Six Thinking Hats

Jan 03, 2019

So many times, we have heard this from our teachers or parents - "Put on your thinking cap!". But how do we actually put on a thinking cap and solve a problem in front of us?

Solving a problem requires critical and creative thinking and the Six Thinking Hats provides a framework for this lateral thinking process which can be used to solve complex problems by viewing it from six different perspectives. The Six Thinking Hats framework was defined by Dr. Edward De Bono, a Maltese physician, psychologist, philosopher, inventor and author. He originated the term "Lateral Thinking" and wrote an immensely popular book called "Six Thinking Hats".

Since the time of its inception, the Six Thinking Hats have found takers across the world. It is used effectively globally across numerous schools, universities and organizations. A very popular known application of the Six Thinking Hats was during the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. Relief planners used the Six Hats approach to plan and implement reconstruction efforts more effectively. The method was used to generate a shared sense of the major issues in the reconstruction process. It took only twelve hours to get the plan ready and two days to hammer out a detailed and sustainable solution.

Six Thinking Hats in classroom

The Six Thinking Hats approach can be used to address almost any problem-solving activity you might encounter in the classroom. Assigning each thinking style a color serves as a visual cue to help students recognize the thinking skill they are using. The six different hats students might wear, and the kinds of thinking they represent, are briefly described below:

  • White Hat: focuses on facts, data, information known or needed
  • Red Hat: focuses on feelings, intuition and hunches
  • Black Hat: focuses on potential problems, worst case scenarios
  • Yellow Hat: focuses on values and benefits, why something may work
  • Green Hat: focuses on creativity: possibilities, alternatives, solutions and new ideas
  • Blue Hat: focuses on action plans, process control, summing up everything, next steps

Each hat is to be worn once so that one looks at the problem from a different perspective. If used in a group, everyone needs to wear the same color hat together so as to focus on a specific type of thinking. When they have pooled ideas using one color, they can switch to next one. This strategy can streamline discussions, replace confrontation with cooperative exploration and reduces obstacles such as unnecessary arguments. It has been found to be a very effective tool in encouraging creative and lateral thinking and develop efficient problem solving skills among students and teachers.

"I don't like math"...

A common problem in schools is the lack of interest in dry subjects like mathematics. The below imagined scenario depicts how the Six thinking Hats approach can be used to find an effective solution to the common problem: "Students don't like math"

White Hat:

  • Only 50% of the students raised their hands when asked if they like math.
  • Students were then asked to list out factors which make math uninteresting - irrelevant, difficult to understand, time consuming.
  • Only few students are scoring well in math.

Red Hat:

  • Students feel frustrated and bored.
  • Teacher feels offended that students don't show interest
  • Teacher is worried that class scores in math are low

Black Hat:

  • Learning is compromised
  • Only smart kids get attention
  • Not interactive
  • Other adults also say math is tough

Yellow Hat:

  • Students spend time doing other creative activities like drawing
  • Arithmetic is fun, but algebra is tough

Green Hat:

  • Introducing math puzzles and activities will help
  • Teacher can have a lesson plan that includes struggling students
  • Smart students can become study buddies with struggling students
  • Teacher can give more time to solve problems

Blue Hat:

  • Teacher realizes that she needs to introduce interactive activities to make the subject interesting
  • Teacher will rethink on lesson plan and include all students
  • Students and teachers will find example to relate math taught in
  • Classrooms with real life problems
  • Teacher will initiate quiz at the end of each concept class
  • Students can find apps that make it easy to grasp concepts
  • After a month revisit the plan and check if test scores are higher.

By doing a cooperative exploration of the problem, students and teachers were able to resolve the conflict without arguments and learnt that this rounded way of critical thinking can be applied in many aspects of real life. It takes the ego out of the discussion and helps take better decisions.

How technology can help in implementing?

Creativity is innate in all human beings, some tend to express it and some tend to keep it dormant. The school system so far has contributed towards suppressing this creative instinct in children, but with time, education sector has realized the power of developing critical thinking and intellectual creativity skills in children. The easiest way to achieve this is through technology. Technology is something which students use and love the most and it can be of great assistance in enhancing creativity and innovation.

The Six Thinking Hats approach can be in the form of a technology solution which has appropriate tools for all 6 hats and help is effective application in classrooms (even remote or online classrooms). The solution can have features that support each Hat like:

  • White Hat: tools that help in collecting data, analyzing and extrapolating trends. Collating tools that capture data from various feeds and internet sites to have appropriate information to solve a problem.
  • Red Hat: Online Collaborative Whiteboards or Smart boards where people can register their emotions, gut instincts and intuitions that can be shared with others. Visual tools that help in depicting their emotions.
  • Black Hat: Decision Tree makers, Video and audio tools, Visual tools like mind mapping tools that helps recognize potential risks, spot fatal flaws before you embark on a course of action.
  • Yellow Hat: Mind mapping and brain storming tools that lets everyone put forth the bright side of the problem, decide what is working well in the current scenario
  • Green Hat: Video and Audio tools, Digital storytelling tools, Mind Mapping and Brain storming tools, Comic creators, Blogs, Word cloud creators that lets people think out of the box and feel safe to express creative and innovative solutions.
  • Blue Hat: Online planner tools, project planning tools, process control and visual flowcharting tools, checklists can help in finalizing an action plan and revisit as and when required. It will ensure transparency and make the action plan accessible to all.

The technology solution can have features to think from different points of view - teachers, students, parents, educators, business sector, government sector and others. It can also include other Cognitive and Critical Thinking tools like Lateral Thinking, PMI Model (Plus, Minus and Interesting), CoRT Tools. (For more details of all Thinking tools by Dr. Edward De Bono, please click this link.)

Six Thinking Hats summed up..

By using these six types of thinking in a structured way, groups can more effectively approach problem solving. The Six Thinking Hats approach is widely used and has shown multiple benefits like:

  • Structured brainstorming and focused thinking
  • Develop empathy
  • Encourages full spectrum thinking
  • Encourages inclusive discussions
  • Goal based and action oriented
  • Safe place for everyone to share their innovative and out of box ideas
  • Teaches conflict resolution
  • Can be used in any sector or situation

Just like the famous "Sorting Hat" in the Harry Potter series, the six thinking hats can open one's mind to different possibilities and help you find the right path to solve a problem. So go ahead, pick the hats and open your mind to different perspectives!

-Madhavi Agnihotri

Madhavi Agnihotri

A technologist passionate about how an effective education system can build a future ready generation.