Six Thinking Hats Summary
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Six Thinking Hats Summary and Analysis | Edward De Bono

An Essential Approach to Business Management

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Edward De Bono’s Perspective

Edward De Bono is one of the pioneers of Brain Training. In 1967, he invented the world famous Lateral Thinking Technique. De Bono is a proponent of the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. He has dedicated his life to helping people worldwide improve their thinking abilities and creativity skills. His courses have been used by top corporations, governments and world leaders. That said, they are also highly accessible, having been used by schoolchildren. De Bono believes his techniques help people of all thinking levels to make smarter decisions in less time.

Introduction

Six Thinking Hats provides six approaches that can be used interchangeably as a critical thinking tool. Imagine you were an explorer and found yourself on an island. Naturally, you would like to find out what is happening on that island. The most common approach would be to observe and take notes of every prominent feature. The issue with this approach is that it neglects many less prominent details that are still important. The Six Thinking Hats approach helps you look at every critical detail one bit at a time. These six thinking hats have different colors and each color functions differently.

The Premise

Six Thinking Hats’ premise is that doing everything simultaneously would only create confusion. Basically, Six Thinking Hats gives you a frame of reference. This reference provides three clear uses.

  1. You can use it as a tool for group discussion and individual thinking. That means you can use it to help you to optimize them.
  2. It helps a group think together more effectively. Imagine you have six people in your group. There would be six different ways of thinking. Crucially, if the group adopts six thinking hats, they can focus on one thing at a time.
  3. It offers a way to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way. With six thinking hats, you know exactly what you’re going to do for each step of the process. So, you cover all the required areas. The result is thought processes and work that are more cohesive.

Advantages of Six Thinking Hats

Before delving into the specifics of each thinking hat, De Bono provides five strong reasons why you should adopt the six thinking hats. The five advantages that De Bono provides are:

  1. They encourage parallel thinking. Parallel thinking means that all your group members are thinking in the same direction. The longer you work in this way, the more influential your team will become.
  2. They encourage full-spectrum thinking. Full-spectrum thinking means that you cover all possibilities.
  3. They separate ego from performance. Whenever you do a group discussion, you are engaging in social aspects. It is a social event because you’re not working by yourself; you’re working with people. Sometimes people believe that they own their ideas. This ownership leads to people feeling threatened when “their” idea is challenged. Crucially, the six thinking hats will help you separate your ego from performance. So, people criticizing an idea is no longer about you and becomes a vital part of solving a problem together.
  4. They allow the team to obtain fuller input from more people. When you work in a group, there will be different personalities. The six thinking hats can help you obtain input or information from each person and personality.
  5. They encourage performance rather than ego defense. Once you realize the group performance is more important than individual performance, you can be more encouraging to others. You can also become more open.

So, now you should have an understanding of the benefits of the six thinking hats. 

Explanation of The Six Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats each have unique features that complement each other but are clearly distinct. The picture below displays this point and the following outlines will also make this clear.

The Blue Thinking Hat Is About the Process

Out of the Six Thinking Hats, the blue thinking hat is the only one that focuses on the process. Focusing on the process means that this does not consider the subject. This hat starts by asking the group how they are going to discuss the subject. So, this hat does not look at the subject itself but the thinking behind the subject. In technical terms, the blue hat is more concerned with meta-cognition. Meta-cognition is a specialist term for thinking about how we should think. Meta-cognition also considers what type of thinking is needed and organizes this thinking. This thinking hat considers the premise first, then plans out the process of thinking and subsequent actions. This makes the blue thinking hat in charge of decision-making. 

The White Thinking Hat Seeks Facts

“Real life, however, is very different from school sums. There is usually more than one answer. Some answers are much better than others: they cost less, are more reliable or are more easy to implement. There is no reason at all for supposing that the first answer has to be the best one.”

– Edward De Bono

The white thinking hat is all about the facts. Common questions asked by those wearing the white thinking hat are

  • What materials do we have?
  • What information do we have?
  • What further information do we need?
  • How are we going to get them?

This thinking hat is focused on information. So, they collect this data and information to guide the team’s decision-making and efficiency. The white hat is neutral and objective. That means they should not be passing judgment while wearing this hat. Instead, white hats are merely collecting. 

The author offers an example to help you remember the information-oriented nature of white hats. He explains that paper is generally white and we use paper to write information. So, white hats write facts on white papers. 

The Red Thinking Hat Uses Their Feelings

The red thinking hat pays attention to their feelings and responds accordingly. While wearing this hat, you should be relying on your gut reactions. You do not need to justify your intuitions or gut reactions. Instead, just provide statements based on how you feel. 

The author explains that this hat is crucial to team unity. Often people are happy to go along with something they disagree with as long as they are allowed to express their feelings. So, the red hat allows team members to vent and feel like they are free.

