Six Thinking Hats

I just finished reading Six Thinking Hats. Originally published in 1985 by Edward De Bono. According to Wikipedia:

Edward de Bono (born 19 May 1933) is a Maltese physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant. He originated the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools.

My copy of the book was an orange penguin classic. Big shoes to fill. I saw it on the shelves of the psychology section of a large bookstore in the inner city. Just from the title, I knew what it was about. Even so, I felt that I ought to read it anyway because that message was worth knowing in detail.

Having read it I would say that the idea itself is 4.5 stars. The book maybe 3 stars. It had a bit too much fluff for my taste.

The book has a central thesis or premise besides the six thinking hats themselves. It’s that in our normal everyday thinking, we cobble together different types (or directions) of thinking. And it is ineffective or even self-defeating. The specific term he repeatedly used was that the mind can only be “sensitised” in one direction at a time.

What gets me really excited about this is drawing greater power from thinking by using these different directions separately and single-mindedly, in their due turn. Noting the best fruits from each. In doing so building a more balanced mental landscape; one that has the positives, negatives, facts, emotions, new ideas and clear oversight neatly shown. Perhaps even making thinking and decision making like a fun game.

It should be noted that this book was rich in examples (perhaps 40% of the content was examples). I believe without exception the examples were a business or meeting context.

Enter the six thinking hats:

White. Like white printer paper from a computer. The white hat is about information. Objective or empirical facts. You may report the fact that someone stated an opinion but when wearing the white thinking hat you may not state your own opinion, this would be done wearing a different hat.

Red. Passionate like blood. About pure emotion and intuition. State how you are feeling about what is at hand in its raw form, without rationalising about it. What your instinct is beneath thought.

Black. Foreboding, depressing and where bad decisions lead. This is the hat of cautious, negative thinking. In other words fear, anxiety and pain: avoidance oriented. Of seeing the fault in ideas or arguments. The downside.

Yellow. Sunny and golden. The hat of hope. The bright side. Seeing the potential benefits or positive reasons for doing something. Seeing the good things about a proposal.

Green. Seeds and new growth. This is the hat of creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. “Off the wall” ideas are encouraged here. You can put on this hat when you need to come up with something new.

Blue. The blue sky. The hat of overview and control. Asking the right questions, summoning the right hats when necessary. The blue hat is what must chair the other hats, frame and direct the thinking. Perhaps it’s like the executive functioning mind?

six-thinking-hats

I’m excited about being able to look at projects that I’m struggling on with each thinking hat independently. This is a highly unintuitive thing to do but to me doing so seems inherently powerful. A crucial step towards that ever-illusive control of one’s own mind. In particular, like most people I have the habit of letting cautious or emotional thinking in the moment ultimately control me. This is what we evolved to do because cautious or first glance thinking was statistically safer. However, this is no longer particularly useful, is it? If yellow, white, green or blue hat thinking got a chance to examine a situation as well, then there’d be a mindset that was superhuman in its intelligence. A chance to view things in a different light.

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