Six Thinking Hats

Posted on May 15 2009

Six Thinking Hats: The Emotional Decision Model

The Six Thinking Hats method of decision making is a process for exploring different perspectives. Why the hats you ask? Edward de Bono’s model can be used for exploring different perspectives, roles and context towards a complex situation or problem. Viewing things from various vantage points is often a good idea in strategy formation or complex decision-making processes.

Six Thinking Hats is a structured apporach to thinking using a role playing technique. If your decision must be able to accepted by diverse views of a team, this is a great model to use.

deBono’s Six Thinking Hats technique is designed to help decision makers explore a variety of perspectives on a subject that may take them to different places than the one that they might most likely assume.

de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats are meant to explore both emotional states as well as perspectives. He has been quoted to state “Emotions are an essential part of our thinking ability and not just something extra that mucks up our thinking.”

He also believes that one thinking style (or hat) is not inherently “better” than another. A well-balanced group sees the need for all hats in order for the team to consider all aspects of whatever issues they are facing.

In wearing a particular thinking hat, people play roles, or “as if” they are taking a different perspective. Many of us say “Let’s play devil’s advocate, even if only for the sake of politely listing the negatives. The purpose of devil’s advocacy is to deliberately challenge an idea: be critical, look for what is wrong with it.

Each of the Hats is named for a color that is most likely associated with the perspective that one might adopt if they were to wear it. Since we were talking about the devil’s advocate role, one would be wearing the Black Thinking Hat.

The Hats

Here is a description of all of the Six Thinking Hats:

White (Observer) Facts, figures, rumors, opinions – (White paper) – Objective; Neutral; focus on information; available, what is needed, how it can be obtained

Yellow (Self, Other) Positives, Pluses, Values, Benefits – Optimism (sunshine); LOGICAL POSITIVE view.

Black (Self, Other) Downside, caution, risk assessment, what could go wrong; judgmental; critical; LOGICAL NEGATIVE view.

Red (Self, Other) Emotions, Feelings, Intuition – Fire, warmth; hunches; present views without explanation or justification to group

Green (Self, Other) Creative, alternatives, New ideas, Variations, Modifications – Vegetation; possibilities and hypotheses

Blue (Observer) Control, conductor, ring master, organize the thinking, choices, conclusions – Sky; cool; overview; Control over process, Steps to Implementation


— chairperson, organizer; thinking about thinking

The primary benefits of using deBono’s Six Thinking Hats model allow members of the group to say things without risk. They create an awareness that there are multiple perspectives on decision. It is a convenient mechanism for alternating between perspectives in a controlled, orderly fashion. It adds rules and leadership to an otherwise potentially disorderly, emotional analysis period. deBono intended for the method to be most beneficial to groups, as individuals tend to feel constrained to consistently adopt a specific perspective (optimistic, pessimistic, objective, etc.). This is commonly referred to as “group think”. This limits the ways and extent to which each individual and the group as a whole can explore an issue. A group member must clearly identify the color of the hat he is wearing while making a statement. Wearing a clearly identified hat separates ego from performance.

With the Six Thinking Hats, one is no longer limited to a single perspective in one’s thinking. It allows an individual to mentally check off the many perspectives they need to view the situation from.

The hats can be considered categories of thinking behavior and not of people themselves. The purpose of the hats is to direct thinking, not classify either the thinking or the thinker. It is most likely to inspire creative, inspiring thinking, similar to word association. It is essentially controlled word association by our pre-conceived connotations of the color related to the hat.

Running a Six Hats Analysis Session:

Six Thinking Hats can be fun – Knock yourself out – actually find six hats of the representative colors. If this isn’t possible, create tent cards of the each of the six colors, or use colored flags. Encourage each member of the group to use the hat or flag when speaking from the matching perspective.


Step 1: Set a Time Limit for the Session. Invite participants. Invite a scribe.

Step 2: Assemble the group, introduce members if appropriate.

Step 3: Discuss the rules, and time limit per participant.

Step 4: The chairman starts, by using the White Hat on all of the Hats. He/She will Present the Facts surrounding the decision.

Step 5: Allow each member to wear the Green Hat and generate alternatives for the Decision.

Step 6: Allow each member to take both the Yellow Hat and then the Black Hat on one turn. Have them evaluate the benefits for the alternative using Yellow, and then the Drawbacks using Black.

Step 7: Allow each member to dawn the red hat and record their emotions about the alternatives.

Step 8: The chairman concludes, by explaining each member will dawn the Blue Hat, and summarize the thoughts on the decision. The members will likely express their choice in the matter. The chairman wears the hat last, and states his/her opinion, and wraps up the session.

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