Book Learning: The Six Thinking Hats by Dr Edward de Bono

Thinking is the ultimate human resource. And, yet we can never be satisfied with our most important skill. No matter how good we become, we should always want to be better. The biggest enemy of thinking is complexity, as for that leads to confusion. When thinking is clear and simple, it becomes more enjoyable and more effective. The six thinking hats concept, described in this book is not only very simple to understand, it is also very simple to use.

The purpose of this concept is to simplify thinking by allowing a thinker to deal with one thing at a time. Instead of having to take care of emotions, logic, information, hope, and creativity all at the same time, the thinker is able to deal with them separately.The six thinking hats allow us to conduct our thinking as beautifully and efficiently as a conductor might lead an orchestra.

So, without much further ado, let’s get started with the hats –

The White Hat 

Think of paper. Think of a computer printout. The white hat is about information. When the white hat is in use, everyone focuses directly and exclusively on information. Unfortunately, the Western thinking, with its argumentative tendencies prefers to give a conclusion first and then works to bring in the facts to support that conclusion.
In contrast, the map making type of thinking described in the book we should make a map first and then choose the route, accordingly. This means that we have to get the facts and figures in place first. Here are a few basic questions that need to be addressed for effective mapping –

What information do we have?

What information do we need?

What information is Missing?

What questions do we need to ask?

How are we going to get the information we need?

The white hat should ideally used towards the beginning of a brainstorming session as a background for the thinking that is supposed to follow. However, when it comes to our organization, the white hat also can be used towards the end of the session as a sort of assessment : do our proposals fit with the existing information?
The white hat enables the thinker to strive to be more neutral and helps them become more objective in the presentation of the given information. 

The Red Hat

Think of fire. Think of warmth. Think of feelings. The red hat gives you an opportunity to express feelings, emotions, and intuition without any need to further explain or justify them.
In a normal business discussion you are not supposed to allow your emotions to surface. However, they always find a way to manifest themselves. The best you can do is to efficiently disguise them as logic.
The red hat provides a unique and special opportunity for feelings, emotions, and intuition to be put forward. Human intuition is usually based on an individual’s personal experience.

“… I feel this is the right person for the job.” 

“…. I feel this is a risky venture.”

Such insights can prove to be feeling useful. However, intuition is not necessarily always right. Even the great Einstein’s intuition was wrong when he dismissed Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
The purpose of the red hat is to express feelings as they exist and not to force judgement of any kind.
The red hat covers two broad types of feelings – From the common emotions such as fear and dislike to the more subtle ones such as suspicion. Furthermore, there are the complex judgement that go into such types of feeling as hunches, intuition, a sense of taste and other aesthetics. Wherever an opinion is influenced by a host of such feelings, it is said to fall under the red hat. 

The Black Hat

The Black hat is the hat of caution. The Black hat is for being careful. The Black hat hat stops us from doing things that are either illegal, dangerous, unprofitable, or polluting.. We need to identify what is not going to work. That is how we survive. One silly mistake and it could destroy even the most decorated careers, regardless of how creative an individual might be.
The Black hat is based on a natural mechanism in the mind. That is the ‘mismatch’ mechanism. The brain forms pattern of expectation: that is what the world is like. If we come across something that does not match these existing patterns, then we feel very uncomfortable. This natural mechanism works to ensure that we do not make mistakes.
A brilliant example would be of food. Food is essential for life. But too much food might make you overweight and might cause health problems. Now, the resulting obesity and other side effects are not the fault of the food consumed but the fault of the individual overeating.

In the same way, there are people who overuse the Black hat and spend all their time trying to find faults with a situation, a person, or even themselves. The fault again is not in the use of the black hat but actually in the abuse, overuse or misuse of the Black hat.

The Yellow Hat

Think of sunshine.Think of optimism. Under the yellow hat, a thinker deliberately sets out to find whatever benefit there may be in a suggestion. Under this hat, one tries to see how it may be possible to put the idea into practice.
The yellow hat is a lot harder to wear than the black hat. There is a natural mechanism in the brain that helps us to avoid dangers. There is no such natural mechanism for the yellow hat. Owing to this very reason, most people are much better at using the black hat than the yellow hat.
We, as individuals need to develop “Value Sensitivity.” It means being as sensitive to values as we instinctively are to danger. This is a conditioned habit that needs to be developed. We have to see the value in our own ideas. It is a waste of time setting out to be creative if you are not going to recognize a good idea. That is why the development of value sensitivity is important.

The yellow hat should be dawned with logic as the driving force. There should be some reasons given for the values put forward. The yellow hat is a judgement hat but it is not based on fantasy. What are the values? For whom? Under what circumstances? How are they values delivered? What other values are there?
The Yellow hat encourages speculation, inquisitiveness, and makes us more aware of the opportunities available. Yellow hat thinking also permits visions and dreams.

The Green Hat

Think of vegetation. Think of growth. Think of new leaves and branches. The Green hat is the creative hat. Under the Green hat, we put forward new ideas. Under the Green hat we lay out options and alternatives. These include both the obvious alliterative and fresh ones. Under the Green hat, we seek to modify and improve suggested ideas.
Under the Green hat, you are permitted to put forward ‘possibilities’. Possibilities play a much bigger role in thinking than most people believe. Two thousand years ago, Chinese technology was way ahead of Western technology. Then progress seemed to come to an end. The explanation often given is that the Chinese did not develop the hypothesis. Without the key piece of mental software it was impossible to make progress. 

The Blue Hat

Think of the blue sky above. Think of ‘overview’. The blue hat is for “thinking about thinking.”
The Blue hat is like the proverbial conductor of the orchestra. The conductor gets the best out of the orchestra by ensuring that whatever needs to be done, is done at the right time. Thus, the blue hat is for the management of thinking. Typically the blue hat is worn by the facilitator, chair-person, or the leader of a session. At the end of the session “the blue hat” asks for the outcome. This may be in the form of a summary, a conclusion, a decision, or a solution. 

Conclusion

The six thinking hats have convinced me that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Not only can our work be more structured but it can also be creative at the same time. I can’t wait to use this methodology in our Check-Outs. Usually our Check-Outs lack structure and we don’t know what to talk about. On the other hand, sometimes we end up talking a lot and still fail to come to an efficient solution. I hope to employ this method in our next check-out and further share my insights and experience on it.

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