Overview: Enhancing Group Discussions and Decision-Making with Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Technique

TLDR The Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, is a powerful tool for group discussion and individual thinking. It segments thought processes into six distinct approaches, each represented by a colored hat. This method enhances focus, creativity, and collaboration, making it great for effective decision-making and problem-solving.


As I mentioned in my previous post, Unlocking Innovation and Value: A Summary of SRI's Five Disciplines of Innovation (5DOI), innovation is a key driver of growth and value creation. It is a complex process that requires a systematic approach to be successful. SRI International has developed a framework for innovation called the Five Disciplines of Innovation (5DOI). This framework include a technique called "Value Creation Forum process", which is a systematic approach to structured thinking and problem-solving. As I wrote there, that is really similar to Edward de Bono's Six Thinking, which is, in my opinion, a more general and powerful tool for group discussion and individual thinking.

While the Five Disciplines of Innovation (5DOI) framework is a systematic approach to innovation, the Six Thinking Hats is focused on structured thinking and problem-solving, allowing individuals and groups to explore different ideas and approaches to a problem without getting into a debate involving personal opinions.

The thinking hats allows for what's called "enclothed cognition", which is a phenomenon in which the clothes you wear (including hats) can affect your psychological processes. In other words, the hats help you to think in a certain way.

Introduction to Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats is a model introduced by Edward de Bono in 1985. It's a thinking process that simplifies and streamlines discussions, particularly in group settings. By "wearing" different colored hats, participants can switch perspectives and explore various angles of a problem.

In my experience, physically wearing the hats is important. It helps to keep the conversation focused and on track, and helps the participants to "own" their role. It also helps to keep the conversation from getting personal, which is more important than what you think. The hats are a tool to help you think, not a way to judge others. Once you judge others or get personal, the conversation is about the people, not about the ideas. And once that happens, the conversation is over and people will start defending their positions instead of exploring new ideas.

Once you wear a hat, you are only allowed to speak and share ideas from that perspective. This means, that if you are wearing the black hat, you can only share critical thoughts and ideas. Wearing the hat also protects you from becoming the "bad guy" or the devil's advocate in a conversation. It's not you, is the hat.

Why the Six Thinking Hats Method is so interesting?

This method is intriguing as it breaks down complex decision-making processes into manageable parts. It encourages diverse perspectives, reduces conflict, and makes it easier to have constructive dialogue. The Six Thinking Hats approach is a game-changer for teams and individuals seeking to enhance their problem-solving skills and actually get things done in a collaborative way.

Why You Should Use This Method

  • Enhances Creativity: Encourages out-of-the-box thinking in a safe way.
  • Reduces Conflict: By seeing things from multiple perspectives and using the hats, misunderstandings and conflicts are minimized as it helps prevent getting personal.
  • Streamlines Decision-Making: Makes group discussions more focused and efficient, as there is a structured approach to the conversation.

The Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats method uses 6 thinking hats, each of which represents a different perspective. The hats are:

  1. White Hat: Focuses on data and facts. (What information do we have? What information do we need?)
  2. Red Hat: Represents emotions and feelings. (How do we feel about this? What are our gut reactions?)
  3. Black Hat: Concerns caution and critical thinking. (Something like the Devil's Advocate, from which there is always something to learn)
  4. Yellow Hat: Symbolizes optimism and positive thinking. (What are the benefits? What are the opportunities?)
  5. Green Hat: Represents creativity and new ideas. (What are some alternatives? What else can we do?)
  6. Blue Hat: Manages the thinking process. (What is the goal? What is the next step? Who is responsible for each step?)

Examples in Fictional and Real-Life Situations

  • Corporate Strategy Meeting: You discuss a new product launch strategy from different perspectives, in a structured way.
  • Educational Setting: Teachers use hats to encourage students to explore different perspectives.
  • Personal Decision-Making: An individual uses hats to evaluate career options, weighing facts, emotions, risks, benefits, creative possibilities, and overall planning.

The Six Thinking Hats Method in Action

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step is to define the problem or issue you want to address.

