TrainingZONE Glossary: Six thinking hats

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Six thinking hats

Definition: The concepts of 'six thinking hats', and more recently, 'six thinking shoes', were expounded by Edward de Bono in two books of the same names published in 1988 and 1991.

De Bono is well known for the development of his lateral thinking approaches to problem solving. In order to successfully tackle problems, he argues that we often need to see them from a new perspective, and that we are trapped by the limitations of our conventional approaches and perspective on an issue. The difficulty lies in leaving the established 'rut' and viewing the problem in a different light.

These two thinking aids were amongst several which de Bono created to enable people to generate their own new perspectives. In both cases, he argued that the options should be used metaphorically, and that the user should try to view the issue from perspective (or characteristics) of the 'hat' or 'shoe'. Having looked at the issue from each of the six different perspectives, we can then choose which is the productive 'hat' or 'shoe' to employ in tackling the situation creatively.

The development of the ability to use all six approaches prevents over-use of tried, tested and familiar responses to a situation which may often be less effective. The individual can then start to use whichever approach is most suitable to each situation.

In a training context, the use of lateral thinking techniques helps learners to find new responses to existing situations, and to build their own more diverse repertoire of behaviour skills and approaches.

The following synopsis is an illustration based on de Bono's original work:

The six thinking hats

  1. White hat: Information approach - white as in paper, printout, faxes; white paper is neutral and merely conveys information.

  2. Red hat: Feelings approach - red as in fire, red for warmth; the red hat covers feelings, emotions and intuition; helps keep people warm.

  3. Black hat: Logical Negative approach - black robes of a judge; assessing matters with stern caution and no nonsense.

  4. Yellow hat: Logical Positive approach - sunshine and optimism; look on the bright side; feel positive in the sunshine.

  5. Green hat: Creating thinking approaches - green for nature and creation; green for growth, new shoots, energy; new ideas springing up.

  6. Blue hat: Control of Thinking approaches - blue for sky and the overview; looking down on the thinking; helicoptering; blue for cool and detached but all knowing and wise.

Six thinking shoes

  1. Navy formal shoes: Formality - uniform, drill, routine, concern with formal procedures.

  2. Grey sneakers: Get Information - grey matter of the brain, fog, mist, exploration, get information.

  3. Brown brogues: Practicality - basic, hard-working, solid, practical, pragmatic; use common sense, opposite of navy formal shoes.

  4. Orange gumboots: Emergency - danger, fire, rescue; emergency action required; basic safety paramount.

  5. Pink slippers: Practicality - warmth, tenderness, home, comfort; care and compassion; surfacing emotions.

  6. Purple riding boots: Authority - regal, leadership, using status and authority; acting as a leader in an official position.

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