Are you using the Six Thinking Hats in your meetings?

Do you ever face a problem and just go round and round discussing the same thing?

Do you find that no one ever seems to consider the positives; only the negatives of a solution?

Are team meetings taking forever to find a solution?

Well, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats could help. It’s a tool based on the concept of parallel thinking where everyone is thinking in the same way at the same time – wearing the same ‘hat’.

De Bono argues that it is far more effective if we all look at an issue from the same perspective and at the same time rather than one person thinking of all the negatives or another thinking of all the positives.

While you might expect a handy quiz to assess which of the six thinking hats you are that is not how this tool works. Whilst we may prefer one hat over the others, the idea is that all thinking styles should be used by everyone.

It is often helpful when someone is being particularly negative to ask them to take off their ‘black hat’ for a while and pop on their ‘yellow’ one. It’s a more neutral approach that causes less friction between people rather than being told – ‘stop being so negative’.

So how can we use Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats?

We can use it on our own to help generate ideas and make decisions or more successfully to work collaboratively in a group. Individuals may be asked to think on their own whilst within the group setting so that their contributions are well considered.

The hats can also be used on their own or sequentially.

Individually – we can use each hat individually to steer a conversation in a particular way – ‘we need some green hat thinking on this’.

Sequentially – we can also use the method sequentially in a more structured approach. Each session should start and end with the blue hat.

At the start to outline:

  • Why we are here
  • What we are thinking about
  • What we want to achieve
  • Where we want to end up
  • The background to the thinking
  • A plan for the sequence of hats to be used

At the end to clarify:

  • What we have achieved
  • The outcome
  • The conclusion
  • The design
  • The solution
  • The next steps

What follows the first blue hat is up to you and what you are discussing. For example, if you know there are some strong emotions on the topic then it might be useful to use the red hat first. However, if it is a new topic and there are no feelings about it yet, then you may want to leave the red hat until the end. In fact, the red hat can be useful to use at the end again to round off how people are now feeling that the discussion has taken place and a way forward has been agreed.

De Bono highlights that whatever sequence we believe is the best strategy to develop our thinking then it will be valid and will work.

Hosting a Six Thinking Hats session

  1. Make all attendees aware that the session will be based around the idea of parallel thinking from Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats tool.
  2. Ideally give each a copy of the book or at least give them some preparatory work to get themselves familiar with the tool.
  3. The facilitator of the session will be using the blue hat to discuss the process and the reason for the meeting as per the details described above. They will also contribute during each hat discussion.
  4. As we said before, there are no prescriptive sequences so choose whatever hat you think is most appropriate to start with.
  5. The facilitator asks leading questions when each hat has been announced:
    1. How do you feel about this? What is your gut feeling? (Red)
    1. What data do we have? What information are we missing? (White)
    1. What could go wrong? What are the downsides to this? (Black)
    1. What other ideas do you have? How could we develop this idea further? (Green)
    1. What are the positives? What are the benefits? (Yellow)
    1. So where have we got to so far? What do we need to do next? (Blue)
  6. Don’t spend too long on each hat. Give everyone a minute or so each to discuss their opinion whilst wearing each hat. Obviously if valid ideas are still coming out then allow more time.
  7. The facilitator should help everyone keep to time and keep the meeting flowing.
  8. Finish off with the blue hat to wrap things up and agree the outcome and next steps.

De Bono highlighted some examples of companies that have used the thinking hats with great success. IBM had reported that the Six Hats method had reduced meeting times to one quarter of what they had been. In a simple experiment with 300 civil servants, the method increased thinking productivity by 493%. An oil company had a problem with their rig that was costing $100,000 per day. After using the Six Hats tool, a solution was found in just 12 minutes.

The benefit of using this method when problem-solving is that it can reduce the amount of time taken to reach a decision. It ‘allows’ for not just critical thinking (black hat) which is the most common form of business thinking, but also that of feelings and emotions that can so often be dismissed. So;

What do you think?

What experience have you had of using the tool?

Would it be something you would try at your next meeting?

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