Six Thinking Hats

by Edward de Bono, M.D.

The Six Thinking Hats offers “an alternative to the argument system, which was never intended to be constructive or creative.” The emphasis is on “how we design a way forward—not on who is right and who is wrong.”

A major benefit is time savings. De Bono claims that ABB reduced their multinational project team discussions from 21 days to two days using the Six Hats method. “In the United States, managers spend nearly 40 percent of their time in meetings… Instead of rambling, ego-driven meetings, meetings are now constructive, productive, and much faster.”

“The whole point of parallel thinking is that the experience and intelligence of everyone should be used in each direction. So everyone present wears the black hat at the appointed time. Everyone present wears the white hat at another time.”

  • The white hat is about information. De Bono makes a distinction between “believed facts and checked facts… We do definitely need the belief tier because the tentative, the hypothetical and the provocative are essential to thinking. They provide the frameworks which move ahead of the facts… When two offered pieces of information disagree, there is no argument on that point. Both pieces of information are put down in parallel. Only if it becomes essential to choose between them will the choice be made.”
  • “Using the red hat gives you an opportunity to express feelings, emotions, and intuition without any need to explain or justify them… In the end, all decisions are really ‘red hat.’ We lay out the factors but the final decision is emotional… If there is no enthusiasm for an idea, it is unlikely to succeed no matter how good it may be.”
  • “The purpose of black hat thinking is to put the caution points on the map… The black hat stops us doing things that are illegal, dangerous, unprofitable, polluting, and so on… A very important function of the black hat is risk assessment.”
  • “Yellow hat thinking is positive and constructive… [It] probes and explores for value and benefit… The thinker tries to see how it may be possible to put the idea into practice…  [The] speculative aspect of yellow hat thinking is pure opportunity thinking. It goes beyond problem solving and improvement. ” Another aspect of the yellow hat is improving an idea and correcting faults identified with the black hat.
  • “The green hat is for creative thinking… The green color symbolizes fertility, growth and the value of seeds… In green hat thinking the idiom of movement replaces that of judgment. The thinker seeks to move forward from an idea in order to reach a new idea.”
  • The leader or facilitator assumes the blue hat role.  This includes defining the purpose of the meeting. “Blue hat thinking can also be used to organize other aspects of thinking such as the assessment of priorities or listing of constraints… Careful attention to the framing and focus of a question is an important aspect of blue hat thinking.” At the end, the blue hat asks for conclusions and decisions. “Under the final blue hat the next steps can be laid out. These might be action steps or further thinking on some points.”

The sequence is determined by the blue hat role. “In an assessment situation, it makes sense to put the yellow hat before the black hat. If, under the yellow hat, you cannot find much value to the idea, there is no point in proceeding further. On the other hand, if you find much value under the yellow hat and then proceed to the black hat and find many obstacles and difficulties, you will be motivated to overcome the difficulties because you have seen the benefits.”

De Bono offers a strategy for dealing with opposing ideas. “Suppose that each one is correct under certain circumstances…  The next step is to see which of the two sets of circumstances most closely resembles the actual state of affairs.”

To summarize, The Six Thinking Hats is a “mapmaking type of thinking in which the terrain is first explored and noted. Then the possible routes are observed and finally a choice of route is made.” De Bono also notes, “The biggest enemy of thinking is complexity, for that leads to confusion. When thinking is clear and simple, it becomes more enjoyable and more effective.”

Bono, Edward. Six Thinking Hats. New York: Back Bay Books, 1999. Buy from