“Creative thinking is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learned. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity, and where appropriate, profits.”
—Edward de Bono
In elementary school, you may have heard your teacher say, “Put on your thinking caps.” (This was usually followed by a dreaded math story problem.)
The idiom, “Put on your thinking cap,” has been used in one form or another since the 17th century to indicate that it is time to think really hard to solve a particular problem—and that idea has been incorporated into one of the top brainstorming techniques: the Six Thinking Hats.
What is the Six Thinking Hats technique?
In 1985, a man named Edward de Bono wrote a book called Six Thinking Hats. A physician, author, and consultant, de Bono is a proponent of teaching thinking as a subject in schools to help people be more successful in business and in life. He developed the Six Thinking Hats method as a way to run better meetings and make better decisions more quickly.
In the Six Hats methodology, de Bono identifies six different ways of thinking, each represented by six colored “thinking hats.” As you wear each hat, you learn how to think in different ways to brainstorm and approach problems from various angles.
The de Bono’s thinking hats are defined in the following ways.
White thinking hat
The white hat is like a detective who gathers, organizes, analyzes, and presents current information. As detectives gather clues and facts, they remain neutral and unbiased to avoid jumping to conclusions based on single bits of information. Instead, all clues, facts, and evidence must be analyzed and weighed to see what they have and what is missing.
In the same fashion, while “wearing” a white thinking hat, you should collect known information and analyze it to reach fact-based solutions. Analysis of the gathered data will help you find gaps so you can look for ways to fill them or at least take note of them so you have a better idea of how to direct your conversations.
Start gathering facts and data based on these problem-solving questions:
- What do we know about this issue?
- What don’t we know about this issue?
- What can we learn from this situation?
- What information do we need to solve this problem?
- Are there potential existing solutions that we can use to solve this problem?
Work through these questions as a team to gather more information as each person shares their unique knowledge of a particular issue or problem.
Yellow thinking hat
This hat represents enthusiasm and optimism. Like a bright, sunny day, the yellow hat is used to bring positive energy and life to every idea.
With the yellow thinking hat, you seek to find the benefits and value of ideas. You should not be hampered by limitations or boundaries, but rather believe that when there’s a will, there’s a way.
Yellow hat questions could include:
- What is the best way to approach the problem?
- What can we do to make this work?
- What are the long-term benefits of this action?
These questions are only a starting point. As you work through your Six Thinking Hats exercises, you may want to come up with more questions that take into account the optimistic role of the yellow hat.
Black thinking hat
The black hat is the opposite of the yellow hat and represents judgment. Wearers of this hat look for ways that the situation can go wrong.
The black hat is used to expose flaws, weaknesses, and possible dangers of proposed ideas. On the surface, the ideas you got from the yellow hat session may seem perfect. The black hat dives below the surface to find any potential problems. The black hat is essential to keep you from jumping headfirst into a potentially disastrous situation.
However, the black hat’s role is not just to sit around and be all judgy. In addition, this role looks for and identifies resources that may be needed to accomplish your goals.
Questions to help you think from the black hat perspective can include:
- How will this idea likely fail?
- What is this idea’s fatal flaw?
- What are the potential risks and consequences?
- Do we have the resources, skills, and ability to make this work?
Red thinking hat
While you have the red thinking hat, your primary goal is to intuitively suggest proposals and plans of action based on feelings and hunches. This hat is open-minded and non-judgmental. Using the information gathered from feelings and emotions, you should be able to intuitively relate these feelings to the problem you are trying to solve.
A red hat thinker’s objectives include:
- Make intuitive insights known.
- Seek out your team’s hunches and feelings.
- Reveal an idea’s hidden strengths.
- Use instinct to identify potential weaknesses.
- Find internal conflicts.
For example, some ideas and plans may seem weak or impractical. But if someone wearing the red hat can identify a new idea or plan that “feels” right, this idea should open up discussion and exploration of additional opportunities you may never have considered.
Red thinking hat questions may include:
- What is my gut feeling about this solution?
- Based on feelings, is there another way to fix this problem?
- What are our feelings about the choice we are making?
- Does our intuition tell us this is the right solution?
Green thinking hats
Green hats are used for creative thinking. Wearing this hat lets you think outside the box to explore more possibilities and bend the rules of problem-solving. This creative thinking should be free from judgment and criticism.
Because the green hat is now bound by rules or limitations, this is where you can think beyond the norms of reality. The green hat lets you conduct a brainstorming session where no idea is too wild or crazy to be noted or immediately shot down. The green hat must refrain from criticizing or judging any ideas or suggestions that come up. The idea is to expand your thinking as you explore possible solutions.
The green hat may ask questions such as:
- Do alternative possibilities exist?
- Can we do this another way?
- How can we look at this problem from other perspectives?
- How do we think outside the box?
Keep in mind that as you work with the green thinking hat, you are free to express any idea that comes to mind. Even ideas that may sound crazy can have a kernel of feasibility that can put you on the right path to solving your problem.
Blue thinking hat
This hat provides a management role and will help you analyze the situation. When wearing the blue hat, your job is to manage the thinking of the other hats to ensure that the team stays focused and works more efficiently toward a workable solution. The role makes sure the other hats are being used correctly.
Specifically, the blue hat seeks to:
- Efficiently and effectively improve the thinking process.
- Ask the right questions that help you direct and focus your thinking.
- Maintain and manage agendas, rules, goals, and tasks.
- Organize ideas and proposals, and draw up action plans.
Questions that will help you in the blue hat role may include:
- What is the problem?
- How do we define the problem?
- What is our goal and desired outcome?
- What will we achieve by solving the problem?
- What is the best method for going forward?
Try Lucidchart for your Six Thinking Hats activities
Though you can use the Six Hats technique individually to find all possible solutions and aspects of a problem, this method becomes even more effective when you work with a team. Use Lucidchart as your online whiteboard—it can help you record your team’s ideas whether you meet in person or want input from team members in dispersed offices.
Get started with our Six Thinking Hats template. Our example uses de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to explore the question of whether a company should move from its current location to a larger office space. Members of the decision-making team include executives, directors, and senior members. The team will use the 6 hats methodology to think about all aspects of moving to a new location, such as feasibility, logistics, costs, and so on.
Sign up for a free Lucidchart account to access this template and make your brainstorming sessions more effective.