The Six Thinking Hats, a concept articulated by Edward de Bono, is a powerful tool for brainstorming and innovation. By breaking down thoughts into six “parallel” or “lateral” areas, it allows a spectrum of thought, from gut feeling to data analysis, to be separately discussed. By using these six types of thinking in a structured way, groups can more effectively approach problem solving.
First, let's briefly explain the six hats and the role each plays:
Our natural way of speaking often combines multiple hats. For example we may say, "This idea aligns with our current strategy and could improve our market position, but I'm not sure the cost is reasonable or that our customers will fall in love with it." That sentence goes from white hat (aligns with strategy – a fact) to yellow (improve market position – a benefit) to black (costly – what could go wrong) to red (customers may not love it – feelings). The six hat approach helps us to analyze these hats into different statements and consider them separately.
|Blue Hat||Manages the thinking process by timekeeping, moderating, and ensuring the Thinking Hat guidelines are observed.||
|White Hat||Calls for and provides facts and data that are known or needed.||
|Green Hat||Focuses on alternatives, new perceptions, or fresh ideas.||
|Yellow Hat||Finds the value and benefits of ideas and supporting concepts.||
|Red Hat||Acknowledges feelings like fear, disappointment, enthusiasm, and expresses intuitions or hunches.||
|Black Hat||Spots problems and tries to make the best argument against an idea.||
Teams can use these hats in any order during a discussion, but typically progress from blue, to white, to green, to yellow, to red, and finally to black. This order organizes the discussion:
Any hat could make a reappearance in the discussion. For example, after facts (white) are laid out, more process (blue) may be applied, or after pros (yellow) and cons (black) are discussed, new ideas (green) may surface.
Here is an example using the Six Thinking Hats to examine and discuss a potential business decision. At Storyboard That, we constructed a fictional project: Social-Local-Mobile-Food, or SoLoMoFoo to illustrate all sorts of business ideas. This example shows how the Six Thinking Hats would be applied by the SoLoMoFoo team. Thoughts are explicitly broken down as answers to questions that correspond with each hat.
For more information and examples with SoLoMoFoo, check out Storyboard That's Illustrated Guide to Product Development.
”Parallel Thinking” is de Bono’s term for a constructive alternative to “adversarial thinking”, or debate. Unlike adversarial approaches, where participants are championing ideas against each other, parallel thinking proposes that each participant work along a different track of thought, or that all participants approach one way of thinking at a time. Rather than opposing each other, everyone participating works along separate courses towards a common goal.
This is what a meeting looks like when parallel thinking isn’t enforced. The participants aren’t actively using the six hats, and while their statements, questions, and suggestions can each be identified, value is being lost as they shift between modes of thinking and get caught up on individual ideas.
This isn’t a bad meeting, but it is easy to see how participants could get caught up defending a pet idea or attacking other people’s suggestions. Let’s look at how it could improve if the participants engage in parallel thinking. As this scenario illustrates, parallel thinking has a number of advantages. It separates thoughts to avoid confusion and helps participants furnish better answers by asking them to tackle small, discrete questions, rather than large, complex ones. It creates an atmosphere conducive to exploring ideas rather than one set on proving one side right. The Six Thinking Hats are a tool for enforcing a disciplined parallel thinking strategy.
Using these hats takes some practice. Remember that this approach is not intended to "feel natural" at first. It is intended to help individuals focus on problem solving. Practice, however, can help the team flow through the hats more easily, and gives everyone in the organization a shorthand to focus on the analysis rather than their complicated thoughts and responses to the process.
Here are a few tips for running a “Six Hats” meeting:
If you're having trouble getting started, here's a Six Thinking Hats template like the one for SoLoMoFoo. Answer the questions posed in each caption with your own text and then design pictures in the cells. Illustrating your most salient thought in each category can make them concrete for yourself and fellow brainstormers.