Which hat do you wear?
Updated: Sep 20
When you belong to a group that needs to make a decision or solve a problem, how do you go about that process?
Is there one person who dominates the discussion and tends to get their way? Or, are you able to reach consensus and be in agreement regarding the solution or decision?
Would it help to have a structured approach to come up with ideas and determine the best course of action?
Consider the varied perspectives that one may take in looking at a problem – you could look at the facts and methodically and logically determine the solution. You could rely on your gut instincts. You could brainstorm all of the conceivable possibilities. You could make lists of pros and cons and see if one list outweighs the other. Or, you could do all of the above.
The “Six Thinking Hats” is a decision-making tool for groups to use for reaching consensus. The technique was created by Edward de Bono 35 years ago. The strategy continues to be used with success.
The approach works by forcing us to move outside our habitual way of thinking and look at a question or situation from a variety of perspectives. When we’ve developed a more well-rounded view of a problem we are in a better position to come to an agreement regarding the solution.
The six hats each represent a different perspective or way of thinking:
The green hat represents creative thinking. When the group figuratively puts on the green hat, they use creative brainstorming to generate as many potential solutions and alternatives as possible. Ideas are not analyzed or judged at this point.
The white hat represents information gathering. With this thinking hat on, the group objectively looks at the available data about the situation. What can be learned? What are the knowledge gaps and how can they be filled? What are past trends related to this issue?
The red hat represents emotional, intuitive thinking. When the group puts on this hat, they think about how they feel about the problem and the potential solutions. Using intuition, they consider what their gut reaction is to solving the problem or making the decision. They consider the emotions of others who are impacted by the situation.
The yellow hat represents positive and constructive thinking. When wearing this hat, the group takes an optimistic view of the situation, lists concrete suggestions and describes all of the potential benefits of the decision.
The black hat represents negative thinking. When wearing this hat, the group considers all of the bad points of a decision including the risks and the reasons why something will not work. Alternatives are looked at with caution. Weak points in the plan are revealed, which allows for them to be eliminated, altered, or prevented with contingency plans. Black hat thinking helps create more resilient solutions.
The blue hat is worn by the discussion facilitator. It represents thinking about thinking. Wearing this hat signifies having control over the process. It gives the blue hat thinker responsibility for keeping the discussion productive and on track. The blue hat thinker directs which hat is worn by the group in turn, summarizes ideas, and calls for the conclusion.
The beauty of this approach is generating solutions by using multiple perspectives. Group members can contribute safely whether they are stating facts, emotions, creative thoughts, positive points, or negativity. The Six Thinking Hats approach leads to creative problem-solving, improved communication, and productive decision-making. It leads to consensus.
In what settings might you find this to be a useful approach? In the photos you can see my Toastmasters club learning the technique.
For more information about the Six Hats, see the links listed below.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” ~ George S. Patton
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