The Six Thinking Hats Method
Hana Svetin, March 25 2022
The Six Thinking Hats method was created by Edward De Bono, who devoted his whole academic life to researching the way people think and how to enhance creative thinking. Through The Six Hats method, he has found a way to circumvent limitations in developing new ideas, thus maximizing critical thinking in thought processes (De Bono, 2017; Göçmen & Coşkun, 2019). This method goes hand in hand with De Bono’s view on creativity which he defines as a skill that everybody can learn, practice, and make use of in different situations (De Bono, 1970).
The Six Hats method focuses on eliminating the confusion that stems from having to juggle many aspects of an idea, namely emotions, negative and positive aspects of the problem, objective information provided, and creativity. It does so by allowing a person to deal with one thing at a time, depending on which “hat” they put on. This allows them to separate the emotional sphere from the logical one, creativity from information, and so on.
As the name itself suggests, the method is named after six different-colored hats – white, yellow, red, black, green, and blue. Each color provides a different point of view on the presented problem (De Bono, 2017): White Hat is neutral, objective, and concerned only with indisputable facts and figures; Yellow Hat is positive, sunny, and stands for hope and optimism; Red Hat encompasses intuition, emotions and is as such evidently subjective in nature; Black Hat is pessimistic, critically reviews the information highlighting its weaknesses, possible inconsistencies or risks; Green Hat embodies creativity and should have no restrain on offering new concepts and ideas; lastly, Blue Hat is the one in charge of problem- solving, offering a summary of possible solutions and usually “worn” by the moderator (eg. the teacher in class or the boss in business meetings).
De Bono (2017) provides multiple questions one can ask themselves when wearing each hat. For example, Black Hat may ask: “What are the downfalls and dangers of the proposed idea? What unwanted consequences can arise?”. Blue Hat usually poses questions for the entire duration of the activity. He or she can begin with questions such as: “What are we trying to achieve and how can we do so? What kind of a result are we aiming for? What are the possible strategies we can undertake to reach our goals?”. Then, to further guide the problem-solving process, Blue Hat can ask questions like “What do we know so far? Are we successful at arriving at a solution?”, and eventually to make a final recap: “Did we manage to reach our goals? How can we optimize the problem-solving?”. Anyone involved in the activity is encouraged to put on the blue hat while coming up with ideas, no matter which color hat they have on. In this way, everyone can monitor and critically evaluate their problem-solving process.
The cues for Green Hat focus on providing new, different ideas. Green Hat benefits mostly from creativity, as it should churn out as many ideas as possible, going beyond the obvious and satisfactory. Red Hat may pose questions such as “What are my emotions towards this topic? Why are they negative/positive? What is interesting and what is boring regarding this topic?”. White Hat wearers are the ones who know how to find valid, useful information from various sources and ask questions like “What information do we already have on the topic? What information do we need and how are we going to get it?”. Last, but certainly not least, Yellow Hat asks questions such as “How does a person or a group of persons benefit from this idea? What kind of a positive effect does the idea have on the final goal?”.
The Six Hats method is useful in both pedagogical and business settings (De Bono, 2017), as it is known to be a very adjustable method. In fact, the central hats metaphor is easily understandable to children (De Bono, 2017) and has proven to be a successful way of enhancing students’ performance of various academic areas, such as learning about environmental topics in geography class (Kaya, 2013), improving writing skills (Swamy et al., 2019) and even enhancing students’ motivation in pedagogical processes (Lystopad et al., 2000). Its importance is shown in business, too: De Bono mentions in an interview with Powell (2007) a couple of critical situations, where companies have benefited greatly from the use of this technique, such as by reducing the number of days needed to reach a decision on international projects from thirty to just two and offering a way to design a plan of action in critical times of need, for example in situations of providing aid to affected areas after natural disasters.
To summarize, The Six Thinking Hats Method has been applied in many educational and business settings and has proved to greatly enhance the finding of constructive ideas and solutions to various problems. Can you think of any situations where this method could be useful? Try to apply it to the next problem-solving activity and share it with your classmates or colleagues.
Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions in the written publications are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those shared by the Eutopia Student Think Tank (EUSTT) nor the EUTOPIA Alliance.
De Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking. Penguin.
De Bono, E. (2017). Six Thinking Hats: The multimillion best-selling guide to running better meetings and making faster decisions. Penguin.
Göçmen, Ö. & Coşkun, H. (2019). The effects of the six thinking hats and speed on creativity in brainstorming. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 31, 284-295. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2019.02.006
Kaya, M. F. (2013). The effect of six thinking hats on student success in teaching subjects related to sustainable development in geography classes. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 13(2), 1134–1139.
Lystopad, O. A. , Mardarova I. K., & Kuk, T. (2000). Forming students’ motivation for creativity by means of Edward de bono’s “six thinking hats” technique. Science and education, 8, 93–96.
Powell, S. (2007). Spotlight on Edward de Bono. Management Decision, 45(6), 1058–1063. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740710762080
Swamy, B. C., Haque, M. I., Koppada, V., & Kumar, N. S. (2019). The Effect of Conducting De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Activity on Developing Paragraph Writing Skills of University Students in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. International Journal of English Linguistics, 9(6), 186–197. https://doi.org/10.5539/ijel.v9n6p186
Master’s student of Psychology at University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts. She is enthusiastic about reading and writing, especially on the topics of health psychology, neuropsychology and evolutionary psychology.