How To Use the Six Thinking Hats to Improve Your Thinking – Sources of Insight

Edward de Bono created an effective approach to improving your thinking by directing your attention.  It’s called Six Thinking Hats

If you know how to use the Six Thinking Hats, you can deal with two very common problems.   The first problem is incomplete thinking.  The second problem is deadlocks in meetings.  

I’ve been in way too many deadlock meetings that are absolute energy drains.  I’ve also seen too many ideas fail simply because they didn’t have enough perspective.  Once I discovered Six Thinking Hats, both scenarios became easy to solve.

Why Six Thinking Hats
Here are a couple of reasons for using Six Thinking Hats:

  1. More complete thinking.  Six Thinking Hats helps you leverage more complete thinking.  In the Six Thinking Hats, each hat represents a different perspective (facts, emotions, critic … etc.)  If you think of the problem as a pie, then each hat or perspective is a slice of the pie.  If you only have the Devil’s advocate, then you’re missing several other perspectives.  By cycling through the hats, you get a more complete view.
  2. More collaborative meetings.  By using the Six Thinking Hats, you can get everybody thinking about the problem in a collaborative way.  Everybody can put on the same hat at the same time.  The real key here is that rather than circular or deadlock debates, you focus the group on a particular viewpoint at a time. This is a similar to writing, then editing vs. editing while your write, or brainstorming, then critiquing vs. critiquing while you brainstorm.  The big difference is that rather than just brainstorming and critiquing, you’re looking at the issue from multiple, specific angles.  On the people side of this technique, you’re letting people wear a different “hat”, in a safe, constructive way.

Summary of Steps
This approach for using Six Thinking Hats is lightweight and low-overhead, but gets you 80% there without requiring everybody to know the details of the Six Thinking Hats.  The key is to list questions that everybody can focus on and cycle through.

  • Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
  • Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
  • Step 3.  Modify the approach

Step 1.  List the questions that represent the hats
List a set of questions on the whiteboard to represent the hats.  You can do this either at the start of the meeting or when you hit a sticking spot.
Here’s the Six Thinking Hats:

  • White Hat – the facts and figures
  • Red Hat – the emotional view
  • Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”
  • Yellow Hat – the positive side
  • Green Hat – the creative side
  • Blue Hat – the organizing view

Here’s an example set of questions you can use to represent the hats:

  • What are the facts and figures?
  • What’s your gut reaction?  How do you feel about this?
  • Why can’t we do this?  What prevents us?  What’s the downside?
  • How can we do this?
  • What are additional opportunities?
  • How should we think about this? (what are the metaphors or mental models)

The sequence of the questions can matter.  For example, it wouldn’t make sense to start thinking up solutions before you’ve focused on the problem.

Step 2.  Walkthrough each question as a team
Walkthrough each question as a team.  This is the key.  Rather than debating each other, you’re now collaborating.  You’ll be surprised when suddenly your team’s “Devil’s Advocate” is now showing off their ability to dream up wild solutions that just might work!

Step 3.  Modify the approach.
If it’s not working, change the approach.  For example, you might find that you started with the wrong “hat” or question.  See if switching to another question or hat makes a difference.  The key is to keep this lightweight but effective.

This isn’t a heavy handed approach.  Instead, it’s a subtle shift in strategy from free-for all debate to focusing and coordinating your team’s thinking power in a deliberate way.  This lets everybody get heard as well as really bang on a problem from multiple angles in a teamwork soft of way.

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Photo by Tony Crider


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