Edward DeBono developed Six Thinking Hats as a technique to give decision-makers a rich repertoire of techniques for thinking about a problem. I’ve found this to be a great help to trigger multiple ways of looking at a question. It’s a way to remind me that I need both intuition and information, both positive and skeptical outlooks. We each tend to favor one of these thinking styles. Here they are. Which hat do you wear most often?
White—information. Consider the facts and information available.
Red—emotion. Consider the gut, intuitive response to the alternatives without justification.
Black—pessimism. Identify reasons to be cautious, potential problems.
Yellow—optimism. Identify benefits and opportunities.
Green—creativity. Seek ideas beyond the usual or obvious.
Blue—process. Facilitate the discussion, note conclusions and action items.
I’ve done quick group decision exercises in which each group is given a set of actual hats and each of the members is to put on a hat and view the problem from that perspective, then switch hats. Hence the roomful of managers wearing colored hats, even the silly green party hat (Get in touch with your inner child!). Interestingly, I noticed that actually wearing the hat made it easier for the participants to take on the roles. It’s easier to criticize your friends when you’re wearing the bad-guy black hat. But you don’t need actual hats to take on each thinking style.
For the most robust decisions, you’ll want a team of people representing all thinking styles. The problem that arises in a group, though, is that people who are working earnestly on a common problem will run into conflict simply because they are each focused on different thinking styles. For example,
Green hat: “Here’s an idea.”
Black hat: “Here’s a problem with your idea.”
Green hat: “Why are you shooting down my idea?”
Red hat: “Something doesn’t feel right about this approach.”
White hat: “What’s wrong with you? The data show it’s perfect.”
Here’s the solution from DeBono. For complex group decisions, have everyone take on the same hat in turn. This prevents conflicts between different thinking styles. For example, start with the blue hat to set the agenda and ground rules. Then all put on your red hats to get initial impressions, the green hats to generate ideas, the yellow hats to look for opportunities, the black hats to identify risks, and the white hats to assess the options. You may want to cycle through these again. For example, “Let’s all put on our red hats and see how we feel about the answer we’ve chosen.”
Have you ever used the technique of Six Thinking Hats? How did you use it? How did it work for you?