The major challenge to effective thinking is confusion. We tend to think of many things at once and end up making mistakes in many areas. We want to be emotional, factual, creative, and logical all at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster. The Six Thinking Hats method is designed to allow a person to focus on one thing at a time.
The Six Thinking Hats method allows people to switch between different types of thinking in order to arrive at the best conclusion. It is particularly useful for teams and making difficult decisions. It is impossible for the brain to maximize its sensitivity to different directions at the same time, but the Six Hats method allows this.
Each of the six thinking hats has a color: white, red, black, yellow, green, and blue. The color provides the name for the hat and it is also related to its function.
Here are Edward de Bono’s 6 thinking hats and principles that PR and business leaders can apply to their lives:
Hat 1: White hat (information power)
With the white hat, everyone focuses on how much information is available, how much information is needed, and the necessary questions to be asked. The white hat is about information.
This information can be in the form of hard facts and figures that can be checked to soft information like opinions and feelings. If you express your own feelings, that is a red hat, but if you report on someone else expressing a feeling, that is a white hat.
These facts and figures can never be treated objectively when put forward as part of an argument. So, we often need a switch that says “Just the facts please — without the argument.” Unfortunately, Western thinking, with its argument habits, prefers to give a conclusion first and then bring in facts to support that conclusion.
The Japanese never copied the Western habit of argument. This may be because disagreement was too impolite or too risky in a feudal society or because mutual respect and saving face are too important to allow the attack of argument.
At a meeting filled with Western people, everyone comes with their already formed opinions. They argue through these different opinions and finally go with the ones that survive all the bashing and criticism. Conversely, Japanese participants do not come to a meeting with any idea. They listen to one another and have a productive session.
Hat 2: Red hat (emotional energy)
In business dealings, emotions are supposed to be kept at bay. Somehow, they find a way to creep in and are then disguised as logic. The red hat provides a distinctive opportunity for feelings to be expressed differently from facts.
Red hat thinking is focused on emotions and feelings and the non-objective aspects of thinking. The red hat provides a formal and defined channel for bringing these things out into the open — as a legitimate part of the overall map — instead of mixing them up with facts.
Emotions, feelings, hunches, and intuitions are strong and real. The red hat acknowledges this. The Red hat thinking is the exact opposite of white hat thinking, which is neutral, objective, and free of emotional flavor.
The traditional view is that emotions distort thinking. The good thinker is supposed to be firm in their decisions — unbothered by emotion. People expect them to be objective and to consider the facts in their own right and not for their relevance to their feelings. It is sometimes said that women are much too emotional to make good thinkers, that they lack the detachment that is needed for good decisions. Yet for a decision to be good, it must be emotional.
Emotions can affect thinking in 3 points. First, inherent emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, suspicion, jealousy or love, limits and colors all perception. Red hat thinking reveals this background so that everyone can feel its effects. The second point emotion can affect thinking is when you perceive yourself to have been insulted by someone. Therefore, your whole way of thinking about that person is colored by this feeling.
The third point at which emotions can come in is after a map of the situation has been put together. Such a map should also include the emotions turned up by red hat thinking. Emotions — including a great deal of self-interest — are then brought in to choose the route on the map. Now that you know the three points at which emotion can affect thinking. Let’s all put on our red thinking hats and allow emotions to give relevance to our thinking.
Hat 3: Black hat (power to stop)
The black hat is perhaps the most important hat. It is a hat of caution and stops us from doing dangerous things. The black hat is the basis of Western civilization because it is the basis of critical thinking. The basis of traditional argument has been to point out how something is contradictory or inconsistent. The black hat points out how something does not fit our resources, our policy, our strategy, our ethics, our values, and so forth.
Black hat thinking is always logical. There must always be a logical basis for the criticism. If the comment is purely emotional, then it comes under the red hat, not the black hat. Black hat thinking is not balanced. Under the black hat, the brain is sensitized to seek out possible dangers, problems, and obstacles. The focus is on why something may not work or may not be the right thing to do. The other side is presented under the yellow hat.
An important function of the black hat is risk assessment. Proposed actions are going to be carried out in the future. This is an extremely important difference between “academic” thinking and “real world” thinking. In academic thinking, it is enough to describe, to do analyses, and to offer explanations. In the real world, there is the action element — which is sometimes called operacy.
We have to base speculations about the future on our own experience and on the experience of others.
