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Edward de Bono's 6 hats

Edward de Bono's 6 hats

Edward de Bono's 6 hats

Use this framework to brainstorm problems and generate new ideas

Edward de Bono was a physician, psychologist and consultant specializing in lateral thinking. He published the Six Thinking Hats as a book in 1985.


The Six Thinking Hats framework is employed to make meetings more efficient and more valuable. Edward de Bono argues that the thinking that takes place in meetings is often confused. There is too much information, too many emotions, and people try to do too much at once. He proposes separating out these confused thoughts by applying the concept of six thinking hats. The metaphor of putting on a hat which is associated with a certain thought process focuses thinking in a defined direction. Each hat has a colour and the colour maximises the sensitivity of thought in a specific direction.

The Six Thinking Hats are used for idea generation (such as new product development) and problem solving (such as how to improve customer loyalty). The hats are a device which channel thoughts in a particular direction and so discover ideas which may not otherwise arise. By limiting the amount of time spent on each hat, the meeting is much more effective.

De Bono’s hats are symbols that indicate a particular way of thinking.  When a colour of hat is donned, it channels thinking in a specific direction. In this way, the wearing of a hat simplifies the thought process and it also allows a switch in thoughts. If someone has negative thoughts or a block in their thinking, it can be changed with the colour of the hat.

The Six Thinking Hats framework works best when the people in the meeting understand the rules of the game and the meaning of the different hats. People don’t have to physically wear a coloured hat – although they could do. The idea is that they own the concept of the coloured hat and what it stands for. Team members wearing these coloured hats are now able to think clearly and objectively and look at problems from new and different angles. It is a tool to get people’s thoughts in parallel lines so that they generate more and better ideas. It is therefore a tool for creative and lateral thinking. The tool can be used for problem-solving and also for new product development, building new value propositions, arriving at different segments, scenario planning, wargames etc.

The thought processes that someone would be responsible for if they are allocated a certain colour of hat are as follows:

  • White hat – this is the hat of facts and figures. Whoever wears the white hat must consider the validity of the facts. What do we have? What don’t we have? What do we need? How can we get it? Whose fact is it? Is it one that can be believed?

  • Red Hat – this is the hat of hunches, emotions and feelings. The people wearing the red hat must consider the place of emotions in the thinking process. With this hat they can share fears, likes, dislikes, loves and hates and do not need to justify their thoughts. Feelings can be based on lots of experience and this could produce a very strong intuition.

  • Black hat – this is the hat that prompts people to be careful and cautious. It points out difficulties, dangers and potential problems and as a result it prevents mistakes. The people who wear the black hat must play devil’s advocate and suggest why something may not work. It points out why something might not fit the concept. It is not a negative hat but one that brings people to reality. De Bono considers it to be one of the most powerful of the hats as long as it isn’t used to kill ideas. The black hat can be brought out early on to see if there are any problems that need to be overcome and it can be used at the end to check that there are no insuperable barriers.

  • Yellow hat – this hat is about logical thinking. Someone wearing the yellow hat would look at the feasibility and the benefits of an idea.  It is associated with positive thoughts and optimism.

  • Green hat – this is the hat of creative and lateral thinking. The people wearing the green hat need to be provocative, suggesting new concepts and alternative ideas. The green hat can be used at any stage in the process to get some new ideas.  It is an antidote to the black hat which says why things can’t be done.

  • Blue hat – this is the hat of control and monitoring. The wearer ensures that the ideas remained focused and ensures that the guidelines in the model are observed. They drive the team towards the goal.

The hats represent a specific direction of thinking. This is the strength of the argument for the model because it focuses thoughts of a particular kind. Each hat may be used for a limited time before a new one is donned. Equally, a group broken into teams may pass a coloured hat from one group to another so that everyone has a chance of exploring the thoughts that are generated by that hat.

The hats can be used in different ways. The team could be broken into groups who are assigned different colours of hats so they work on the problem and put forward their thoughts in line with their assigned guidelines. Alternatively, if it is a small group, everybody could wear the same hat for a period of time and then move on to another colour. Someone working on their own could use the six thinking hats tools to help their thinking.

Some things to think about:

  • The six thinking hats tool needs a moderator. This person should be able to explain what is required, keep an eye on time spent wearing each hat to ensure that things move quickly, and make sure that the ideas are captured and recorded. This person would usually wear a blue hat.

  • The team should return to a particular colour of hat if it is thought that more ideas can be generated.

  • The six thinking hats activity can be made more fun if people wear appropriately coloured hats, or move to a place in the room that is a designated hat colour.

  • Don't forget to take a look in our Library for articles on brainstorming.

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