What is six thinking? (A how-to guide with definitions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Six Thinking Hats by Dr. Edward de Bono is a book that outlines how you can approach problems from multiple perspectives. The premise of the six thinking hats method is that everyone has multiple ways of looking at situations and it's our perspective that ultimately dictates how we feel about things and how we react to them. It's based on the idea that every problem has more than one solution and offers a creative approach to problem-solving. In this article, we discuss how you can use the six thinking hats modalities in your everyday life and at work.

What is 'Six Thinking Hats'?

The six thinking hats method was developed by Dr. Edward de Bono, an expert in the field of applied creative thinking. Six Thinking Hats is a book that he wrote and published in 1985 about lateral thinking. De Bono invented the phrase lateral thinking as a new and creative approach to problem-solving. In Six Thinking Hats, he describes how to approach problems from multiple perspectives as a team or as a solo thinker. With his technique, you can tackle any problem from multiple perspectives and come up with more creative solutions.

Related: What is lateral thinking? (With tips to develop this skill)

Below is a definition of each of the six hats:

White hat

The white hat perspective focuses on available data and knowledge and looks at situations objectively. This perspective can help you break a problem down into its parts to better analyse it. For example, taking a situation from your workplace that has been problematic and trying to examine it from every possible angle using only the information you have about it. Being objective means not adding in any preconceived notions or biases, but instead remaining neutral. Here are some questions a white hat thinker may ask:

  • 'What is the source of this fact?'

  • 'What research has influenced this decision?'

  • 'What are all of our options?'

Red hat

The red hat represents emotions and feelings. If you have a negative feeling about a situation or decision, the red hat perspective encourages you not to ignore it and let that thought influence your thoughts on that matter. Just because it's your first reaction, it doesn't mean this has to be your final thought on a subject. You can put on your red hat when you're making an emotional decision based on passion and gut instinct. Here are some questions a red hat thinker may ask:

  • 'How would you feel about that?'

  • 'What is your instinct telling you?'

  • 'What do I like/dislike about this idea?'

Black hat

The black hat represents a unique and valuable perspective to problem-solving and decision-making. The black hat (sometimes called Devil's Advocate) asks questions about what could go wrong, what are the possible problems or weaknesses of an idea, product or solution. It helps find potential flaws in a plan before they happen. Here are some questions a black hat thinker may ask:

  • 'Why might this not succeed?'

  • 'What could go wrong?'

  • 'What are our weaknesses?'

Yellow hat

The yellow hat represents the ability to have a positive mindset. Even in the most complex situations, it is important to remember that things can always get better. Taking a positive approach to problems can help you develop solutions that are more creative and innovative than they would be if you approached the problem with negativity. Yellow hat thinking covers hope, optimism and seeing things in terms of their benefits. Here are some questions a yellow hat thinker may ask:

  • 'Who would be happy with that decision?'

  • 'Who benefits from implementing that solution?'

  • 'What is the best-case scenario?'

Green hat

The green hat is creative thinking and planning. Using green hat thinking means finding creative solutions and thinking outside the box. If you have come across a problem when using black hat thinking, turning to green hat thinking can help you to find alternative solutions. Green hat thinkers can explore ideas freely and imagine different perspectives, without concern for what may be most practical. Here are some questions a green hat thinker may ask:

  • 'What if we did things differently?'

  • 'What would happen if...?'

  • 'How can we come up with a unique solution that no one has ever tried before?'

Blue hat

Blue hat thinking represents organisation. When using blue hat thinking, people might create lists, bullet points or diagrams to represent different ideas. This can be helpful when trying to organise an overwhelming amount of information into something more manageable. It's also useful to aid a team by planning out their goals or specific tasks. Blue hat thinking is great for getting things done and keeping a project on track. Here are some questions a blue hat thinker may ask:

  • 'What needs to happen next?'

  • 'How much time do we have?'

  • 'What resources do we have?'

Related: Types of communicators at work (and how to deal with them)

Applying the six thinking hats at work

In many organisations, the six thinking hats are a key focus in meetings as a means to improve communication among colleagues who have different perspectives. It also works informally and independently of official proceedings; for example, by using just one or two thinking hats at work throughout your day. Although you might want to set aside time daily for formalised discussion around differing points of view (using all six), you could bring up certain topics over lunch or at team events more casually. There's no right or wrong way and you can adapt the exercise to what works.

If a business needs a lot of creativity, like the entertainment industry for example, then it may be helpful to encourage those employees to have as many thinking hats open as possible during meetings. This results in less rigid thinking, leading people to come up with bolder ideas and try things they otherwise wouldn't. On the other hand, if you're trying to focus on finding solutions to very specific problems, such as technical issues or logistical concerns, you might want to focus only on how a blue hat thinker would approach the issue.

Related: 7 ways to communicate effectively at work

Finding gaps in a team's approach to work

The methodology can also benefit decision-making processes by helping improve organisational communication overall, even when not formally used. For instance, a team that is brainstorming new business ventures could put all their thoughts on post-it notes. They can then organise them into categories based on which thinking hat most applies to each idea. If the team is lacking contributions to one hat, it might require that they spend more time communicating around that area.

For example, if there are only 2 notes in the white hat category but over 5 in all of the others, this indicates to the team that they may want to research more facts and figures for their project. It could also indicate that the team members aren't natural white hat thinkers. They may want to schedule research sessions when they begin new projects.

Save time

By using 6 different thinking hats, individuals can identify problems from many different perspectives. This can make their workflow more efficient by allowing them to address issues quicker and come up with innovative solutions. Incorporating the six thinking hats into your work could help you avoid mistakes in a project and save you time. By using black hat thinking when planning a project, you can spot potential issues that may cause delays down the line.

Build trust with your colleagues

If you're trying to help others understand your viewpoint, then try and understand theirs too. This tool helps by giving you an insight into where people are coming from. It's not just about accepting your colleague's views but also helping them see why your perspective is important. Having a space where everyone can openly share their opinions is a great way to have healthy communication. In a discussion where there are no wrong answers, some may lack the confidence to share their ideas. So educating them that everyone's differences are what makes a team work can boost confidence and productivity.

Related: 13 effective communicator habits for leaders to develop

Create new opportunities

Creative problem-solving allows us to get around our preconceptions and approach a problem from multiple perspectives. Rather than settling on one solution, we can look at our options more objectively and create new opportunities as a result. As such, they offer an extremely effective tool for any workplace looking to develop its employees further. Overcoming biases with objectivity has many benefits. It not only helps you succeed in your current work but can inspire new solutions to problems.


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