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Six Hat Thinking Produces Effective Decision-Making

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” Thomas A. Edison

Most people don’t think about thinking but celebrated Author Edward de Bono does. He has spent a life time thinking about thinking. He concludes that we are completely disorganized in our thinking jumping from issue to issue, from process to process. He sets forth an effective organized way to think that leads to effective problem solving.

Based on all of his research, he asserts that there are six different thinking styles. Symbolically, he attaches a color to each style.

Each "Thinking Hat" is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:

· White Hat: with this thinking hat, you focus on the available data. Look at the information that you have, analyze past trends, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and try to either fill them or take account of them.

· Red Hat: "wearing" the Red Hat, you look at problems using your intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also, think how others could react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.

· Black Hat: using Black Hat thinking, look at a decision's potentially negative outcomes. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them. Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans "tougher" and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. It's one of the real benefits of this model, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that they often cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.

· Yellow Hat: this hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

· Green Hat: the Green Hat represents creativity. This is where you develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. (You can explore a range of creativity tools to help you.)

· Blue Hat: this hat represents process control. It's the hat worn by people chairing meetings, for example. When facing difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking.

(Terms reproduced with permission of Penguin Random House U.K.)

Exercise practicing the application of the 6 Thinking Hats Approach.

Often in Professor Larry Ray’s classes, the business issue of an office dress code is used. Office dress code is a controversial issue but not too much so. Most people have views on this issue and have been affected by such. This makes it the ideal issue.

The group is divided into groups of six. Each person is assigned a color or thinking style, usually symbolled by a right color lei. The group of six varying thinking styles are called for a meeting by the CEO to come up with a dress code plan. Each participant acts their thinking role.

It often goes like this:

White Hat: WH advocates for a research and evaluation approach. They want statistics. How happy are the employees before and after a dress code. How effective are employees before and after. Exactly how many employees would be affected and would there be divisions. If there are measurements such as collar openings, how much of the arm is bared, etc. They want to examine experiences of other workplaces.

Red Hat: RH is very emotional about this issue. “I hate it; I love the idea.” RH wonders about values. RH wonders how employees will feel about a dress code or no dress code. In fact, how are employees feeling now? If uniforms are involved, how would employees feel. If they feel negatively, will this affect their effectiveness?

Black Hat: This approach is a devil’s advocate approach; that is, a critical approach. BH will point out the deficiencies of every idea that is brought forth. BH will point out Why every idea that is proposed will not work.

Yellow Hat: YH is full of sunshine and optimism. YH is pleased that all six folks were selected, have appeared and is certain that this group will create the ideal plan of action.

Green Hat: GH is loaded with ideas and combination of ideas ranging from standard uniforms to no dress code. GH wants the group to keep moving forward step by step no matter what.

Blue Hat: BH instantly wants to take control of the meeting and the situation. There needs to be a Chair and BH would ideal. BH wants to set groundrules and guidelines. BH wants to know the timelines; how these folks were selected; what’s the agenda; how long will this meeting be; what is the timeline; what form is the plan of action; to whom will the plan be submitted; who will have the power to approve the plan….

Result of this Exercise? Lessons Learned?

The group meeting is a disorganized mess usually with no plan of action, not even a draft. The meeting is scattered, confusing and frustrating to all.

And this is the lesson learned. To be effective the group needs to be organized in its thinking process. Here might be an example using the same issue: Office Dress Code.

Yellow Hat: The meeting begins with everyone wearing the YH. They are positive, pleased to be at this meeting and know that they will progress and reach a creative plan of action.

Blue Hat: Now it is time for BH thinking to get organized.

-What is the timeline?

-What are the action issues?

-What is the role of each participant?

-What are the groundrules and guidelines?

White Hat: Now, all don the WH. What are the facts? Facts would include statistics, evaluations and research. How many employees will be covered by this policy? Have there been other dress code policies tried? There should be general agreement on the facts. If not, the group should ask questions for more detail.

