Six thinking hats

I’ve been wanting to try out Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats for a while now, and finally got the opportunity in a workshop last week.

I was working with a team who had a vague understanding of the roles we ought to be playing, and we wanted to clarify them. We only had a short time for the meeting, so we used the hats to help us. In an unstructured meeting, everyone will have a particular bias. Some people are very positive and look for the good in everything. Others are risk-averse. Others like to concentrate on the facts, or see the big picture. By focusing on each aspect of these in turn, we were able to give voice to everyone’s preferred bias.

As the facilitator, I took the blue hat – the big picture – and used it to introduce the agenda for the meeting, outline our objectives, and summarise what we’d learnt at each stage. Each stage was simply a brainstorm with post-it notes, which we stuck on different areas of the wall around the room.

The team started with the yellow hat, looking at the positive aspects of the problem – what our proposed solution would achieve, and what resources and people we had available or hoped to use to solve the problem.

Then we used the black hat to work out what risks might jeopardise our solution. I used the concept of a futurespective here, too, as a number of the participants confessed to having a positive bias. “It’s three years from now, and we failed. Why? What happened?”

The white hat – focused on facts – helped us look at what we knew about the problem and the solution, and what was still puzzling.

At each stage we spotted themes. I now took the blue hat again and repeated these briefly for everyone present.

We used the green hat creatively to work out what our roles should be, given the yellow, black and white hats.

As a result, we realised that up until the workshop, we had been very focused on technical detail, and not as much on the people-oriented aspects of the problem. I kept the red hat with its emotional focus in reserve in case anyone seemed unhappy, but everyone was smiling when they left, and my team-mates declared the workshop a success!

I borrowed the programme for the hats from Wikipedia, which has a great summary. We ran the meeting across virtual conferencing in three countries, using big, coloured pictures of hats to remind everyone of the focus, and to provide a visual anchor and memory aid. Dan mind-mapped the results; this also works very well with the pre-defined themes.

Next time I think real (or paper) hats may be in order…

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5 Responses to Six thinking hats

  1. Andrew says:

    Interesting. I’d not heard about Six Thinking Hats until I came across it here, but as a result I’ve read the book.

    Was it easy to get your colleagues to try using the method? Did you introduce the basic concepts to them, or did you get them to read the book first? Will you use the method again?


  2. Julian Harty (friend and colleague), has been writing/speaking on this for some time… although focusing mostly on testing…

    You can see his talk here:

  3. Pingback: » I’ll be Learning to Learn at the Better Software conference

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  5. Pingback: Coloured hats with Liz | Agile Design – by David Draper

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