Six Thinking Hats: A Parallel Thinking and Critique Strategy
Stephanie Zollinger | University of Minnesota
Overview: This critique strategy is based on the book Six Thinking Hats (1999) by Edward deBono. Using the metaphor of wearing different colored hats, DeBono designed a very simple model but one which, applied correctly, can greatly augment critical thinking and create opportunities for solving any problems that might be confronted. The model reflects DeBono’s belief that “simple methods used effectively are more valuable than complicated methods that are difficult to understand and confusing to use” (DeBono, 1992a: p. 6). In explaining the philosophical underpinnings of his six colored hats thinking model DeBono (1992b) says that “when we attempt practical thinking, there are three fundamental difficulties” (p. 8) that we encounter:
- Emotions. We often have a tendency not to think at all but to rely on instant gut feeling, emotion, and prejudice as a basis for action.
- Helplessness. We may react with feelings of inadequacy: “I don’t know how to think about this. I don’t know what to do next.”
- Confusion. We try to keep everything in mind at once, with a mess as a result (DeBono, 1992b: p. 8)
So how does DeBono’s metaphor of wearing the six different thinking hats enable design students to overcome these difficulties when it comes to critique? The power of the colored hats metaphor in addressing these difficulties lies in the wearer’s ability to remove a hat once they have finished with it and don another one. Each hat represents a role the mind plays in the critical thinking process. By switching from one hat to another during a project critique, students are forced to look at the project from a variety of perspectives. A one-sided way of thinking is prevented, and new insights are created.
Level: Junior/Senior level; potentially any level of design studio
Duration: Approximately one hour
Each student starts with six sheets of paper – one for each hat. Students are then asked to exchange projects. The table below identifies the six hats, their characteristics, and some of the questions that should be asked with each hat. For each hat, there should be a minimum of three statements. Once each student has worked through all six hats and has jotted down at least three statements for each, the studio instructor will know that the major points in the critical thinking process have been covered.
White Hat (concerned with facts and figures)
Used to verify compliance for project/ client requirements and to note other objective information.
Have project requirements been met?
Red Hat (the emotional hat)
Used to acknowledge the non-rational aspects of thinking.
Do you believe the design has potential? What does the design concept remind you of?
Black Hat (careful and cautious, the devil’s advocate hat)
Used to identify the ideas that might not work, and to discover weaknesses of the design solution.
What are the weaknesses? Are there potential problems if the design solution is implemented?
Yellow Hat (focuses on the positive)
Used to obtain the positive outlook, this hat identifies strengths, possibilities, and benefits.
What are the strengths of the design? What are the benefits of the design solution?
Green Hat (associated with creativity and new ideas)
Used to find creative new ideas.
What completely new, fresh innovative approaches were taken? Are there any alternative ideas or solutions?
Blue Hat (the organizational hat)
Used to evaluate the overall presentation and layout of the design solution.
The colored hats are used as metaphors for the various states of mind. Switching to a certain type of thinking is symbolized by wearing a colored hat, literally or metaphorically. These six hat metaphors provide a more complete and comprehensive segregation of the types of thinking, bypassing the prejudices inherent in a person’s immediate thoughts. All of these thinking hats help people to think more deeply about a certain topic.
The Six Hats method uses the idea of role playing to move thinking toward maximum productivity. The roles are designed to be blatantly artificial, a feature which helps the student separate their individual ego from the activity. The artificiality DeBono provides makes it clear to all that wearing these hats is “play acting,” and that statements made by a person wearing the hats do not necessarily reflect that person’s unrestrained opinions. In addition, the artificiality of the roles helps emphasize the separation of the various roles that are executed in the thinking process.
Whether De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats are used one at a time, in unison, or in a sequence of steps, they represent a pedagogical model that can be used to effectively teach students how to think critically and engage in serious problem solving in a colorful and entertaining way. The model is not only good fun in the classroom, it is also versatile; it can be applied at every feasible level of critical thinking and problem-solving, from very simple to highly complicated problems. The level of sophistication depends on the learning stage of those involved in trying to solve a nominated problem. In the Six Thinking Hats model, no colored hat is prettier than another. None is more important than the other. They are all of equal value. And each has potential to contribute to the understanding of a problem and to identification of how the problem can best be solved. Applying the hats helps students learn that critical thinking and problem solving are skills anyone can learn. They are not the preserve of a few gifted individuals or those endowed with exceptional capacity for argument. Just as anyone can wear different hats, so can anyone bring different perspectives to critical thinking and problem solving.
The author has used the Six Thinking Hats method successfully with upper-level students. The technique has been quite popular with students because it minimizes confusion, facilitates coordination, and provides a definitive focus and framework for the process. Overall, the biggest advantage in using the Six Hats technique is that the energy used for resolving challenges and reaching goals is not wasted by arguing or convincing others, but in co-creating stronger solutions.
DeBono, E. (1992a). Six Thinking Hats for Schools. Resource Book 3. Melbourne, VIC: Hawker Brownlow Education.
DeBono, E. (1992b). Six Thinking Hats for Schools. Resource Book 4. Melbourne, VIC: Hawker Brownlow Education.
DeBono, E. (1999). Six Thinking Hats. New York: MICA Management Resources, Inc.