What is your instinctive approach to decision making? If you're naturally optimistic, then chances are you don't always consider potential downsides. Similarly, if you're very cautious or have a risk-averse outlook, you might not focus on opportunities that could open up.
Often, the best decisions come from changing the way that you think about problems, and examining them from different viewpoints.
"Six Thinking Hats" can help you to look at problems from different perspectives, but one at a time, to avoid confusion from too many angles crowding your thinking.
It's also a powerful decision-checking technique in group situations, as everyone explores the situation from each perspective at the same time.
Six Thinking Hats was created by Edward de Bono, and published in his 1985 book of the same name. You can now find it in a new edition.
It forces you to move outside your habitual thinking style, and to look at things from a number of different perspectives. This allows you to get a more rounded view of your situation.
You can often reach a successful solution or outcome from a rational, positive viewpoint, but it can also pay to consider a problem from other angles. For example, you can look at it from an emotional, intuitive, creative or risk management viewpoint. Not considering these perspectives could lead you to underestimate people's resistance to your plans, fail to make creative leaps, or ignore the need for essential contingency plans.
In this article, we explore how to use the Six Thinking Hats technique, and show an example of how it can work.
You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own. In meetings, it has the benefit of preventing any confrontation that may happen when people with different thinking styles discuss a problem, because every perspective is valid.
Each "Thinking Hat" is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:
- White Hat: with this thinking hat, you focus on the available data. Look at the information that you have, analyze past trends, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and try to either fill them or take account of them.
- Red Hat: "wearing" the Red Hat, you look at problems using your intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also, think how others could react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.
- Black Hat: using Black Hat thinking, look at a decision's potentially negative outcomes. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.
Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans "tougher" and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. It's one of the real benefits of this model, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that they often cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.
- Yellow Hat: this hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
- Green Hat: the Green Hat represents creativity. This is where you develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. (You can explore a range of creativity tools to help you.)
- Blue Hat: this hat represents process control. It's the hat worn by people chairing meetings, for example. When facing difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking.
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