Six Thinking Hats – Looking at a Decision From All Points of View

Ed BurghardHow To Make Better Decisions

Ever have challenges making the right decision in complicated situations? Ever wish there was a way to increase your odds of success and minimize the probability of a bad decision?

‘Six Thinking Hats’ is an interesting and powerful technique to help improve decision-making. It is used to look at decisions from a number of critical perspectives. This 360-degree approach forces you outside your repetitive thinking style, and facilitates a more robust assessment of a situation.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono and is described in his book “6 Thinking Hats.”

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. Rational thinking is easily understood and conclusions are generally well accepted. Often, though, while comfortable rational decisions are not the best. In many cases, this is the thought process fails to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean rational, optimistic decision makers underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.

Similarly, pessimistic people can be excessively defensive. If driven by emotion alone,, they may fail to look at decisions calmly and rationally.

If you assess a problem with the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, you will be looking at it through all possible lenses. Your final decisions and plans will be an effective blend of ambition, skill in execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.

Using the Tool:

You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own. In meetings it has the benefit of blocking the confrontations that happen when people with different thinking styles assess the same problem.

Each ‘Thinking Hat’ is a different style of problem assessment.

  • White Hat:
    Wearing this hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information on hand, and determine what you can learn from it. Look for knowledge gaps, and either fill them or assess the decision risk associated with them.
  • Red Hat:
    ‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. You also need to try and think how other people will react emotionally. Brainstorm the potential responses/reactions of people who do not fully know the reasoning behind your recommended solution.
  • Black Hat:
    Black hat thinking, is all about looking at the negative aspects of your decision. Look at it objectively and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in your plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to minimize their impact. It is cheaper to fail on paper than in the market. Many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for execution challenges.
  • Yellow Hat:
    The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that allows you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to stay focused on the end goal despite setbacks in implementation.
  • Green Hat:
    The Green Hat is all about creativity. This is where you develop “out of the box” solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, with no criticism of ideas.
  • Blue Hat:
    The Blue Hat focuses on process control. This is the hat worn by people running meetings. When difficulties arise because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.


The economic development professionals in a community are looking at whether they should exhibit at an upcoming industry event. The budget is available, but there a number of other projects that could be considered for investment should the decision be to skip the event. As part of their decision they decide to use the 6 Thinking Hats technique during a planning meeting.

Looking at the problem with the White Hat, they analyze the data they have. They examine the impact of exhibiting at past events and find very few real leads have been generated. They anticipate that in light of the tight capital loan market, there will be even fewer near-term opportunities than ever before. Current government projections suggest banks should begin lending in earnest again beginning third quarter of 2010, right about the time any lead from the event would be in a position to make a location decision.

With Red Hat thinking, some of the ED professionals believe competition will be exceptionally strong at the event with many communities investing significantly more money for fewer possible deals.

When they think with the Black Hat, they worry that government projections may be wrong. The economy may be about to enter a ‘cyclical downturn’, in which case the ability of any potential lead to get capital funding will continue to be limited and communities will need to offer bigger financial incentives to help encourage a decision. Given the budget challenges of the community, increased incentive dollars will force difficult choices to maintain the budget.

With the Yellow Hat, however, if the government projection is right, the assets of the community could look very attractive, and with the recent plant closing there is available skilled labor for a company to capitalize on. Now would be the optimal time to take advantage of the labor pool and get these men and women back to work.

With Green Hat thinking they consider whether it might be a better long-term investment to accelerate the completion of the fiber optic network and make the community even more competitive for the type of work recent graduates of the local are seeking.

The Blue Hat has been used by the meeting’s Chair to move between the different thinking styles. He or she may have needed to keep other members of the team from switching styles, or from criticizing other peoples’ points.

It is well worth reading Edward de Bono’s book 6 Thinking Hats for more information on how to effectively employ this problem solving technique.

Key questions (please leave a comment with your thoughts):

  • Given the scenario above, what decision do you think the ED team should reach?
  • Have you ever been involved in a decision where, in retrospect, the 6 Thinking Hats approach might have led to a better decision?
  • What are the challenges you see in implementing the 6 Thinking Hats approach to decision making in economic development?

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8 Comments so far

  1. Meheer Thakare

    January 2, 2010

    IMO, “SIX hat Thinking” is a well structured strategy of dealing with problems. But that being said, it is not a step based method; it only enables a holistic approach to problem solving. That makes the problem solving a timely affair and arguably adds another level to the process.

    Lets say for example, Considering the “Green Hat”, may produce atleast a couple of ‘out-of-box’ solutions which may be based on several/few permutations/combination of unseen events that may need a a fair bit of attenadance. This makes the technique a potential Screw Up on account of several approaches to a problem.

    So, basically the technique must be handled by professionals who have fair experience in dealing with problem, the Six Hat way.

    Meheer Thakare,

  2. Amy Skalicky

    April 10, 2013

    I like this article, especially the visual of hats to note the various stages of good decision-making. The contemplation of possible consequences or outcomes, negative or positive, is particularly critical, but sometimes not thought through thoroughly. The black hat and the yellow hat represent the stage where I tend to create my “pros” and “cons” lists. I also appreciate the fact that this process recognizes that, while good information is fundamental to the decision-making process, we are often not logical creatures as emotions and guts often play too prominent of a part. This process allows for acknowledging and balancing both. Another plus: it encourages creative problem-solving, something that I find is often missing in the search for solutions. There are lots of good ideas to be discovered if we will just climb out of the box.

  3. Dan Meges

    April 11, 2013

    Wonderful post. This blog consistently reminds one and emphasizes that decisions and decision making are multi-faceted challenges. This is a nice example how different ways to frame the decision will lead to different conclusions and outcomes.

    I find this helpful as many time decision making relies nearly exclusively on the White hat approach when other factors (hats) need to be thought through as well.


    April 11, 2013

    From the other side of the world … and the small island republic of Malta in the Mediterranean … The proud birth-place of Prof. Edward de Bono from one of his proud students … Lateral Thinking, 6 Hats … and what nowadays the whole world recognizes as the only salvation for businesses and nations in tough times … Creativity and Innovation.

    Alfred Quintano
    Institute for Tourism
    University of Malta

  5. Sumit Roy

    April 13, 2013

    Six Thinking Hats is an inspired “Blue Hat” idea. It gives the organization a process where there was none.

    However, in experiments I’ve done with students I found that different groups came to roughly the same conclusion, given the same “brand problem” to solve.

    The difference was that the groups using “Six Thinking Hats” took longer but they enjoyed the process more.

    The groups that presented without using “six thinking hats” thought that the “hats” group wasted their time.

    I have to tell you that I believe the “hats” group had more “team spirit”. Their presentations were structured better and and handled the questions session at the end of their presentations better.

    But that’s merely my observation.

  6. Joe Stafura

    April 17, 2013

    I’m not an expert on DeBono’s Hats methods but work with some folks that are trained on the Six Hats methods. It seems very similar too other consensus building activities, so the most important decision may be upfront as to whether the building of a consensus in the area of concern is useful or harmful.

    The mind sets of the individuals need to be primed with the key considerations around the decision or the group can make decisions in a group think manner with incomplete understandings. The priming needs to be objective and neutral, from there this method can help.

  7. Joe

    April 8, 2020

    May i know your thoughts about the challenges you see in implementing the 6 Thinking Hats approach to decision making?

  8. Edward

    April 9, 2020

    Joe – The biggest challenge is patience. Most people think they have the answer and are unwilling to take the time to complete the process. That is why this approach is best used on serious versus everyday challenges.

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