Hat 4: Yellow hat (positivity power)
The yellow hat always looks for the good in a situation. It is a more difficult hat to wear than the black hat. This is because the brain is wired to help us stay out of danger, but there is no natural mechanism for the yellow hat. To be able to use the yellow hat more often, we need “value sensitivity.” That involves being as sensitive to value as we already are sensitive to danger.
Sometimes, the yellow hat brings many surprises. For instance, the most shot down idea can have positive sides. The yellow hat should be based on logic and facts. There should be some reason given for any value put forward. The yellow hat is a judgment hat and is not based on fantasy.
Being positive is a choice that everyone makes. We can choose to focus on those aspects of a situation that are positive. We can search for benefits. Negative thinking may protect us from mistakes, risk-taking, and danger.
Positive thinking has to be a mixture of curiosity, pleasure, greed, and the desire to “make things happen.’” It could be argued that man’s progress depends on this desire to see things happen.
The yellow hat is termed “speculative-positive” because, with any plan or action, we are looking forward to the future. The future is where the action or plan is going to be worked out. Nobody knows the future, so we have to speculate as to what might happen. We do things because we believe they are worth doing. It is the things we ascribe value that make up the “positive” aspects of speculative-positive.
It is difficult for some people to stay positive while others find it quite easy. On the other hand, most people remain positive when they are putting out their own ideas and suddenly become positive when someone else’s idea is beneficial to them.
Even though yellow hat thinking is positive, it needs just as much discipline as the white hat or the black hat. It isn’t just about seeing the positive side of everything; it involves an intentional search for positive things around us.
Hat 5: Green hat (ideas power)
Under the green hat, we put forward new ideas, we lay out options and alternatives. These include both the obvious alternatives and fresh ones. Under the green hat, we seek to modify and improve suggested ideas.
Creativity is no longer just the business of the “idea person” while everyone else sits around waiting to pounce on an idea. When the green hat is in use, everyone is expected to make a creative effort — or else keep quiet. People do not like keeping quiet, so they make a creative effort. The deliberate allocation of time to creative effort is very important. It acknowledges that creativity is a key ingredient in thinking.
Under the green hat, you are permitted to put forward possibilities. Possibilities have a greater role to play in inspiring creativity than people believe/know. Without possibilities, you cannot make progress. Those who believe that progress arises from the analysis of information and steps of logical deduction are totally wrong. Without the framework of possibilities, we cannot even see the information in new ways.
The green hat is characterized by a search for alternatives. The green hat thinker uses the creative pause to consider, at any point, whether there might be alternative ideas. There is no need for this pause.
Hat 6: Blue hat (strategy power)
The blue hat focuses on doing what should be done when it should be done. It has to do with management and organization of thinking.
It is under the initial blue hat that the agenda or sequence of use of the other hats is laid out. The blue hat may also specify other thinking processes — even if the hats are not to be used. The blue hat sets the thinking “strategy.” During the session, it keeps the discipline and ensures that people keep to the relevant hat. It also announces a change of hats.
Typically, the blue hat is worn by the facilitator, chairperson, or leader of the session. This is a permanent role. In addition, during a specific blue hat session, anyone can make procedural suggestions. Blue hat thinking sets the focus. It defines the problems and shapes the questions. It also determines the thinking tasks that are to be carried through.
Blue hat thinking is responsible for all thought summaries, overviews, and conclusions. These can take place at any point during a person’s thought process. Blue hat thinking monitors the thinking and ensures that the rules of the game are observed. It stops the argument and insists on the map type of thinking. It also enforces discipline.
Blue hat thinking may be used for occasional interjections that require a hat. It may also be used to set up a step-by-step sequence of thinking operations, which are to be followed just as a dance follows the choreography. Anyone can offer blue hat suggestions even when the specific blue hat thinking role is assigned to one person.
6 thinking hats in summary
- White Hat: white is objective and neutral. The white hat is concerned with objective figures and facts.
- Red Hat: red suggests anger, rage, and emotions. The red hat gives an emotional view.
- Black Hat: black is somber and serious. The black hat is cautious and careful. Black hat points out the weaknesses in an idea.
- Yellow Hat: This hat is positive and sunny. It is optimistic.
- Green Hat: green is like grass, vegetation, and abundant, fertile growth. This hat indicates creativity and new ideas.
- Blue Hat: blue is a cool color, it is also the color of the sky, which is above all things. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process, and the use of the other hats.
PR and business leaders will be a lot more effective if they apply the six hat thinking principle to the planning and execution of their strategies.
“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.” – Edward de Bono