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Six Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats is a method devised by Edward de Bono for controlling the thinking process. The idea behind it is that there are 5 distinct mental states we can employ at any one time to think about issues, problems, opportunities or anything else that requires some quality thinking.

Each one of these thinking states is represented by a different coloured hat. We put on one of the hats to consciously enter the thinking state represented by it. Either put on a real coloured hat if you have one, or since most of us don’t have a collection of coloured hats, an imaginary one.

The sixth hat is the control hat, blue, and always starts and ends one of these thinking sessions i.e. the blue hat is worn at the beginning to determine what is to be thought about, which other hats are going to be worn, in which sequence and for how long. The blue hat is put on again at the end to bring the thinking process to a controlled end.

The six hats are:

• Neutrality (White) – With this hat on we only consider the cold, bare facts, the information we have and identify any information that may be missing. It is a neutral state, without emotion or judgement just laying out exactly what there is and what is missing.

• Positive Judgement (Yellow) – The yellow hat is worn when we are looking at everything in a positive light, when we are upbeat, optimistic, bright. We use logic to think of all the pros, the plusses.

• Feeling (Red) – This hat is put on when we want our thoughts to be led by our feelings, emotions, instincts, or on a more primitive level by our gut reaction. This hat is not worn for very long.

• Negative judgement (Black) – Wear this hat to look at all the negative aspects, all the downsides, everything that could go wrong or is wrong. Use logic to look at all the cons, the negatives, the flaws or barriers. Play the devil’s advocate.

• Creative thinking (Green) – Put this hat on to be creative and imaginative, to think about things differently, to come up with alternatives and new ideas, to explore possibilities and hypotheses.

• Process control (Blue) – We wear this hat at the start and at the end of the thinking process. It is for thinking about thinking.

Blue is the only hat that must be worn at the start and at the finish, none of the other hats are mandatory. There is no set pattern for using the other hats and a hat can worn more than once in the sequence, it depends on what one is thinking about e.g. for solving problems the following sequence may be used:

Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue

Whereas when choosing between alternatives the following may be better:

Blue, White, (Green), Yellow, Black, Red, Blue

The hat sequence is decided when wearing the first Blue hat.

Try thinking about a relationship, a job, an issue, problem or opportunity using this method.

We tend as people to be too negative, too safe, too set in ways so that trying anything new is alien to our nature. This no doubt is part of our ancient, animal, survival instinct which has proved useful in the past but needs to be tempered in this modern age. This method allows us to explore all sides, the positive(Yellow) as well as the negative(Black) and to come up with new ideas(Green). The more we use the method the better we become at thinking correctly and getting a better outcome.

The six thinking hats is a simple but effective way of making us aware that there is more than one way of thinking, that thinking itself is a learning experience and that the quality of thinking can be improved. It shows that we can control the thinking process and it is yet another tool in the arsenal for ruling the mind.