Step 2: Assign Roles

There are three main roles in my experience:

  1. Facilitator: The facilitator is responsible for
  2. guiding the conversation and making sure that the rules are followed,
  3. making sure that the conversation is focused on the problem and not on the people,
  4. intervening if the conversation gets personal.

It is important to note that the facilitator should not be the one that is wearing the hats, as it is difficult to manage the conversation, wear the hats and try not to be biased at the same time. (been there, done that 😁)

This person usually wears the blue hat (according to some sources), as it is the one that manages the thinking process. I like to leave the facilitator without a hat because thinking process, or processes in general, are also part of the perspectives the group should explore.

  1. Recorder: The recorder is responsible for taking notes and keeping track of the ideas and perspectives that are shared. You can think of this person as someone who wears the white hat, as it is the one that focuses on data and facts but, as I said with the facilitator, I like to leave this person without a hat.

  2. Participants: The participants are the ones that wear the hats and share their ideas and perspectives.

Step 3: Assign Hats

According to the topic to explore and discuss, and the number of participants, I personally use two approaches:

  1. Assign hats to participants: Assign each participant a role, represented by a hat. For example, one person can be the white hat, another the red hat, and so on. You can also assign multiple hats to one person, depending on the size of the group. This allows for a more focused conversation, as each person is responsible for a specific perspective, but prevents the participants from exploring other perspectives and the group from exploring the topic as a whole.
  2. Rotate hats: Assign each participant the same hat and rotate the hats after a certain amount of time. This allows for a more holistic conversation, as each participant is responsible for all the perspectives, but it can be more time-consuming.

Step 4: Explore Perspectives

Once you have decided on the approach to use, you can start exploring the different perspectives. The facilitator should guide the conversation and make sure that the rules are followed. The recorder should take notes and keep track of the ideas and perspectives that are shared.

Step 5: Summarize and Decide

Once you have explored all the perspectives, you can summarize the ideas and perspectives that were shared and make a decision. If there are to many ideas and insights, you can use a tool like Affinity Diagrams to group them and make sense of them.

This looks something like this:

Affinity Diagram from mindtools.com
Affinity Diagram from mindtools.com.

In easy words, you write each idea on a sticky note and group them by similarity and then assign them a name for each group, much like a category. This allows you to make sense of the ideas and insights and to make a decision.

If the time allows it, you can this in the same session. Depending on the topic, number of participants and time available, I sometimes leave this as a task for the facilitator and the recorder. They then analyse and prepare the results for the next session to be discussed and decided on.

Step 6: Results and Follow Up

Once you have made a decision, you can start implementing it. It is important to follow up on the decision and to make sure that it is implemented. This can be done in a follow-up session, where you can use the same approach to explore the results and to make adjustments if necessary.

In the previous step, in the discussion of the results, you also decide on the next steps and assign responsibilities. This is important, as it makes sure that the decision is implemented and that the next steps are clear.

By not way should you leave the session without a clear next step and a responsible person for each step. This is a common mistake that I have seen many times. People leave the session with a decision, but without clear next steps and a responsible person for each step. This leads to the decision not being implemented and the next steps not being clear, which leads to frustration and a waste of time, and worst of all, with the feeling that the methodology does not work.

Key Takeaways

  • Structured Thinking: The 6 thinking hats provides a clear framework for discussions.
  • Defined Roles: The hats and roles allow for a clear definition of what is expected and give the participants the freedom and security of exploring different perspectives that they would not usually pursue.
  • Focus: The hats help to keep the conversation focused and on track, and help the participants to "own" their role. (if I'm being the Devil's Advocate, it's not me, it's the hat, and I may as well play my role right. Later I will be able to say my creative ideas, or my need to get data, and so on.).
  • Safe: The hats help to keep the conversation from getting personal.


  1. Edward de Bono's book "Six Thinking Hats"
  2. Affinity Diagrams
  3. Experiences using the method in different settings and with different groups.

  • Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links to books I endorse. Should you choose to make a purchase through these links, I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, I recommend only those books I've personally read and found valuable. 


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