Facilitating your own thinking and that of others is an essential skill in most of our jobs, and not in the least when people are in leadership roles.
Our thinking is hindered and limited in different ways. We have all kinds of biases in our brain. Our emotions often prevent clarity of thinking. Our unconscious incompetence combined with our beliefs about all the things we don’t know anything about, turns our arguments into uninformed opinions and our limit of all the things we can keep in our brain at the same time, leads to massive confusion.
So maybe, and hopefully, learning some skills and using a few tools will make our thinking and that of our teams we lead a little better.
The six thinking hats method - created by Dr. Edward de Bono - is very well known, but often poorly applied. Each thinking hat represents a different thinking style, conceptualised by association with a metaphorical coloured hat.
Participants are all wearing the same hat at the same time during the facilitation process, creating a joined focus of looking at a situation or challenge from different angles or frames of references. This is called parallel thinking. This way you promote looking from different perspectives while avoiding conflicts resulting from the argument and counter-argument between participants. In this process, the participants discover the arguments and counter-arguments together while looking from the same angle.
The six thinking hats match the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan. The process relies on the competence of every participant. The parallel thinking in the process provides participants with a higher relatedness between each other while they still stay autonomous thinkers at each step of the process. This explains the higher motivation and consequently higher buy-in of the participants in the solutions and outcomes of the six thinking hats process.
Applying the six thinking hats
The method is extensively described in Dr. Edward de Bono’s book “Six thinking hats”, and I highly recommend you read it before you start applying it. If you, like me, like to learn through experimentation, here is a small overview of the method.
The White Hat is focused on the facts and information we have and the information that we are missing.
The Red Hat covers feelings, intuition and gut reactions. It often provides a short stop in the process to get emotional issues out of the way.
The Black Hat makes you look at risks, difficulties and possible problems. This process does not deny their existence by avoiding the word “problem”.
The Yellow Hat looks at benefits, positive effects and values. Even if an idea is not feasible, sometimes it reveals a benefit that we can look for in another more achievable solution.
The Green Hat is the creative focus, the search for new ideas, possibilities, alternatives and ways to overcome difficulties. It’s a divergent hat.
The Blue Hat provides the overview and organisation of the process. It’s where you set the agenda for the meeting, where you decide about the next steps and a marking point for where you are right now.
There are some basic rules of the game as well:
A possible sequence - involving all hats - could be:
Blue Hat: to set the focus of the meeting, and explain the sequence
White Hat: explain the facts and information about a particular situation
Red Hat: a small poll into how people feel about the situation
Green Hat: generate ideas to deal with the situation
Yellow Hat: a look at the benefits of each idea. Ideas without benefits might get filtered out.
Black Hat: identifying possible risks. Ideas where the risks don’t match the rewards might get filtered out.
White Hat: matching the remaining ideas with the actual data about the situation.
Blue Hat: make a decision about the route to take.
Each hat can be combined with other problem solving or facilitation tools and techniques. You could use all kinds of creativity techniques during the Green Hat or business analysis tools during the White Hat. The method allows lots of space for experimentation, which requires on the other hand good facilitation skills.
So where is the value?
There is plenty of evidence in scientific literature for the value of thinking skills as well as facilitation skills when it comes to leadership. The six thinking hats method will develop both.
The first time it takes a small effort to learn and apply the method, and I suggest you start practising with a small team of colleagues you know well. From that, you gain experience and can apply six thinking hats in different scenarios like decision making or problem solving. I’ve used the method to facilitate board meetings, as well as retrospective meetings of agile teams. I’ve used it as a tool helping to learn through different perspectives, both to structure course material when I train students or as a tool for the student to absorb the learnings. As an individual I’ve even used the six thinking hats method to structure my own critical thinking for university assignments (I’m a lifelong learner).
Do contact me for any questions or if you would want more information. Marc Innegraeve is a Certified Blue Hat Facilitator, trained by de Bono.
Aithal, P. S., & Kumar, P. M. (2017). Ideal Analysis for Decision Making in Critical Situations through Six Thinking Hats Method. International Journal of Applied Engineering and Management Letters (IJAEML), 1(2), 1-9.
Aithal, P. S., & Kumar, P. M. (2017b). Integrating Theory A and Six Thinking Hats Technique for Improved Organizational Performance. International Journal of Applied Engineering and Management Letters (IJAEML), 1(2), 66-77.
APTT (1999). Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats. US: The McQuaig Group Inc.
de Bono E. (1985). Six thinking hats. US: Little, Brown and Company
Deci, E. L., and Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 182.
Vernon, D. and Hocking, I. (2014). Thinking hats and good men: structured techniques in a problem construction task. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 14. pp. 41- 46. ISSN 1871-1871.