Six Thinking Hats Model In A Nutshell

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Understanding the Six Thinking Hats model

The Six Thinking Hats model is a creative problem-solving process that helps individuals break free of habitual ways of thinking.

In response to this tendency, de Bono identified six thinking hats which are metaphors for certain ways of thinking.

Although each group member in a thinktank will embody multiple personalities, de Bono’s model dictates that they “assume” one personality for the duration of a session. This encourages groups to consider creative solutions or ideas they may have otherwise overlooked.

The six thinking hats of Edward de Bono’s model

Each group member should “wear” a thinking hat representing one of six key personalities. Hats should be rotated periodically to encourage a fresh perspective to problem-solving.

The six thinking hates include the:

  1. White hat – encompassing individuals that favor objectivity. In other words, they assess facts and figures to fill knowledge gaps.
  2. Red hat – or someone that prefers to consider a problem using intuition, feelings, perception, or opinion. Red hat thinkers are the opposite of white hat thinkers in that they allow subjectivity to dominate.
  3. Black hat – the skeptic or “Devil’s Advocate” in the group. While black hat personalities tend to be critical and pessimistic, they use these qualities to measure risk or identify potential problems with ideas.
  4. Yellow hat – representing those who always maintain a positive outlook on life. They tend to be optimistic and speculate according to best-case scenarios.
  5. Green hat – focusing on creative possibilities and new ideas. Green hat individuals are unencumbered individuals who communicate new concepts or perceptions.
  6. Blue hat – the mediator of the whole process who sums up everything that has been discussed. Ultimately, the blue hat considers solutions put forth by the rest of the group and decides on a course of action.

Strengths of the Six Thinking Hats model

Aside from encouraging creative problem solving, the model has many other benefits:

  • Reduced conflict. Team members who use the Six Thinking Hats model are better able to empathize with other perspectives. This fosters collaboration and personal growth. For example, a pessimistic person might learn how to be more positive and creative after wearing yellow and green hats.
  • Better public relations. Business plans developed under the model effectively cover all perspectives, making them more robust and resilient to public criticism or backlash.
  • Provides structure. Many company brainstorming sessions lack structure and quickly become disorganized. By appointing a mediator to ensure that each perspective is heard, the six hats model facilitates productive meetings that drive the business forward.

Six Thinking Hats model example

Consider a local café that has been receiving an increasing number of complaints from customers who say they are having to wait too long for their coffee.

The café manager, John, wears the blue hat as a mediator and assembles a team of five other staff to brainstorm possible causes for the decrease in efficiency.

Let’s take a look at each of the hats below and some of the ideas each contribute to solving the problem.

White hat

  • How long does it take to prepare a coffee in minutes and seconds?
  • How many specific complaints is the café receiving with respect to wait time?
  • What are the possible solutions and what is their impact on speed? 
  • How much do these solutions cost? Should a cost-benefit analysis be performed?

Green hat

  • What is the business overlooking that our competitors are not? Is there something we can learn from their approach?
  • Can the business make fundamental changes to the way it makes coffee?
  • Is there a coffee machine or new technology that could help the café streamline its processes? Could the workplace itself be made more efficient to achieve the same result?
  • Perhaps it is as simple as hiring extra staff?

Yellow hat

Yellow hat thinkers then take the ideas generated by green hat thinkers and brainstorm the potential positive implications. They endeavor to answer the following questions:

  • To what extent can we improve the speed of making a coffee from a competitor’s approach? 
  • Could we refine it further to turn a strength into a weakness and create a competitive advantage?
  • Aside from increased customer satisfaction and staff well-being, what are some of the other benefits? Why should an idea be implemented?

Red hat

As noted earlier, the red hat thinker uses emotion and intuition to generate subjective ideas. They also take a look at the ideas generated by green hat thinkers and ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is my gut instinct about this idea? Will the idea work? Why or why not?
  • Does the idea seem prohibitively expensive or difficult to implement?
  • Does the idea invoke positive emotions? If so, how can these emotions be consistently invoked among café patrons?

Black hat

Black hat thinkers then take their critical, somewhat pessimistic stance to analyze both green hat and red hat ideas:

  • Will a specific idea perform poorly in practice?
  • Are there ways to mitigate or avoid poor performance?
  • Is there evidence that suggests something could go wrong ahead of time?
  • Do I have a logical reason for considering a green or red hat idea invalid?

Blue hat

Café manager John then sums up the ideas put forth in the discussion and provides a general overview of the situation:

  • Customer complaints hinder the ability of the café to remain competitive.
  • Customer satisfaction can be improved by increasing the speed with which coffee is prepared. To that end, several solutions have been devised that will also help the café increase revenue.
  • Moving forward, the most effective solution is the purchase of a new coffee machine in combination with a rejig of the floor plan to increase workspace efficiency.

Key takeaways

  • The Six Thinking Hats model fosters creativity and innovation among individuals in a group by broadening their perspective.
  • The Six Thinking Hats model incorporates six key perspectives, or personalities. Five are based on common dispositions while the sixth hat mediates the discussion itself.
  • The Six Thinking Hats model has several benefits. It reduces conflict by encouraging group members to be more considerate of other viewpoints. The model can also help businesses manage public relations and provide structure to the ideation process.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

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