Six Thinking Hats: Management Funda; V2 Issue 1

When you are making an important decision at work, don’t you want your colleague or manager to provide their views on it?  You want their views because you want a different perspective on it. Imagine if can get not two but six different perspectives on it. This is exactly what the technique ‘Six thinking Hats’ gives you. This is achieved by encouraging you to recognize your habitual thinking and by helping you apply different types of thinking.

What is this technique?
The Six Hats represent six approaches to thinking. Each is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat imaginatively. Most people use only one or two of the approaches. This limits their thinking. By deliberately adopting all six approaches to a problem people can be more productive. You can use ‘Six Thinking Hats’ in meetings or on your own. When done in group, everybody wears the same hat at the same time. The kind of thinking involved in each hat is explained below:-

White Hat: Focus on the facts and data available and gaps in your knowledge. Then either try to fill them or take account of them.

Red Hat: Look at the decision using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Think how other people will react emotionally.

Black Hat: Think negatively. See why ideas might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan of action. It allows you to eliminate them, alter your approach, or prepare contingency plans to counter problems that arise.

Yellow Hat: Think positively. See the decision’s benefits and spot opportunities that arise from it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

Green Hat: Develop creative solutions. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas.

Blue Hat: Control the thinking process. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking and so on.

How did it originate?
It was first propounded by Dr. Edward de Bono in the book ‘Six Thinking Hats’ in the early 1980s. The concept was actually conceived in just one afternoon by him while writing an article. He imagined a situation for creative thinking and thought of the negative criticism that people usual encounter while ideating. Wanting to counter this, he thought what if there is a time and place where that sort of critical thinking is perfectly correct, but other times where it’s not. So it started out as a reaction to the negativity. The article was then expanded into the book.

An Example
Lets look at how an issue can be viewed 'wearing' each of the thinking hats in turn.

Situation:  The directors of a property company are looking at whether they should construct a new office building. The economy is doing well, and the amount of vacant office space is reducing sharply.

While the obvious benefit is that it helps you make sound decisions, the other benefits are:-

  • It helps you conduct more productive meetings. Since everyone focuses on a particular approach at any one time, the group tends to be more collaborative than say if one person is reacting emotionally (Red hat) while another person is trying to be objective (White hat).

  • It allows necessary emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be purely rational decisions.

  • Black Hat thinking makes your plans more resilient by helping you spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action.

  • The technique can help, for example, persistently pessimistic people to be positive.

  • This allows an issue to be addressed from a variety of angles, thus servicing the needs of all individuals concerned.

  • It encourages creative, parallel and lateral thinking along with rational thinking.


To use “Six thinking hats” effectively it is important to put on and take off a hat metaphorically speaking. I mean using all of the hats at the same time is not a good idea. Also, do not use the hats to categorize individuals, even though most people automatically use one kind of hat more often than the others. Hats symbolize types of thinking and not types of people. So, which hat did you have on while reading this write-up?



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