During a recent education workshop, I was introduced to the book Six Thinking Hats* by Edward De Bono. The book focuses on a different method for conducting meetings. After hearing about the book from Dave Pratt, owner of Ranch Management Consultants, I was interested in learning more. While I am just beginning to understand this method of holding a meeting, I am excited about the possibilities. As De Bono writes, this method is different from the argumentative structure typically found in normal meetings where individuals take a position and debate with others. Instead, this method explores issues through the lenses of six different “hats.” Each hat is represented by a color and function. While each hat is worn, participants are expected to deliberate only under the function assigned to the hat.
Here are the different hats and their functions:
- White – Neutral and objective, only concerned with facts
- Red – Provides an emotional view
- Black – Examines an issue under a critical eye
- Yellow – Sunny and positive, looks for possibilities
- Green – The hat used to look for new ideas and alternatives
- Blue – The rule keeping hat, organizes the meeting
This 173 page book is organized into six major sections, which focus on the functions of the different hats. There are 43 chapters. The first three chapters introduce the idea of the six hats and the rest of the chapters address the different hats with 5 to 8 chapters per section. The final chapter of each section succinctly summarizes each hat, and will provide readers with a quick reference for the hat’s functions.
As De Bono points out, most meetings focus on judgement and argument; little time is spent on exploring issues with a creative mind. Using the six thinking hats, De Bono believes that meetings can be made more productive by spending time “mapping” out the issue and exploring the issue through one objective at a time. By having participants put the “red” hat on, participants can focus on exploring the feelings and emotions surrounding an issue. By putting on the “green” hat, participants can be creative and search for new ideas or alternatives for proposals. Knowing there will be time to focus on the negative or “black” hat issues, participants can provide useful input at the appropriate time. This in turn eliminates the desire to strike a counterpoint for every idea raised, thus a full map of the issue can be created.
“With the Six Hats method, the intelligence, experience and knowledge of all the members of the group are fully used. Everyone is looking and working in the same direction” (De Bono, 1999, p. 9).
Ideally, each hat would be used exclusively for a period of time to examine an issue through that particular lens. The facilitator would change hats based on a sequence or the needs of the issue. Typically, the order of hat use would be agreed upon at the outset of the meeting. De Bono provides examples of sequences throughout the book; these sequences are based on the situation or issue being discussed. Before a hat can be used, it must be first understood. Here is a brief summary of each hat:
White hat – The white hat is worn to determine what is know about an issue or to identify information that is missing; information is all fact based. Typically, information brought forward under a white hat must be able to be supported with data. Normally, the white hat is worn early in the meeting to gather necessary data.
Red hat – The red hat is used to draw out feelings participants have on an issue. The interesting part of the red hat is that participants do not have to justify their feelings, and should not be asked to, only what feelings they have. Again, the red hat is often used at the beginning of a session as well as at the end. Feelings may change after more information is introduced.
Black hat – The black hat is used to critically analyze an issue and to bring forward all the danger points or problems with an issue. This is the easiest hat to wear, and must actually be controlled and regulated throughout the session. The black hat addresses concerns.
Yellow hat – Where the black hat looks for things that may be problems, the yellow hat looks for the positive or benefits of an issue. With the yellow hat, participants look for proposals, benefits, and opportunities. The yellow hat can be used to address issues and find solutions raised under the black hat.
Green hat – The green hat is the creative hat. The green hat is focused on finding new alternatives. The green hat strives for out of the box thinking. De Bono outlines a couple of exercises to facilitate creative thinking.
Blue hat – Finally, the blue is to organize and manage the meeting. Under the blue hat, the sequence of hats is identified and controlled. The blue hat is usually worn by the facilitator. The facilitator manages rules of the meeting. However, anyone can wear the blue hat to make adjustments to how the meeting is being run.
I personally believe the value of the six thinking hats approach is the structure it provides a meeting. With this structure, key areas can be addressed without turning into a two-sided issue. I want to explore this approach at an upcoming meeting to see how it works. Based on what I have read without putting it into practice, I would recommend this book to others.
Here are additional articles to better understand this topic:
Has anyone used this strategy for a meeting? How did it work for you? Are there any suggests you might offer?
De Bono, E. (1999). Six Thinking Hats. Boston: Back Bay Books.
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