Six Hats Thinking is a problem-solving process created by Edward de Bono. Its purpose is to problem solve by looking at an issue from multiple perspectives. As a result, communication and collaboration are enhanced, which makes problem-solving meetings more productive.

The six colored hats are used as metaphors for a different style of thinking.

The White Hat

The White Hat focuses on the available data, facts, information and past trends, and identifies what evidence is missing.

Questions to ask:

What do we know about this problem?

What information do we need to learn to solve this problem?

How will we go about acquiring the facts and data we need?

The Red Hat

The Red Hat focuses on using intuition, gut reaction and emotion. Discuss how others might react emotionally to your ideas.

Questions to ask:

What does our internal wisdom tell us about this solution?

What kind of emotions does this bring out?

How would others feel about this choice we are making?

The Black Hat

The Black Hat focuses on a decision's potential negative impact. It is used to expose flaws, weaknesses and dangers of proposed ideas or solutions.

Questions to ask:

What are the potential risks and consequences?

What resources or skills do we need to make this work?

What is the worst that could happen if we went forward with this idea?

The Yellow Hat

The Yellow Hat focuses on the benefits and value of ideas. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps articulate the benefits and value of the decision. Yellow Hat thinking helps infuse energy when things are challenging and difficult.

Questions to ask:

What are the elements that are working in our favor?

What is the value of this approach?

What are the long-term benefits of a successful solution?

The Green Hat

The Green Hat focuses on creativity, so you think outside of the box to explore more possibilities. It is a brainstorming way of thinking and should be free from judgment and criticism.

Questions to ask:

What alternatives exist?

If we had unlimited resources such as time, money, people, what could we do?

How could we do this another way?

The Blue Hat

The Blue Hat is the hat worn by the meeting facilitator to ensure the team stays focused and that all the other hats are being utilized. For instance, when ideas are running dry, they may prompt to use Green Hat thinking. Or, when contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking. Or, when energy is low, use Yellow Hat thinking. They also ask for summaries, decisions and action plans.

Questions to ask:

What is our problem?

What sequence of thinking hats ought we use?

What are our next steps?

In meetings, all attendees are prompted by the facilitator to put on the same color hat in order to think from the same perspective at the same time. After all attendees contribute to the discussion, they are prompted to put on the next colored hat. This process helps avoid situations of mixed thinking where one person is thinking of advantages, while another is focused on disadvantages and another on some other aspect of the problem simultaneously.

Six Hats Thinking is a simple and effective technique to facilitate problem solving meetings in a productive, methodical and collaborative manner.

Pam Solberg-Tapper is a professional certified coach, business consultant and professional speaker. She provides tools to address the challenges that face individuals and companies today.