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Six Thinking Hats: A Path to Balanced Decisions

Need a new strategy for business decisions? Explore how the Six Thinking Hats can transform your approach and bring balance to the decision‑making process.

Business decisions are often deeply complex. You might have lots of possible choices, but it’s not always clear which one is best. Sometimes, a solution seems good at first, but then it causes surprise problems later.

For example, cutting costs by using cheaper materials might make more money at first. But if customers get upset because your product’s quality declined, this change could backfire. Having a good system to think through all sides of a decision can help you avoid these kinds of mistakes.

One proven approach is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method. It offers a structured way to look at decisions from different viewpoints by addressing facts, emotions, creativity, caution, and more. Use this guide to learn how to use these 6 hats in your own business to make well-rounded and effective choices.

Understanding Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method

The Six Thinking Hats technique streamlines decision-making by using 6 color-coded hats to represent different ways of thinking. For example, one hat encourages you to look at the facts, while another is for creative ideas. This enables individuals and groups to think clearly through a business challenge and confidently make good choices. 

Edward de Bono introduced this concept in his book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. This laid the groundwork for his later book, the aptly named Six Thinking Hats, where he further developed these ideas.

As a Maltese physician, philosopher, and psychologist, de Bono wrote these books to help people focus on one thing at a time, instead of doing too much at once. His 6 hats idea aims to avoid issues like groupthink and overload by breaking the process into smaller parts.   

By using this thinking process, you and your team can tackle each choice from all angles. It helps assess how well the solution might work and reveal possible issues, reducing the risk of unforeseen problems affecting your business.

What each of the Six Thinking Hats represents

Six Thinking Hats is lateral thinking at its finest. This creative brainstorming process uses colored hats as symbols to represent different modes of thinking. Each hat is a reminder to shift mindsets purposefully to uncover insights that typical gut feelings would miss. Here’s what putting each thinking hat on uncovers.

Blue hat

When you put on the blue hat, you take on the role of guiding the thinking process. Often referred to as the conductor hat, this is the starting point for using the Six Hats method. It’s also the only hat that interacts with the other hats, helping address your business problem in a complete and balanced way.

While in blue hat mode, you set the agenda, define the goals, and ensure that the thinking process stays on track. Since you have a high-level view, you also get to decide what order to move through the different hats.

As the process control leader, it’s your job to manage conflict and help team members move past roadblocks. Your support is pivotal to ensuring a smooth and productive problem-solving session.

Green hat

Wearing the green hat is all about letting your creativity run wild. Rational analysis and judgment don’t apply to the creative hat wearer. Instead, you’re encouraged to think beyond limits into undiscovered possibilities.

When in green hat mode, you’re in charge of brainstorming creatively, coming up with even the most off-the-wall ideas. You’re the creative spark that ignites imaginative thinking and encourages fresh ideas to bloom. 

Above all else, you want to break free from traditional thought patterns. Here you can play in the world of what if without being limited by reality. Aim to come up with novel solutions, not determine if they’re practical or even possible.

Yellow hat

Yellow hat thinking brings a ray of optimism and positivity to the thinking process. It’s where you focus on the benefits of each idea while remaining unflinchingly upbeat about the possibilities.

In yellow hat mode, it’s your job to see the glass as half full and share whatever silver linings you discover. This hat centers around constructive thinking, helping the team see the value in their creative solutions.

The positivity of the yellow hat wearer can bring a sense of hope and enthusiasm to the decision-making process. This serves as a driving force that motivates the team to explore new ideas without getting bogged down by the challenges. 

Red hat

The red hat symbolizes your inner emotional state. It gives you the freedom to draw from pure emotion and instinct without data to back it up. Logic does not rule the wearer of the red hat.

While wearing the red hat, your gut reaction uncovers truths hidden in your subconscious. You just note what you feel in the moment and follow your intuition for additional insights.

The red hat can also reveal the underlying sentiments of your team members. Addressing these feelings keeps the communication lines open and honest, potentially yielding better human-centered decisions.

White hat

The white thinking hat deals strictly in objective facts. This means no guesswork, hyperbole, or personal opinions apply when wearing this hat.

When you don the white hat, you focus solely on gathering and analyzing concrete information. Your role is to sift through data, statistics, and proven facts to provide a clear and unbiased perspective.

Wearing the white hat puts you in charge of maintaining objectivity and rationality in the decision-making process. It helps prevent hasty or ill-informed choices by grounding them in reality.

Black hat

The black hat represents critical thinking and caution. The black hat wearer is the skeptic who examines ideas and solutions without giving in to undue optimism.

In black hat mode, you’re responsible for finding pitfalls, risks, and drawbacks associated with each idea. This hat encourages a realistic look at all the problems that could arise from each choice.   

While the black hat may seem pessimistic, it’s key to balanced strategic thinking. By asking what could go wrong, this hat strengthens plans by identifying risks when they are simple to fix. In short, it protects against blind spots from becoming painful snags down the road.

How the Six Thinking Hats technique promotes better decision-making

Edward de Bono compared tackling messy decisions to trying to juggle too many balls at once. Many people get overwhelmed by the storm of emotions, facts, and ideas all tangled together. It gets mentally exhausting. Just like an overloaded juggler, it’s easy to lose focus and drop balls instead of figuring things out before you get started.

