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The 6 Thinking Hats Theory

They say that at the heart of every problem lies an opportunity. But do you find it hard to see the opportunity sometimes?

Is it hard to always be innovative and creative? We’re all guilty of becoming too focused on the problem and we can struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Using the Six Thinking Hats you have the potential to;

  • Teach your organisation to be more open minded and creative
  • Stimulate innovation by generating ideas quickly
  • Separate fact from opinion
  • Get the most out of a team or teamwork exercise
  • Use the full range of everyone’s thinking power
  • Facilitate conflict resolution
  • Improve how employees think for a more competitive advantage
  • Run creative and effective meetings
  • Turn problems into real opportunities

The truth is, every problem really is an opportunity, it’s how we approach and think about the problem that makes the difference.

For organisations and employees alike, innovation is important to remain ahead of the rest. Innovation requires creativity but thinking creatively is a difficult thing to do because we have to ‘think laterally’ and cut across our normal thinking patterns. This style of thinking is not a normal behaviour of the brain which is why creativity sometimes seems unnatural or difficult.

Edward De Bono is regarded by many to be the world’s leading authority in the field of creative thinking. De Bono developed the Six Thinking Hats Theory as a way of encouraging lateral thinking and to deliberately generate creative thinking in individuals and organisations. The Hats theory can help to make creative thinking a part of ordinary thinking.

The Six ‘metaphorical hats’ are the White, Yellow, Black, Red, Green and Blue hats. The thinker can put on or take off any one of these hats to indicate the type of thinking that is being used.

White Hat

Facts, figures, information, asking questions and defining information needs and gaps. E.g. "My job ad isn’t attracting anyone. I have only received 2 applications for the month the job has been with job board X. Advertising is expensive, the skills shortage is at crisis point and I really need someone to fill this position. Job board X offers a better rate but has not been around for as long.

Red Hat

Intuition, feelings and emotions.

E.g. "Our staff are feeling the stress of having to cover the additional workload created by being one team member down. Morale is low and they feel we’re not doing enough to fix the issue. We fear that more staff will resign. We really appreciate all the extra work everyone is doing."

Black Hat

The logical negative. The hat of judgement and caution. E.g. "We’ve already exceeded our recruitment advertising budget but if we don’t continue how will we find someone?"

Yellow Hat

The logical positive. This hat looks at why something will work and what benefits it may have. E.g. "As opposed to ongoing advertising spend, we can put the job with a recruitment agency and they will advertise the position and work to find the right person and we will only have to pay them when a suitable person has been found."

Green Hat

The hat of creativity alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, any frustrations and changes that may be involved. E.g. "What are other effective ways of filling this position? Should we promote from within? Should we consider Facebook or MySpace? Should we adjust the hours to attract people seeking flexibility, I.e. return to work, semi retired etc?"

Blue Hat

The overview or process control hat. E.g. "We will do more Red Hat thinking and get the staff’s opinions and feedback on the situation. We will also do more White Hat thinking to answer any questions generated while ‘Green Hat thinking’."

Deal with a problem, meeting or teamwork exercise using the Six Thinking Hats technique and you will work at and/or solve the issue using all approaches. You will encourage co-operation, exploration and innovation using this technique.

Your decision will ultimately be creative - one that has looked at every angle of a problem and discovered the opportunity that lies within.

*Source: De Bono, E. 1995, ‘Serious Creativity', The Journal for Quality and Participation, vol.18, no.5, p.12-19.