• Problem Solving & Decision Making

Six Thinking Hats

The concept of Six Thinking Hats was developed by Edward de Bono, and is a model that can be used both by groups and by individuals, to help in thinking through problems and issues. It uses the idea of parallel thinking to enhance the process of problem-solving.

The overall idea of the concept is that the human brain can think in a number of distinct ways, and the Six Thinking Hats process forces us to consider a problem or situation from six different perspectives. These perspectives are known as different hats we wear when in each mode of thinking.

The Six Hats

The Six Hats are described as follows:

Blue Hat
The Blue Hat is primarily about managing the process. It might involve checking on the rules, what processes need to be followed, and how the group is going to go about solving the problem. It will also be concerned with ensuring the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are used appropriately.

Phrases that might be used by a Blue Hat are:

  • “We will discuss the issue for 90 minutes.”
  • “Ok, it’s time to Yellow Hat this idea. Everything else aside, what are the benefits of this plan?”
  • “Let’s set aside emotional responses for the moment; we’ll come to them when it is time to put on the Red Hat.”

White Hat
The White Hat is all about looking for facts and data. It is very neutral, not about making judgments, but purely about factual information.  A White Hat might say:

  • “What does it currently cost us to manufacture one unit?”
  • “Our turnover was up by 5.5% last year.”
  • “Last year there were estimated to be 15 million people that are 18-25 years of age in the UK.”

Green Hat
The Green Hat is about creativity, looking at alternatives, following where a thought or idea might lead. A Green Hat might say:

  • “Instead of manufacturing in China, perhaps we could refurbish a plant locally to meet our needs.”
  • “This is a difficult position. Let’s brainstorm some potential solutions to address the Black Hat problems.”
  • “Are there other options?”

Yellow Hat
The Yellow Hat is the optimistic hat, looking at the reasons why ideas might work, and finding the benefits of each option. A Yellow Hat might say:

  • “Can we reduce our heating or air conditioning to save on energy costs?”
  • “Our sales staff already has a lot of experience selling a similar product.”
  • “Pushing into a new market segment would open up a lot of room for growth.”

Red Hat
The Red Hat is about emotion and acknowledging feelings. When using the Red Hat, you can consider hunches, gut feelings and emotions. A Red Hat is most likely to say:

  • “That suggestion makes me angry.”
  • “I really love this project! I’m excited to work more on it!”
  • “There is no White Hat data to support it, but my gut says customers are afraid we’ll cut legacy support down the road.”

Black Hat
Finally, the Black Hat is about spotting potential problems – what could go wrong? It is not negative, but cautious and looking at possible pitfalls. A Black Hat might say:

  • “We don’t have the production capacity to expand that fast.”
  • “I’m pretty sure that would be illegal.”
  • “That idea has a lot of Yellow Hat benefits, what problems can we find with it?”


How to Use the Six Thinking Hats in Problem Solving?

When you find you have a problem you want to use the Six Thinking Hats model with, it can work best if you can get a group of people together. Six Thinking Hats can be done on your own, but you are more likely to get a more rounded view of the situation with different people involved.

You might start with the group all using the White Hat, as they gather facts and information about the problem. This doesn’t mean you cannot move into White Hat later on in the process, but facts are a great place to start!

After this each hat tends to be only used for a few minutes at a time, to enhance the thinking process.

You may start the meeting with everyone wearing the Blue Hat. In this way, you are all involved and committed to a discussion on the process, how the meeting will be conducted, and how to develop the objectives.

The next step might be to move to Red Hat thinking. This would be about asking for feelings, emotions or gut reactions to the issue under discussion. You may also find out people’s fears and concerns and how they might be affected by the issue.

Then the Yellow and Green Hats can be used to start thinking creatively and positively about the issue. Remember that all of the group must be wearing the same coloured hat at the same time, so no Black Hat thinking is allowed at this stage.

Following this you may find you move between some White Hat thinking, gathering further information that might be required after the ideas generation, and some Black Hat thinking, looking at any issues with the points that have been raised.

Because the group is all approaching the problem wearing the same coloured hat and therefore thinking in the same way, this can result in a more collaborative approach to problem-solving.


Now is your chance to see if you can apply the Six Thinking Hats model to an issue personal to you or your business.

Consider an issue you are facing. In the worksheet below, you will be metaphorically wearing each individual hat, and answering questions appropriate to the nature of that hat. This should help you think through an issue, covering all aspects of it.

What problem or issue are you facing? Be as specific as you can when documenting it.
What do I know about this problem?
What don’t I know about this problem?
What can I learn from this problem?
What more would I like to learn about this problem?
How will I go about acquiring the facts, stats and data that will help me resolve this problem?
What potential solutions exist based on the facts, stats and data that I have collected?
Click here to enter your note
What problem am I facing?
How can I best define this problem?
What is my goal and outcome?
What do I seek to achieve by solving this problem?
What is the most effective method of proceeding from this position?
How can I best organise and arrange my thinking to help move me beyond my present circumstances?
Click here to enter your note
What is my gut instinct about this issue?What are my feelings telling me about the choices I can make?
Based on my feelings, what is the best way to go about this?
Intuitively, what do I believe is the right solution to this problem?
Click here to enter your note
How can I best approach this problem?
How can I logically and realistically make this work?
What positive outcomes could result from this action?
What are the long-term benefits of this action?
Click here to enter your note
What alternative possibilities could exist here?
Could this be done in another way?
How can I look at this problem from a unique perspective?
How can I think outside the box about this?
What if…?
Click here to enter your note
Are there any fatal flaws in my ideas?
What is the drawback to this way of thinking?
How many ways is this likely to fail?
What are the potential risks and consequences associated with this?
Do I have the necessary resources, skills and support to pull this off?
Click here to enter your note

Further Information

We hope you have found this information and activity useful but to learn more visit http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php

Join the Zing365 Club
Sign up to our free newsletter

What's next?

We have also found a few articles that you might be interested in: