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Written by Natacha Wilson

Get your teams thinking! Use the Six Hats for impact.

As a learning and development consultant and coach, I am always interested in the way we use our mind and how we think. The average person has typically more than 6,000* thoughts in a single day.This explains how difficult it can be to focus our attention on a single discussion or idea throughout the day.

We are bombarded by very different types of thoughts and emotions, which makes thinking and communicating difficult. We switch from gut-feel, facts, logic to creative thoughts with very little control. In short, we try to do much at once, which impacts our problem solving skills, broader productivity and wellbeing.

Moving from multi-thinking: to parallel thinking 

Have you noticed that your thinking can be random and switch between ideas and emotions quickly? We seem to have nurtured this by encouraging the “art of multi-tasking” and “multi-thinking”. Whilst we may perceive this thinking and working pattern as increasing productivity, research suggests that the opposite happens. Our brains are not wired for sustained multitasking, and we are paying far too high a price in lost productivity. 

To overcome the busyness of our lives and intense work schedules, we need to learn “how to think” effectively.  

Research which focuses on exactly this has been conducted by Dr Edward De Bono,  a medical doctor and leading authority in creative and conceptual thinking. De Bono argued that thinking is the ultimate human resource. We can never be satisfied with our most important skill. No matter how good we become we should always want to be better And this is very much part of my work too.

How changing hats can help you think

De Bono’s key contribution has been his understanding of the brain as a self-organised system.  

De Bono designed practical tools for thinking. One of these is the Six Hats Thinking method, which allows a thinker to do one thing at a time.
Using the Six Hats helps us separate emotion from logic and creativity from information by allocating coloured hats to the different type of thinking. Each hat represents a certain lens or perspective. Here are their characteristics: 

The blue hat

The blue hat is concerned with control in the organisation of the thinking process and the use of the other hats. In a meeting, the blue hat can be taken by the Chairperson. In other words, the Blue Hat is the conductor of the orchestra making sure everyone is reading and focusing on the same sheet and section of music! The blue hat is critical to the process. It sets the agenda, the timing and the choice/order of hats used as well as providing a summary of the discussion, conclusions reached, and decisions made.

The white hat

The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures. It will involve asking what information is available? What information would we like to have? What information do we need? What information is missing?

The Red Hat

The red hat gives the emotional view. This hat is used with some limitation and requires less of a focus. It signals intuition, feelings, and emotions when no explanation is needed. It gives validity to our feelings and intuition. It acts as an important perspective to consider, amongst lenses/hats. 

The Black Hat 

The Black Hat is cautious and careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea. It involves asking what could be the possible problems? What are the risks and points for consideration?

The Yellow hat 

The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking. it will involve asking what are the benefits of this approach or solution? What are the positives? What are the values attached to it? How could we make this work? It is the hat of positivity. 

The Green hat

The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas. It requires us to ask ourselves what are the possibilities? What are the new ideas that can help us solve this issue? Are there  any other ways we can do what we are doing?

How to use the hats in your organisation     

There are two basics ways to use the hats with your teams and in meetings: 

      • the first one is choosing the “right” hat during a conversation or discussion. The one that will help you get most information or ideas to move the discussion forward. An experienced chair or facilitator (holder of the blue hat) will know which hat to use. 
      • the second is to use the hats in sequence during meetings, with the aid of a trained facilitator. The sequence represents the order in which the hats can be used to drive discussions. The sequence can be through an evolving pattern or a pre-set when you want to explore a subject in a group or solve a problem. The most important element is to ensure that everyone uses the same hats at the same time.  For instance, for strategic planning, a healthy sequence may look like Blue hat – Yellow hat – Black hat – White hat – Blue hat – Green hat – Blue Hat. It encourages all individuals to explore the goals and challenges from the same perspective at the same time and looking, in turn at benefits, ideas, risks and further solutions. 

The magic of this approach is to encourage every member of the group to think from the same perspective at the same time.

It is helping individuals keep their focus and concentration on one aspect of the question or problem and allows them to share their thoughts and views with others. In other words, it promotes parallel thinking which, in turn, fosters creativity. It also ensures that a breadth of perspectives, ideas, and opinions from all group members are shared and explored, before making a decision.

Increased productivity and creativity 

The benefits of using the six thinking hats method are numerous. It helps reduce unnecessary friction and conflict when individuals are arguing that their perspective is the correct one. It encourages everyone to wear the same hats at the same time, therefore thinking from the same perspective. It also saves hours of discussion during long meetings. With parallel thinking, individuals can add new possibilities to existing ideas to ensure the subject is fully explored fully.

From my experience, the Six Hats brings people together, increases inclusivity and aligns people’s energy in the same direction. I use this method in most of my work as it is both powerful and easy to use. With the six hats method the emphasis is on “what can be” rather than just on “what is”. It is focusing on “how we can design a way forward” not on “who is right and who is wrong”. 

I have used the Six Hats in training workshops, strategy meetings and coaching. Above all it is a powerful method which ensures that everyone is heard and that all ideas and positive energy can have its own “airtime” and be assessed against relevant criteria. 

In our current landscape, full of volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity, and when technology is playing a major role in pushing huge amount of information at us, this is the time to invest in our thinking.  “The art of thinking” remains a primary skill which needs to be fostered in organisations and teams, to boost productivity, enhance problem solving skills and foster an inclusive culture.

To find out more about the Six Hats Thinking methods and my work please get in contact with me to arrange a call or message me on LinkedIn.

*Data based on the work of J Poppenk and J.Tseng from the Department of Psychology, at Queen’s University in Canada.  

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About Natacha Wilson

Natacha Wilson, founder of Cambridge Insights, is a learning and development consultant and coach. She creates tailored development programmes, which combine 21st century skills, mindsets, and wisdom, to boost leadership capabilities and nurture innovative cultures. Her mission is to support transformational leaders and  “leaders in the making” increase their postive impact, solve global challenges and create a greater world.

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