Six Thinking Hats

Looking at a Decision From All Points of View

‘Six Thinking Hats’ is an important and powerful technique. It is used to look at decisions from a number of important perspectives. This forces you to move outside your habitual thinking style, and helps you to get a more rounded view of a situation.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono’s book ‘6 Thinking Hats‘.

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. This is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.

Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and more emotional people may fail to look at decisions calmly and rationally.

If you look at a problem with the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, then you will solve it using all approaches. Your decisions and plans will mix ambition, skill in execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.

How to Use the Tool

You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own. In meetings it has the benefit of blocking the confrontations that happen when people with different thinking styles discuss the same problem.

Each ‘Thinking Hat’ is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:

  • White Hat: neutral and objective, concerned with facts and figures
    With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.
  • Red Hat: the emotional view
    ‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.
  • Black Hat: careful and cautious, the “devil’s advocate” hat * 
    Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans ‘tougher’ and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real benefits of this technique, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.
  • Yellow Hat: sunny and positive 
    The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
  • Green Hat: associated with fertile growth, creativity, and new ideas
    The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.
  • Blue Hat: cool, the color of the sky, above everything else-the organizing hat 
    The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.

Exercise:

Here’s an exercise (inspired by Bono ideas) which will work very well with those who have been required to read Six Thinking Hats prior to getting together to brainstorm. Buy several of those delightful Dr. Seuss hats (at least one of each of the six different colors, more if needed) and keep the hats out of sight until everyone is seated. Review the agenda. Review what de Bono says about what each color represents. Then distribute the Dr. Seuss hats, making certain that someone is wearing a hat of each color. Proceed with the discussion, chaired by a person wearing a Blue or White hat. It is imperative that whoever wears a Black hat, for example, be consistently negative and argumentative whereas whoever wears a Yellow must be consistently positive and supportive. After about 15-20 minutes, have each person change to a different colored hat. Resume discussion.

Six Thinking Hats” is about improving communication and decision-making in groups.

Summary: Bono puts thinking into steps: 1. Information 2. Benefits 3.Critical thinking 4. Feelings 5. Creative thinking 6. Thinking about the thinking and creating and action plan for implementation.

How would you incorporate the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ in clinical data management?

Reference:

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, 1999

http://www.mindtools.com

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