Red Hat: It is time for RH thinking. This is the time for perspectives, feelings and emotions.

Blue Hat: Now the BH comes back. What are the issues? Outline them and write on the whiteboard. Seek agreement on the list of issues and priorities.

Green Hat: Now for the GH thinking. This is the time to brainstorm-to be creative in an organized fashion. Brainstorming itself is an art-a step by step process. The first step is the most challenging and that is to get out the options, the ideas. Each idea needs to be recorded and valued, not evaluated at this point. The stage needs to set for creativity by all.

Black Hat: Sometimes this is the most fun part. This is the time to be critical, to be evaluative. Ask questions why this will or will not work. As the “what if” questions.

Yellow Hat: The parties might want to don the YH to express enthusiasm and support.

Blue Hat: The last step is BH thinking. With this controlled thinking, this is the time to create a plan of action including deadlines and also contingency plans.

What are the benefits of this disciplined 6 Hat approach?

Maximize productive collaboration and minimize counterproductive interaction/behavior

Consider issues, problems, decisions, and opportunities systematically

Use Parallel Thinking as a group or team to generate more, better ideas and solutions

Make meetings much shorter and more productive

Reduce conflict among team members or meeting participants

Stimulate innovation by generating more and better ideas quickly

Create dynamic, results oriented meetings that make people want to participate

Go beyond the obvious to discover effective alternate solutions

Spot opportunities where others see only problems

Think clearly and objectively

View problems from new and unusual angles

Make thorough evaluations

See all sides of a situation

Keep egos and “turf protection” in check

Achieve significant and meaningful results in a less time**

Thinking Styles is a “People” Issue.

In every meeting or negotiation there are substantive issues and people issues. Many to their detriment do not recognize people issues. Those folks might assert,

-Let’s keep personalities out of this!

-Let’s keep emotions out of this!

Effective communicators and negotiators are realistic. They realize there are people issues always AND they need to be managed well.

Thinking style is a behavior which means that when necessary it can be flexed or tailored to the situation so it does not become an impediment to resolution or agreement or plan of action.

Example: A and B exit a successful meeting. They both wonder why it was so successful when they substantially disagree substantively. The reason might be that they have the similar thinking styles. Maybe they are both BLUE HAT THINKERS.

At first glance, one might think that the folks with the same thinking styles especially Blue might clash. Experience indicates that this is not the case. People with a certain thinking style respect others with the same.

Example: A and B exit a disastrous meeting. They wondered why since they essentially agree on the substantive issues. It could be that their thinking skills clash.

-Yellow and Black Thinkers usually clash. Yellow is busy being optimistic stating why this is going to work and of course, Black is describing why things will not work.

-Blue and Green, clash. Blue Hat is busy organizing and Green is full of various ideas and directions.

-White and Red, clash. White Hat is searching for statistics and data while Red is emoting.

In these clash situations, A and B should ask themselves: Over whom do I have control? The answer should be themselves. Since thinking style is a behavior they can flex a bit. So if Blue Hat with a Green Hat, Blue can allow the first part of the meeting to be idea generation. After that, then Green and Blue together can set the agenda and deadlines.


So the Six Thinking Hats presents an organized way of thinking, conducting meetings and decision-making. This approach accommodates differing perspective and viewpoints that can be considered one at a time. Think styles are behaviors so they can be flexible. To be an effective thinking one needs to master each style even though one may have a preference.

Many entities have used this such as the United States Office of Consumer Affairs, Hallmark Cards, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Dispute Resolution and Senatus (dispute resolution services).

Author Edward de Bono in his Six Thinking Hats book carefully, analytically, brilliantly dissects the thinking and decision-making process. (The International Center for Creative Thinking)**

The below clip is interesting in describing how to use this model.

A Novel Approach to Debriefing Medical Simulations: The Six Thinking Hats

Xiao Chi Zhang, Hyunjoo Lee, Carlos Rodriguez, Joshua Rudner, Dimitrios Papanagnou

Six Thinking Hats: When Critical Thinking Meets Web Design

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