The Six Hats technique works kind of like training wheels for the mind. Instead of handling everything at the same time, it breaks down your thinking into multiple steps: You put on one thinking hat at a time to focus on different angles individually. This prevents decision-makers from getting stressed out by information overload.

Other benefits of switching to this type of strategic thinking include:

  • Gaining different perspectives: Each thinking hat helps break people away from always looking at problems from the same perspective. It fosters a more complete understanding of various viewpoints, leading to more well-rounded choices.
  • Encouraging creative thinking: By using different hats, this method encourages exploring fresh ideas and prevents sticking to the same old ways of thinking. It sparks creative perspectives that might not come up in regular round-table chats.   
  • Enhancing communication skills: Each hat helps with clear communication, making it easier to share ideas and understand each other. This boosts interpersonal skills and helps teams work better together.
  • Promoting minimal conflict: The various roles decrease misunderstandings from different thinking styles. This promotes a more harmonious, conflict-free environment for streamlined decision-making.   
  • Simplifying the decision-making process: Breaking down decisions into steps makes complex problems simpler to handle. It prevents your team from feeling overwhelmed and provides a clear path forward.
  • Boosting meeting productivity: The Six Hats method leads to better meetings by providing a clear roadmap and reducing off-topic chats. This helps keep everyone focused and on track toward achieving shared goals.

Overall, Six Thinking Hats can have a positive impact on decision-making for businesses of all sizes. Whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a large team, you can customize this approach to suit your needs. It’s a versatile tool for better problem-solving and creativity whenever you need solutions.    

Practical applications for the Six Thinking Hats technique

Companies can use the Six Thinking Hats for practically any decision imaginable.

Product development

Teams can use the Six Thinking Hats to look at new products from all angles, like what customers might love, what could go wrong, and how to be really creative.  

Project management

This method can help you manage projects better by organizing a plan, thinking about the team’s feelings, and preparing for surprises along the way.

Marketing strategy

The Six Hats method is perfect for marketing as it blends hard facts with insights into customer emotions. This understanding paves the way to cool, new ideas that resonate with your audience.

Customer experience

The Six Thinking Hats technique helps improve your customer’s experience with your brand by getting into your customer’s shoes, predicting what they want, and fixing any problems. 

Conflict resolution

The hats can help resolve conflicts by highlighting every side of an argument, from how people feel to what makes sense, and finding solutions that work for everyone.

Long-term planning

The 6 hats are invaluable for long-term strategic planning. The various outlooks enable teams to envision future trends and challenges with a mix of optimism, caution, and innovative thinking.

How to use the Six Thinking Hats individually and in groups

The Six Thinking Hats technique works well in both solo and team environments. It’s a measured way to think through problems and make smart choices that lead to the ongoing success of the business. Explore the following sections to learn what this method might look like in either setting.

With a team

When working in a team, Six Thinking Hats leads to shared understanding, better thinking skills, and quality decision-making. For smaller teams, each member can wear the same hat at the same time. That way, the group can focus collectively on one part of the problem before moving to the next.

Alternatively, each team member can take on a different hat, bringing varied viewpoints to the table at the same time. Perfect for larger groups, this approach drives lively talks and helps to quickly identify a wide range of issues and solutions. It’s important that the team cycles through all the hats to ensure a balanced view and get as many new ideas as possible. 

While the blue hat should always come first to structure the talk, the other hats don’t have to be in a certain order. But it’s helpful if some come before others when working in a team.

An example of how this could work:

  1. Blue: Set goals and create an agenda.
  2. Green: Brainstorm to come up with new ideas.
  3. Yellow: Explore each idea’s benefits and value.
  4. Black: Investigate the drawbacks of the ideas.
  5. White: Identify the most promising and realistic ideas.
  6. Red: Determine if any realistic ideas make the team apprehensive.  

This method offers an organized yet flexible way to solve problems in teams. It leads to better decisions by considering everyone’s views and covering all parts of the dilemma.   

On your own

When you must decide on your own, you take on the role of each hat in turn. This approach allows you to explore the problem from various angles before deciding.

It’s up to you how you cycle through the hats, but the process might look like this:

  1. Begin by creating a spreadsheet with each hat, its purpose, and a place for your notes.
  2. Wear the blue hat first to look at the big picture, set your goals, and plan your thinking process.
  3. Put on the white hat to gather and analyze data about the problem and potential solutions.
  4. Don the red thinking hat to explore any relevant gut reactions and emotions you may have.
  5. Change to the black hat next to detect potential risks and problems with the possible solutions.
  6. Switch to the opposite perspective by wearing the yellow hat to look for benefits and value.
  7. End with the green hat to think creatively and consider new ideas.

By the end of this cycle, you should have a well-rounded view of the entire situation. You can then use that view to make a decision that feels right, knowing you’ve thought it through carefully.

Six Hats for 6 perspectives on business choices

Your business success hinges on making the right choices. It’s the foundation upon which everything else thrives. However, solving problems can be challenging without a surefire system like Six Thinking Hats. These hats bring order and guide the thought process, making sure your choices cover all the bases, prevent costly mistakes, and lead your business in the right direction. So, put on your thinking hats and let the journey toward better decision-making begin.

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