negative, i.e. why something won’t work. Focus on potential errors, problems, risks and obstacles. Ferret out how “a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use, or the policy that is being followed.” Identify dead ends and blind spots.

White hat. Think objectively—do not consider hunches, intuition, impressions or opinions. Be neutral. Use just the known facts, information, statistics and numbers. Ask impartially: what we do, don’t and/or need to know. Identify confirmed facts as well as those facts believed to be true.

Green hat. Be totally creative. Put all ideas, perceptions and concepts on the table. Seek as many alternatives as possible. Be intellectually provocative. Explore the new, the untried and even the outlandish. Bend the rules. Be imaginative. Focus on producing ideas, not editing or evaluating them.

Red hat. Think with your heart. Put forward all emotions, perceptions, judgments, and intuitions associated with the topic under discussion. Neither a basis in logic nor justification are required. Put concerns about consistency aside. Tap into what your gut says and how it makes you feel.

Yellow hat. Look for the best case scenario, the most logical positive outcome. Present reasons why something will work and the benefits it will produce. Consider opportunities, advantages and future vision. Ponder why something is worth doing, and how and who it will help.

Blue hat. Controlled thinking about thinking is the aim. This hat looks “not at the subject itself but at the ‘thinking’ about the subject.” Watch for organization. Be focused. The meeting facilitator typically “wears” the blue hat to manage the overall process to work toward a conclusion.

Using Dr. de Bono’s method introduces a common language, e.g., “We need some green hat thinking on this one,” which facilitates using a well-rounded view for problem-solving, whether incremental or ground-breaking innovation is the desired outcome.

If you’ve used Six Hat Thinking, please share your experience. Thanks!

If you found this post helpful, check out “About the Book” on this blog, and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.