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Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

I was introduced to the concept of Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats about 15 years ago.  A training company had done a three day senior management course on leadership and at the end gave us a yellow beret and a black beret.

The trainer asked each of us to put the Yellow beret on and tell the group about one great thing we were going to do differently as a result of this training course.  The Yellow hat denotes positive outcome thinking.  We were then asked to take off the Yellow beret and replace with a Black one.  The black denotes critical but NOT negative thinking.  This time we had to think about things that we hadn’t got out from the training that perhaps we had expected to.  This was our opportunity to feedback to the trainer.

So entranced was I by these props in helping us to communicate these specific thoughts I immediately purchased the book so I could find out the power in the other thinking hats.  I have been a fan of de Bono ever since.

What I like best about this model is that whilst other psychologists have identified that we have preferred ways of thinking and communicating, de Bono has created a way for us to easily tap into all the thinking styles even if we have a preferred style.


He uses a White hat for general left brain thinking which focuses on systems and processes and a Blue hat for general right brain thinking which looks creatively at the whole picture.

Then there are four further thinking hats:

Yellow for positive outcome thinking.

Black for critical thinking.

Red for legitimately expressing ones feelings about something, whether this be a positive or negative feeling, an insight or a gut feeling.

Green for encouraging creative thought.

Ok so far so good!  My senior team at the time of this discovery had identified that they had a combined general trait to think with their red hats on.  So we agreed to use these props to help us to learn how to build a better business through better thinking.  Here are the steps we used to consider a new course of action.

1.   We would use a Blue hat to consider an overall aspect of direction in which we thought we ought to go in.

2.   We would then put Green hats on to consider all our options (brainstorming)

3.   Then we would put Black hats on to critique the options generated.

4.   Having ruled out the nonsense routes, it was time for some Yellow hat thinking to get some positive outcomes.

5.   The White hat then comes into play to identify the systems and processes which allow the outcomes and activities.

6.   Finally the Red hat was used liberally throughout for team members to legitimately say how they felt about an aspect of the discussion.  However, positive or negative the feelings, they were legitimate and so considered throughout the thinking process.  If someone were to have a red hat on for too long however, they were asked to take it off?  That gave the thinking process time to work its way through to a positive conclusion.

Each thinking style has a significant and positive contribution to the thinking process.  As a team we used this method for thinking through our problems with some significant successes.  Our results were (in all but one of the 13 key performance indicators) better than all other regions.

I do have my own set of six berets and whenever I can build this in as an exercise, the feedback is so enlightening (I don’t know why I am surprised … it was exactly that for me all those years ago).

If anyone has any other experiences that they would like to share please do so.  It would be great to hear about how you have used the thinking hats in other circumstances.  de Bono subsequently wrote a book on the six action shoes but that is a blog for another time!

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