This hat is all about expressing how you feel in every moment. It is fine to have a change in your emotional state. For example, you might dislike the sound of an idea at first but then change your mind. Instead of worrying about seeming inconsistent, De Bono suggests you state every change in your emotions.

The Black Thinking Hat Looks for Faults

“We may have a perfectly adequate way of doing something, but that does not mean there cannot be a better way. So we set out to find an alternative way. This is the basis of any improvement that is not fault correction or problem solving.”

– Edward De Bono

The black thinking hat is perhaps the most common hat in organizations that do not use the six thinking hats. People are used to finding faults with concepts. They’re also used to talking about obstacles. Finding faults can be positive, but it can have a negative impact when it is being overused. This is why De Bono believes it is better to have a single hat dedicated to finding faults. 

Black hat thinking covers bad point judgment. Logic is applied to identifying flaws, barriers and obstacles. The black hat is also concerned with difficulties, weaknesses and dangers that you might face. The crucial point is that while wearing the black hat, you have to give justification for all judgments. You have to give your logical reasoning. Based on this point, black hat thinking is the opposite of red hat thinking.

The benefit of black hat thinking is it helps you spot the risks associated with decisions. People talk about bad things all the time, which can make meetings counterproductive. So, black hat thinking should not be purely about negative points. Instead, it should also be about minimizing risk through policy and regulations. 

The Yellow Thinking Hat Is About Benefits

Yellow hat thinking considers all the positive aspects of an idea or concept. So, while wearing this hat, you should be talking about all the good features. But, as with the black hat thinking, yellow hat thinking must also be applied with logic. When identifying the benefits, you must be logical and provide justification. 

The purpose of yellow hat thinking is to seek harmony through finding positives. So, while wearing a yellow hat, you should constantly be considering how an idea is useful, which requires you to value sensitivity. Instead of considering law and policy, you should be talking about what values go with a particular topic. Plus, what type of ethics judgment that the team needs to be aware of.

The Green Thinking Hat Calls for Creativity

“Creativity involves provocation, exploration and risk taking. Creativity involves “thought experiments.” You cannot tell in advance how the experiment is going to turn out. But you want to be able to carry out the experiment.”

– Edward De Bono

The final thinking hat is the green thinking hat. This hat aims to create the solution to the problems that you find in black hat thinking. The green hat is also responsible for answering the statement of provocation and investigation. So, they investigate and seek solutions, ideas and alternative possibilities.

De Bono takes time to explain what he means by the statement of provocation. This may immediately sound like you are starting an argument. The reality is that the statement of provocation is about proposing hypotheses or scenarios and seeing where they go. For example, if Superman fought with Incredible Hulk, who would win? That is a statement of provocation. It provides the team with a spark to start thinking in an interesting way and offer alternative viewpoints.

The Movie Example and Exercise

The easiest way to understand a concept is to use an example. So, suppose a team of six thinking hats is considering the topic of movies. With this example, the tasks and approach of each hat would be:

  • Blue Hat – Decide what the focus and objectives of the conversation should be. This hat does not talk about the movie itself.
  • Red Hat – Asking yourself whether you feel like you love or hate the movie. Then, telling the group your intuitive feelings.
  • White Hat – Collecting the facts and information on the movie. For example, the director, scriptwriter, lead actor and the plot. 
  • Yellow Hat and Black Hat – Often, these two hats will work together. The yellow hat is supposed to be positive and the black hat is meant to be negative. So, they offer a nice balance. With the example of a movie, it should be more complicated than the black hat saying negative things about a commonly criticized part of the movie. Instead, the black hat should try to find something negative in the movie’s most positive area. Similarly, the yellow hat should find something positive in the movie’s biggest criticism. 
  • Green Hat – The green hat should always be looking to be creative. You might introduce an exciting scenario to spark conversation. For example, “which movie would be best suited to a crossover with this movie”?

Final Summary and Review of Six Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats offer balance in a world where teams tend to focus on the negatives. They also help prevent us from focusing on our ego and encourage us to consider the team’s performance. Six Thinking Hats supports the separation of different modes of thinking. When you talk about one thing at a time, you can give it your full attention. This is why it makes sense to put on one hat at a time. So, Six Thinking Hats promotes single-tasking and focused work. When you mix everything up, you slow yourself down. 

Single-tasking within a team that includes all thinking hats will allow you to think together in a focused manner. Crucially, you don’t have to use six thinking hats at all times. For example, suppose you have a meeting or a collaborative effort. In that case, you can simply decide in the middle of a meeting, “Hey, we need to just think of the advantages for a few minutes.” So, everyone will put on a yellow hat at the same time. It’s a deliberate focusing tool you can use at different times or can be used simultaneously within a well-balanced team.


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