‘Six Thinking Hats’ training

On 29th October I went on a day-long training course on the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ method for parallel, or lateral, thinking. This is a tool devised by Edward de Bono to help groups and individuals to improve their thinking by breaking thinking down into a series of separate ‘tasks’, each of which can be performed separately (on the principle that we are best at doing one thing at a time – which is certainly true of me!) These tasks are symbolised by six coloured hats, which can be metaphorically taken on and off and used in sequence. The hats are:

  • Blue hat: manages the thinking
  • White hat: deals with hard facts, including O.P.V. (Other People’s Views)
  • Red hat: deals with feelings and intuition, without the need to justify
  • Yellow hat: deals with the benefits and advantages of the topic being discussed
  • Black hat: deals with the negatives and downsides of the topic
  • Green hat: is the creative, ‘brainstorming’ hat, which seeks alternatives and possibilities

The training day, run by POD (tutor Caryn Swartz), consisted of an introduction to the hats and the ways in which they can be used and combined and a series of exercises to try them out. While it seems at first like a bit of a game (and a bit artificial), we did find that we were able to cover a surprising amount of ground in a short space of time when we used the techniques: they are very good for keeping the focus of a discussion. Because it is a bit like a game, with rules, the group becomes self-correcting, like when you play a game and someone breaks the rules and everyone else immediately objects. If someone says something a bit emotional, like ‘I don’t like this!’ in the black hat part of the discussion (which is meant to deal with logical negatives, not feelings), someone will immediately say, ‘That’s a red hat statement – you’re out of hat!’ The value is of separating out different kinds of thinking, recognising the value of each and giving each its place.

In conclusion, I don’t think this is a tool which you can use in every situation (they do say that you can’t run your life by it!), but, where there is a specific issue which needs discussion and creative thought, it might be a valuable technique. Personally, I found that one of the most valuable things about it was that it fosters reflection on what you are actually doing when you think (thinking about thinking). The most surprising (and, to my mind, disturbing or questionable) insight to emerge from the training was that decision making is ultimately a matter of feeling/intuition (it is placed under the red hat).

Matthew Herring
30 Oct. 2009