By Edward D. Bono
Most leaders and managers are familiar with meetings that aren't as productive as they should be. By using “parallel thinking,” where participants focus on one part of a discussion at a time, productivity is increased. This method uses the analogy of different colored hats to represent six modes of thinking. By having everyone wear the same color “hat” at the same time, it creates a group focus with a single point of view.
“A discussion should be a genuine attempt to explore a subject rather than a battle between competing egos.”
By moving from hat to hat, the group is able to focus more specifically on each part of the issue individually. These switches from hat to hat are also effective in keeping things moving when roadblocks pop up. At times, individuals or individual groups may wear a particular hat, focusing on a specific point of view. This allows people to step into unfamiliar roles and helps them to look at things differently, understand other roles better, and gain insight.
The Blue Hat
This hat is all about control, planning, and organizing. This hat should be worn by the leader of the meeting from the beginning to help define issues and maintain focus. The blue hat can be used individually for effective daily planning, scheduling, and other activities that depend on organized thinking. This hat is useful in analyzing the results that come from wearing other hats and helps tie things together.
The White Hat
When it's time to gather the facts objectively, it's time to put on the white hat. The thought processes here should be about what information is available and what additional information is needed. This provides an opportunity to make sure everyone involved is aware of the facts and how they impact the issue at hand. Individually, the white hat represents a mindset for research, intense reading, and other tasks that create better understanding.
The Red Hat
Wearing the red hat promotes the expression of feelings and intuition. No decision in business or life is purely logical. All decisions have an element of emotion that should always be taken into account. This way of thinking allows people to tell how they “feel” about an issue without judgment and can often lead to important ideas that may be missed with other ways of thinking. Thinking about how a decision will affect people's lives is an example of red hat thinking.
“The simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity.”
The Black Hat
Black is the color of critical thinking. Playing the devil's advocate is an important part of making decisions and requires objectivity. Wearing this hat enables people to view ideas and decisions with a focus on flaws and errors. Evaluating the decision making process as it is unfolding provides the chance to find inconsistencies, vague points, and anything else that prevents the final solution from being effective.
The Yellow Hat
The yellow hat is the “positive thinking” hat. This mode of thinking focuses on constructive, progressive points of view. Balanced thinking requires the ability to see best case scenarios and rewarding outcomes just as much as it depends on critical analysis. Wearing the yellow hat means keeping negatives in check and a willingness to take a leap of faith that things will come together and work out in the end.
The Green Hat
Green represents creativity. This is the brainstorming hat, where lots of thoughts and ideas are coming fast. The focus here is about “what ifs” and generating as many ideas as possible without judgment or criticism. This flow of ideas will create a lot of potentially irrelevant material, but it will also uncover some revelations that just couldn't be seen when wearing a different hat. Even the seemingly “bad” ideas may become useful when viewed with a different hat.
The idea of “thinking hats” may seem like something from grade school, but this separating and combining of thought processes can be very effective. It provides focus, versatile thinking, and a way for individuals to broaden their thinking skills and learn unfamiliar roles.