This tool enables individuals or members of a group to explore an idea or topic from a variety of perspectives, and in ways that may differ from their preferred way of thinking.
Edward de Bono, an expert on thinking and the developer of the concept, suggests that by metaphorically wearing different hats, we can direct our thinking in specific ways.
This is a particularly useful tool during or after the harvesting of creative ideas. Six Hats thinking helps provide a well-rounded view from a variety of perspectives
By giving each hat and the mode of thinking that it represents an equal amount of time and consideration, we can avoid prematurely jumping to a conclusion, or making a decision with insufficient information.
In addition, ensuring the whole group uses the same “hat” at the same time increases the speed and efficiency of the thinking process, since everyone is thinking in parallel instead of in different, conflicting modes.
The table groups first focuses on the Green hat – generating as many ideas as possible, without criticism or justification. (You could use Fresh eyes tool to generate these ideas).
Participants then use each mode of thinking (“hat”) in turn to develop and evaluate the ideas they had generated.
Look at the idea or issue from the perspective of creativity
What new ideas are possible? How can this be changed or improved?
Yellow benefits hat
Look at the benefits
What are the positives? What is this a good idea? What are the advantages and benefits?
Black caution hat
Look at the negatives
What problems could arise? What are the disadvantages?
White facts hat
What facts are needed? What do I know? What do I need to find out? How will I get the information I need?
Red feelings hat
What is my intuition or instinct telling me? What am I feeling about the idea? What do I like about these feelings and what do I dislike?
Blue process hat
What's the big picture? What thinking is needed? Where are we now? What do we need to do next
To use the Six Thinking Hats®, someone in the group ‘puts on’ the Blue Hat as the leader of the session.
The blue hat leader explains the overall plan for flow to the group. The main role of the leader is then to manage the time and keep the group focused and actively participating in the thinking associated with just one hat at a time. “Excuse me, we are on the yellow hat now, so only positive comments about benefits and good points are allowed… we’ll go on to the black hat where you can bring up those cautions soon”.
Work through the hats in sequence. Remember that the whole group must wear or focus on the same colour hat at the same time. De Bono suggests about four minutes per hat to keep the discussion lively, focused and flowing.
Experience in the NHS suggests that it is useful to block the critical thinking of the Black Hat initially and instead begin with Yellow in any sequence. After a period of focussing only on the positives and benefits of an idea, the criticisms and cautions are naturally somewhat tempered.
Tip: NHS teams have found it useful to set ground rules that balance positives and negatives; such as “spend equal time on Yellow and Black Hat”, or “your list under Black Hat can be no longer than that under Yellow Hat.
Consider quickly returning to the Green Hat to further embellish the idea or to think of ways to enhance the benefits (yellow) and reduce the drawbacks and risks (black).
Return to the Blue Hat for a final vote on the idea as to whether, all things now considered, it should continue in the development process or be put aside for now.
you don’t have to actually wear hats; it is only a metaphor. However, some teams in the NHS have found it good fun to actually have a supply of inexpensive coloured caps to remind them to stay on focus.
The Hats have natural pairings; Yellow is positive whilst Black is more negative; Red is emotion driven whilst White is data-driven. In general, if you use one hat of a pair, you should also use the other one as well for balance.
All participants must “put on” the same colour Hat at the same time, and everyone should participate equally. The idea is to think together; what Edward de Bono calls “parallel thinking”.
Discourage people from characterising themselves as being a particular hat (“Oh, don’t worry about me being quiet… I’m saving all my comments for when the Black Hat comes round”.)
Whilst people will have preferences and natural ways of being, we should encourage them to become more balanced in their practice of different modes of thinking.