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Creative Thinking Models - De Bono's Thinking Hats

6 thinking hats

There are a hundreds of creative thinking models, but when you need inspiration you just want the one that works. In the first of this irregular series, Izzie Kennedy dons her thinking cap...

De Bono's 6 Thinking Hats are a famous tool that's been used and cited by many organisations. It's easy to grasp, can be applied in nearly any situation and provides a great way to approach problems from a different perspective. It was created by Edward de Bono, a psychologist, inventor and business guru. He broke down thinking into six different types, each signified by a different colour of hat: 

White Hat: This is neutral, objective thinking based on information. It assesses what data is available, and what data is required. It also looks at the quality of the data and its source. It's purely based on verifiable, existing facts. White hat thinking doesn't have subjective or emotional elements - it's purely analytical.

Red Hat: Red hat-style thinking is the opposite of White hat. It's all about emotion, intuition and gut feelings. These don't need to be explained orjustified, as expressing these feelings can be valuable in balance with input from the other hats. However, it is important that they're kept brief and on-topic.  

Black Hat: This is the devil's advocate. When wearing the black hat the aim is to identify risks, faults and problems. But it's about caut ion and problem-solving, not argument for argument's sake, so these risks need to be analysed and justified. Ideally the black hat approach should generate solutions to problems as well as highlighting them.

Green Hat: This is the creative hat. It's all about channeling intuition and feelings from the red hat into alternative solutions. When the green hat is on, discussion should be focused entirely on generating new ideas. Analysing them and judging them should wait until a different hat is being used.

Yellow Hat: The happiest hat. It's about being positive and seeing the potential in every idea. It opens up opportunities, generates energy and is a platform for sharing visions and dreams. The yellow hat should also provide concrete proposals, suggestions and support to ideas created in the green hat phase.

Blue Hat: The final hat is about process and control. When wearing the blue hat, the aim is to facilitate the discussion - "thinking about thinking". It's that hat that sets the boundaries, the focus and the agenda. It provides summaries, overviews and conclusions, and it's the hat you wear when deciding which other hat to put on.  

De Bono’s 6-hat methodology reflects the fact that people tend to have a preference for one or two kinds of thinking, and encourages actively thinking about different approaches by "swapping the hats". When you're stuck generating the same old ideas, expanding your thinking to encompass other “hats” can be a really good way to shake things up. Some of the ideas it brings up might be a little outlandish - de Bono once suggested using Marmite to help the Middle East peace process - but sometimes it can generate genuine ideas.

Have you ever used the thinking hats successfully? Or do you have another model you'd like us to take a look at? Tweet @reedlearning to let us know.

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