Six Thinking Hats – A Key That Unlocks Lateral Thinking

Brainstorming is an idea-generation technique that many GiLE readers may be familiar with. It can help foster team or individual creativity – but to get the best results, structure is needed, too. This is where de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” approach may come in handy.


Can meetings at work or group discussions in a communicative classroom be efficient and still take all viewpoints into account? 


Alternatively, can reflective individuals be sure to consider questions from a range of angles?


Today I will suggest that the answer to both questions is “Yes”. Moreover, I believe that the “Six Thinking Hats” approach of Edward de Bono (1985) is still a valid means to such an end.

Six Thinking Hats - Edward de Bono's big idea


Image from: de Bono’s six thinking hats (Author: Visible Procrastinations; Source: Flickr; Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0)

Six Thinking Hats - as explained to GiLE readers

Six Thinking Hats: the basic method


This extraordinary tool was invented by the Maltese psychologist, author and consultant Edward de Bono, who died on 9th June this year. The basic idea is that any idea under consideration needs to be approached from six distinct angles, each represented by a coloured hat:


In a nutshell:


  • – The blue hat runs the meeting. They want the team to succeed.
  • – The other hats take turns to speak – and each gets to have his/her say.
  • – No personalities are involved – this is role play, not to be taken personally.

Advocates and detractors

De Bono was a strong advocate of what he termed “lateral thinking”. His “Six Thinking Hats” invites parallel consideration of issues from different perspectives. For quite a while, the approach enjoyed considerable commercial success amongst companies who liked what they saw as its pragmatism and so bought into it. Several big companies reported that management meetings had become much more efficient once they had tried out the concept.


De Bono was not without his critics, though. Six Thinking Hats may be compatible with brainstorming, but as a tool it cannot set the agenda. In terms of outcomes, some academics demanded proof that it was this approach itself – rather than something else – that delivered the results claimed for it. Finally, De Bono’s disdain for “the tyranny of logic” irked many who still saw an important role for Socratic questioning and adversarial debate in decision-making. The Six Hats may get to have their say, but then what? From their perspective, critical thinking and the testing of propositions still seemed to be needed.

Six Thinking Hats in action: how to go about it

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Proofreader and Article Writer, GiLE Foundation

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The opinions expressed in this article/publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of GiLE or its members.

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