The big idea
Edward de Bono is credited as the inventor of the concept of lateral thinking, which is the ability to solve problems by taking indirect or creative approaches. He has produced a wide variety of publications on creative thinking and Six Thinking Hats® is one of his best-known tools.
It is a simple idea to help you take different perspectives on an issue and think about alternative ways to move forward. De Bono himself recognises that sometimes people are hesitant about using the tool because it appears too simple; we have a tendency to favour complex solutions to complex problems. It is their very simplicity that de Bono believes has contributed to the success of Six Thinking Hats; as he points out, hats and colours are much easier to remember than specialist psychological terms or jargon. Building on the symbolic meaning of ‘thinking caps’ prevalent in some cultures, de Bono introduced the metaphor of thinking hats, with each colour corresponding to a different form of thinking.
In describing the purpose of the tool, de Bono uses the analogy of a group of people looking at a country house. One person is looking at the front of the house, one is looking at the back and two are on either side. When they come together, they each argue that theirs is the correct view of the house. Another way of looking at the house would be to walk round together and each look from the other perspective and see a different view.
This focus on parallel thinking allows everyone involved to be looking in the same direction but also provides scope for that direction to be changed. Many of us have preferred ways of thinking and may feel uncomfortable working outside this style. We may also be concerned about others seeing us as inconsistent in our thinking if we keep using a different approach.
In agreeing to use the hats, different thinking styles are both legitimised and actively encouraged. This approach can be particularly supportive of people who are less likely to put their viewpoint forward because they can try on the hats to take different views on the situation.
The tool can be used either on your own or with a group. It takes you through each of the six hats and the different thinking perspectives. The time you need to devote to the activity will depend on the problem you are addressing.