When listening to the radio today I heard a commentator bemoan the quality of education. He said, “Today’s school leavers can’t separate facts from opinions.” This reminded me how we use Edward de Bono’s (famous?) model of Six Thinking Hats in employee development.
de Bono says we should think about how we think, and learn to consciously structure our thinking approach about issues by using different modes of thinking one at a time. By focusing on one mode at a time, excluding the others, we treat each mode fully. In this way, when we have gone through all the modes, we will then have looked at an issue systematically, comprehensively and in-depth.
You can use the different modes by yourself or with a group in a meeting.
What are the different modes?
- White hat – Looking for facts about the issue.
- Red hat – Looking for opinions and feelings about the issue.
- Yellow hat – Looking at the issue positively.
- Black hat – Looking at the issue negatively.
- Green hat – Looking at the issue creatively.
- Blue hat – Let’s recheck we have fully used the other hats, and then let’s draw conclusions.
de Bono uses the term ‘hat’ for mode because ‘putting on a hat’ is a simple mental discipline that aids self-control – “Let’s put on White hats so that we only consider the facts of the issue and exclude for the moment any opinions or feelings.” After you have done all your White hat thinking, you take off the White hat and put on the Red hat, when you look only at your opinions and feelings about the issue.
The structure of the six thinking hats makes sense. The first pair, White and Red, separate facts and opinions, something that our education system apparently doesn’t get school leavers to do. They are complementary hats. I am sure most people would say that decisions should be based on an analysis of the facts. But, we don’t always have all the facts and, even when we think we do, we may take different perspectives of them. After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. So, we begin with White hat thinking in which we look only at the facts (and identify gaps in our factual information which we will then aim to fill). We then put on Red hats to ask what our gut feelings are. By surfacing our feelings, our intuition, we expose our biases and perhaps hidden knowledge which influence the way we look at facts, and we also trigger the search for more or different facts to support our feelings.
The second pair are the Yellow and Black hats. They are also a complementary pair. As a natural optimist, I tend to wear a Yellow hat but there are other people who are Black hat pessimists. By wearing the two hats one after the other, we can get pessimists to put aside their “It’ll never work” look at what might be possible. And we can play devil’s advocate to (naive) optimists, to bring them down to earth, and to be practical about the possible problems.
The Green hat stands alone. This asks, “If we do this, what else might it offer us?” Creative thinking is valuable because it frees you from the immediate constraints of the issue and can bring extra value.
And then finally the Blue hat takes you back to check you have used all the hats fully, and then to say “After all this thinking, what conclusions can we now reasonably draw?”
In bquest, we use the Six Thinking Hats in team development settings where we aim to develop the team’s collective skills in evaluating new ideas. And we use it in 1:1 coaching to get an individual to manage their thinking.
It is a simple powerful employee development model. Maybe they should use it in schools?