Introduction Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono (1933) is a British psychologist, management author and physician. De Bono invented “lateral thinking” and the concept of the “six thinking hats” in 1985. Hence the name De Bono thinking hats. This method is useful for selecting and assessing ideas and can be part of a brainstorming session.

A brainstorming session is not only about generating as many ideas as possible, but also about actively selecting and assessing ideas that can be further developed. With the thinking hats from De Bono, the ideas can be viewed from different angles and the different aspects of an idea can be highlighted in a structured way. The thought process is broken down into thought roles and mindsets, through coloured hats. The goal is to use the experience and intelligence of all participants in all directions.

The six thinking hats
The six thinking hats

De Bono’s six thinking hats are white (informative), red (emotional), black (critical), yellow (optimistic), green (creative) and blue (controlling). The thinking hats can be used in various ways when selecting ideas. You can choose to give each participant a different colour thinking hat. The participants then continuously view the ideas from their own coloured thinking hats (option 1). You can also choose to give each participant the same colour hat when viewing the idea and to go through all colours of thinking hats per idea with the entire group (option 2). While option 2 is the original way, it is time-consuming. It is wise to first make a rough selection of ideas using option 1 and then assess the rough selection of ideas using option 2.

The Bono thinking hats are mainly used in brainstorming sessions, but can also be used in meetings or as an evaluation


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Six Thinking Hats

Executing the Method

  • Step 1: Brainstorm ideas

    For this method, appoint a moderator and create a group of 3 to 6 people. Collect all ideas that are generated prior to a brainstorming session on post-its. The moderator goes through all ideas with the participants.

  • Step 2: The Bono options

    Before selecting ideas, determine in a group how the thinking hats will be applied in the session. Choose from option 1, option 2 or a combination thereof. Also, take into account the number of people in the group and the distribution of the thinking hats. With less than 6 people, it is also possible to give a participant two or three colours of thinking hat or opting for option 2. With more than 6 people in combination with option 1, participants can share a colour thinking hat with each other. Do this at your own choice and insight.

  • Step 3: Apply thinking hats

    The moderator keeps control of the process. The moderator also leads the discussion and determines which thinking hat/participant has the floor. Each participant responds to the idea that is currently being discussed, from the appropriate colour thinking hat and the corresponding mindset.

  • Step 4: Select ideas

    After viewing the ideas, a selection can be made. Do this in response to the discussion of each idea and based on the outcomes from the thinking hats. After all, every idea is illuminated from various angles.

  • Step 5: Develop ideas

    Once the ideas have been selected and assessed, the ideas can be further elaborated.


Advantages & Disadvantages

  • It teaches you to illuminate, assess and select ideas in an efficient, critical and fair way, by looking at all sides of a situation, problem or idea.