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There are many methodologies to choose from to help us think differently, but one of my favorites is Six Thinking Hats. Developed by Edward de Bono, a pioneer in brain training and lateral thinking, Six Thinking Hats is a deceivingly simple and highly practical tool for enabling creativity, problem-solving and teamwork.

The basis of Six Thinking Hats is "parallel thinking", a term coined by de Bono. Unlike traditional adversarial thinking, which tends to be confrontational and seeks to prove or disprove a statement or hypothesis, "parallel thinking" describes a disciplined approach that follows several tracks in order to uncover all sides of a subject.

Although an individual can certainly use this technique on their own, it is most effective with groups. By deconstructing the thinking process and "wearing one hat at a time", all participants examine an issue from a series of perspectives. It is a highly cooperative method that opens up opportunities for thinking differently – the very definition of creativity!

Using the Six Thinking Hats

Like any effective problem-solving process, it is critical to begin with a clear statement of the issue at hand. And like any group process, it is important to identify the right participants, including the optimal number of people and which areas of expertise need to be represented.

A manager or facilitator who is knowledgeable in the Six Thinking Hats methodology typically leads the activity and guides the team through the process as they switch their thinking among the various "Hats". The initial discussion would likely follow this order:

Blue Hat – Manages the thinking process itself, starting with defining the problem through to structuring a plan of action to solve the problem. In between, it coordinates the timing, flow and interactions among the various Hats to most effectively reach a conclusion. 

White Hat – Seeks to discover, organize and present information in a neutral and unbiased way. No beliefs or opinions are shared, just the facts. The goal is to generate an initial set of logical solutions that stimulate additional ideas. 

Red Hat – Brings personal feelings, intuition and hunches to the table to uncover emotion-based perspectives. It can open the door to previously unconsidered options and highlight hidden strengths and weaknesses in proposed solutions.

Black Hat – Objectively identifies possible pitfalls to enable proactive contingency planning and risk mitigation. This intentionally pessimistic view helps prevent adoption of a fatally flawed solution. 

Yellow Hat – Brings a positive point of view and "can-do" attitude. Although optimistic in nature, it is NOT just based on hope and wishful thinking; rather, it provides practical insight on how obstacles can be overcome.

Green Hat – Acts as the heart of creativity in the process. It breaks the rules, stretches the boundaries of convention and pushes thinking outside the box to find unexpected thoughts and ideas.

All along, the Blue Hat keeps the group focused on the "hat they are wearing" at any given time. For example, feelings and emotions from the Red Hat may start to creep into the more objective Black Hat or Yellow Hat discussions. A reminder from the Blue Hat to stay in the appropriate mode keeps the participants on track. Using a visual aid to indicate which "Hat" is in use, such as actual colored hats, or at least flash cards, can be helpful as well. 

Once all "Hats" have been explored at least once, then the Blue Hat determines what further considerations are needed and where certain "Hats" may need to be revisited. For instance, after Green Hat brainstorming yields new ideas, the Blue Hat may call for White Hat thinking to validate data or provide more information on those options.

The Benefits of Six Thinking Hats

One of the key benefits for using a tool like Six Thinking Hats is that it provides a structure for "thinking differently". And of course, the Green Hat itself is all about creativity, which intentionally frees the group from the bounds of convention.

The methodology also improves the quality of decision-making and problem-solving because it breaks down barriers and preconceived notions, and it ensures that the issue and potential solutions are looked at from a variety of different perspectives.

And finally, it enhances team dynamics by providing a shared vocabulary and a non-threatening means for people with diverse opinions to come together for mutual benefit. For example, rather than telling a teammate that they are being too emotional, a group member can say "Thanks for that valuable Red Hat perspective. Now let’s do some Yellow Hat thinking."

So, put your hats on and start thinking differently. Who knows what you will discover!


Thanks to Diane Janovsky, Strategic Partner with HPI Solutions for her work with this article.