Think Better With Edward de Bono’s SIX THINKING HATS


Have you ever been in a meeting where it seemed like the people who were supposed to be working together and collaborating were instead competing? Like someone was more focused on having their idea “win” than listening to other people’s perspectives?

Meetings don’t have to—and shouldn’t—be this way.

Transforming our mindset around meetings can be as simple as putting on a different hat. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats makes just this argument. The Six Thinking Hats are directions that we can channel our thinking into when approaching a situation.

This book is meant to change the way that we think. By embracing a different approach to meetings and collaboration, we can unlock perspectives that give us a better understanding of the task at hand—ultimately helping us find the best solution (even if it’s not always ours).

Get The Full Picture With Parallel Thinking

Edward de Bono believes that a thinking system based only on argument isn’t enough—it can only say what is and isn’t. That is, the traditional way of thinking in the Western world is too focused on winning an argument to appreciate the full experience of a situation. This means we are unable to fully understand the scope of a problem.

Edward says that if we go beyond linear, right/wrong thinking and engage in what he calls parallel thinking, we are no longer looking at what is or isn’t—but rather what can be. 

Parallel thinking is kind of like having three people stand around a building. Each person has a different viewpoint of the building. Person A might be looking at a front porch; Person B is viewing a backyard full of garden beds; and Person C has a sidewall with a bunch of windows in their sightline. If each person believes that only their view of the building is the correct one, you might get a good understanding of a single side of the structure, but you won’t understand a thing about the whole building. Instead, if they understand that their perspectives are all complementary and happening in parallel, they can get a better overall view of the building (or situation) at hand.

So, parallel perspective is powerful because it gives us the most information. But, perhaps its greatest strength is that when we understand the different kinds of thinking, we can purposefully put on a different “hat.”

The Six Hats And How To Use Them

We can choose, using parallel thinking, to go in a different direction than our usual perspective. By imagining ourselves taking off our thinking like it’s a hat and putting on a new one, we literally take our thinking in a different direction. 

In a situation where people are looking to work as a team, the hats offer a kind of shorthand for the various perspectives that can be explored.

These are the Six Hats, so that people may visualize their role: 

  1. White Hat - neutral and objective. The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures.
  2. Red Hat - intuition and feelings. The red hat gives an emotional view. It deals with opinions.
  3. Black Hat - somber and serious. The black hat is cautious and careful; it points out the weaknesses in an idea.
  4. Yellow Hat - sunny and optimistic. The yellow hat covers hope and positive thinking.
  5. Green Hat - abundant and growth-oriented. The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.
  6. Blue Hat - cool, detached. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the process, and the use of the other hats. 

Even though there are Six Thinking Hats, you don’t need to have six people in every meeting. Edward de Bono writes, “The hats can be used to singly request a type of thinking. Or, the hats can be used in a sequence to explore a subject or solve a problem” (p. 16). So, you can ask someone to be the “white hat” for today’s meeting but tomorrow assign them the perspective of “yellow hat,” depending on what you need. 

It is important to know that the Six Thinking Hats are not meant to describe or define our thinking. However, Edward writes “the hats are not categories of people.” Using them to define perspective actually destroys the whole point of the system—which is that everyone can look in any direction. 

Have you ever tried to trade a black hat for a yellow one? Do you think bringing a green hat growth perspective to your next huddle might just do the trick? Let us know on our Facebook page and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more research and models.

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