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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

The 6 Hats of Thinking: Improve Your Creative Thinking & Problem Solving

Updated: Nov 14, 2022



Do you always consider the potential downsides to a decision, or are you naturally optimistic? If you're cautious, you might not always focus on opportunities that might arise. Similarly, if you're optimistic, you may not always consider the potential downsides of a decision. What is your gut-driven approach to decision-making? The best decisions are usually made once you have explored several perspectives on a problem.


Thinking is a skill just like any other. With practice and dedication, you can become more skilled at it. You can also improve your thinking skills with the right tools and techniques. We tend to think of thinkers as people with exceptional intelligence rather than as an ability that anyone can develop. But what exactly does that mean? Thinking is a broad term used to refer to our ability to solve problems, come up with new ideas, make good decisions, and understand complex concepts.


6 Thinking Hats origin

In his work assisting government organisations, as well as in his objective to make a useful tool for day-to-day problem solving, Edward de Bono, a Maltese physician, psychologist, and philosopher, developed the Six Thinking Hats method. It was first published in 1985 in the same name book, which has been revised several times since then. In 1985, de Bono created "lateral thinking," a process for solving problems in indirect and creative ways. Six Thinking Hats is a method for exploring and understanding different types of thinking in a similar manner.


De Bono identified eight key areas that the technique is most effective for:

  • Leadership development

  • Team productivity, alignment and communication

  • Creative and innovative thinking

  • Meeting leadership and decision making

  • Product and process improvement, and project management

  • Critical, analytical thinking and problem-solving

  • Organisational change/performance

  • Wherever high-performance thinking and action are needed

Benefits of the 6 Thinking Hats

The technique will help you identify your current state of thinking: Are you in an autopilot state or a mindful state? This will make it much easier for you to make the transition to a more mindful state of thinking and spur curiosity and critical thinking.


The 6 hats of thinking ensures you look at an issue from every angle and therefore can help you identify the best solution for a problem you’re trying to solve. This can help avoid unnecessary stress or frustration. It also forces you out of your usual way of thinking leading to more creativity.


It can also make you more persuasive, better at spotting when others need support, and more confident to resolve conflicts when they occur, by encouraging you to practice listening, questioning, and answering.


It requires people must set aside their biases in order to see things from the same point of view for a moment. Although debate persists, it is based on a common understanding, which enables everyone to feel included.


The 6 Thinking Hats can also help you understand how other people think. This can be extremely useful when you’re communicating with diverse people. It can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues or employees. You can use this framework to help others identify their current state of thinking.


De Bono identified a number of additional benefits by using his method including:

  • Maximise productive collaboration and minimise counterproductive interaction/behaviour

  • Consider issues, problems, decisions, and opportunities systematically

  • 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


Each hat explained

From the De Bono Group:


White - calls for information known or needed. “The facts, just the facts.”


Yellow - symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.


Black - risk management hat, probably the most powerful hat. A problem however if overused; spots difficulties where things might go wrong, why something may not work, inherently an action hat with the intent to point out issues of risk with the intent to overcome them.


Red - signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.


Green - focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.


Blue - is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are observed.


How to use the 6 Thinking Hats

This is a method of investigating issues from a variety of perspectives whilst maintaining clarity and avoiding conflict.


Individuals or groups may utilise this method to move outside of their habitual thinking patterns, test out different approaches, and then think creatively about how to proceed.


If we look at the 6 hats of thinking as a spectrum, each hat represents a different level of cognitive processing. When we’re in the autopilot state of mind, we’re just going through the motions and reacting to things in a very basic way. On the other hand, when we’re mindful, we’re really present and actively engaging in the moment.


By learning how to separate thinking into six distinct functions, you and your colleagues can gain a clearer understanding of how to direct and focus your thoughts, the dialogue, and the session.


Each thinking role is signified by a distinct coloured “thinking hat.” You can easily switch hats mentally and redirect thoughts or the discussion by putting on and taking off a hat.


Instead of getting stuck in one approach to a problem, the Six Thinking Hats method encourages you to look at it from six different perspectives. You and your team will be able to examine a range of perspectives without having to defend your position or make quick decisions about what's 'right' or 'wrong


Check out this example of how to use Six Thinking Hats sequentially to resolve a problem with alternative solutions:

  1. White: Present the facts of the problem

  2. Green: Generate ideas on how the problem can be solved

  3. Yellow: Evaluate the ideas by listing their benefits

  4. Black: Evaluate the ideas by listing their drawbacks

  5. Red: Get everybody’s gut feelings about the alternatives

  6. Blue: Summarise the discussion and agree on the conclusions

Here is another example of it in use:

Source: https://www.groupmap.com/portfolio/six-thinking-hats

Use it in your next brainstorming session to improve creativity:

  1. Start the meeting with a Blue Hat

  2. Highlight relevant facts with the White Hat

  3. Brainstorm new ideas with the Green Hat

  4. Build on ideas with the Yellow Hat

It is often the case that the Yellow Hat perspective is both the most neglected and most influential point of view. We tend to shoot down proposals rather than seeking their positives. De Bono calls this value sensitivity. With value sensitivity, your team will become more innovative and open-minded as they learn to build on one another's suggestions rather than seeking their own.


Tips to help you become a better thinker

  1. Set an intention - When you know what you want to achieve, it’s easier to focus your attention on the solution. So before you start thinking, write down what you want to achieve and why it’s important to you.

  2. Identify your current state of thinking - When you know the state of thinking you’re in, you can make the necessary adjustments to find a better balance.

  3. Choose the right tool for the job - Different challenges require you to use different types of thinking. For example, if you need to solve a conceptual problem, you should use the green creative thinking hat.

Conclusion

Thinking is a skill that you can develop by practising it over time. The key is to find ways to challenge yourself to think outside of your normal patterns and comfort zones. This will help you to think more creatively and come up with new ideas. The 6 Thinking Hats is a simple tool that can help you do this. It can also help you become a more mindful thinker and make better decisions.


Using the Six Thinking Hats approach, you and your team will look at a problem from six different perspectives, going beyond any instinctive positions. You can then carefully consider each one without having to argue your case or make snap decisions about what is "right" and "wrong." That way, you can consider a range of perspectives without having to make an argument or take a stand.




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