Six Thinking Hats – A Creative Problem Solving Roadmap

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”  

~ Edward de Bono

As shocking as this may sound, adults make, on average, 35,000 decisions a day (source: Sahakian, B. J. & Labuzetta, J. N. (2013)). Compare that to the 3,000 daily decisions a child makes and you have a pretty good answer to why it is so hard to decide what’s for dinner at the end of the day!

So what is your default approach to solving problems and making decisions? Are you an eternal optimist and evaluate all situations as ‘glass half full’? Do you prefer to uncover every stone of data and facts or do you prefer to make a call based on a gut feel? We all have a default approach to viewing problems and opportunities which can lead to linear solutions that don’t deliver the best outcome.

What is Six Thinking Hats?

It stands to reason that finding a structured approach to analyzing, brainstorming and solving problems is critical. The good news is that Edward de Bono, the father of Lateral thinking, a psychologist, and creative thinking expert, has dedicated his life’s work to devising better approaches for creative thinking and problem solving that ensure multiple perspectives are considered before a decision is made. 

His most famous approach is called Six Thinking Hats and he wrote a book in 1985 by the same name. As you might guess, this tool utilizes six different hats with the idea that each hat provides a different lens through which to evaluate the situation. that you use one at a time to avoid confusion. Each hat, of a different color, is a metaphor for a specific way of thinking. By figuratively wearing each hat, you are forced to look at a problem from a different perspective.

What Does Each Hat Stand For?

Process – What process will we use to think through this problem?  What sequence of hats will we use? This hat is often worn by the person chairing the meeting to guide the timing and focus of the hats.

Facts & Information – What do we know? What don’t we know? How will we get the information we need? This hat requires neutral and objective information capture.

Feelings & Emotions – How am I feeling about the situation right now? What is my gut saying? This hat allows hunches, intuitions and impressions. It does not need justification or logic. No judgment is passed among participants.

Creativity – What ideas, alternatives or possibilities can we come up with? This is where we brainstorm new creative approaches and consider new ideas. (You can insert other brainstorming tools while you’re wearing the green hat.)

Benefits & Positivity – What is the best possible outcome? What are the benefits of this situation? Wearing this hat allows for positivity and optimism.

Cautions – What are the difficulties, risks and blind spots? How could this go wrong? This hat highlights weak points in the approach such that you’re able to mitigate them. It is similar to conducting a pre-mortem whereby you evaluate all the ways a project could go wrong, identify the high impact issues and solve for them proactively.

Download the SIX THINKING HATS Cheat Sheet

Link PDF:

How do I sequence the Hats?

Utilizing the hats can look different depending on the situation at hand. For example, when using this tool for strategic planning, you may not need to use the Red hat to discuss feelings as the planning process is more about evaluating current and future states, than it is about getting a gut feel for what the plan should look like.

Here are a few sequences that might work based on the task at hand:

  • Performance review – Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue
  • Strategy review – Blue, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green, Blue
  • Generate quick Ideas – Blue, White, Green, Blue
  • Choosing between alternatives – Blue, White, Green, Yellow, Black, Red, Blue
  • Fast Feedback – Blue, Black, Green, White
  • Strategic planning – Blue, Yellow, Black, White
  • Process improvement – Blue, White, Yellow, Black, Green, Red
  • Problem-solving – Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black
  • Crisis Management – Blue, Red, White, Green, Yellow, Black, Red, Blue

Why should I use Six Thinking Hats?

The benefits to this approach are many:

  • It provides a common language for the entire group.
  • It allows for diversity of thought by utilizing the experience and intelligence of each person.
  • It uses more parts of our brain.
  • It helps avoid patterns of thought and default approaches.
  • It removes ego and allows the process to drive the conversation.
  • It saves time.
  • It focuses on one thing at a time.

Give it a try in your next team session and let us know how it went! References:

Sahakian, B. J. & Labuzetta, J. N. (2013). Bad moves: how decision making goes wrong, and the ethics of smart drugs. London: Oxford University Press.

De Bono, E. (1985). Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management. Little, Brown, and Company.

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