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Six thinking hats model

Most of the trainers in the field of teambuilding and team effectiveness use Belbin’s Team roles. For years, however, I have been a fan of the model of Eduard de Bono; the six thinking hats. I would like to discuss the differences and promote the six thinking hats approach, because it is is fun and effective!

 What is the six thinking hats model?

De Bono identifies six thinking hats:

White: Think like a virgin, information in the form of facts and figures.
Yellow: Sunshine: clarity and optimism: positive assessment, constructive contribution, opportunism.
Red: Emotions and sensitivity judgment, assumptions and intuition.
Green: Fertility: creativity, seed that germinates and grows, movement, provocation.
Black: Warning for risks and pitfalls, why something will ‘not’ work.
Blue: Distance and control: the conductor of thought, thinking about thought.

The term De Bono uses for this is the Six Thinking Hats, registered as a brand name. The origins of this model are claimed by the School of Thinking, where De Bono once worked.

Lateral or parallel thinking

The concept of lateral (or parallel) thinking presupposes that a combination of thinking hats leads to better solutions. The thinking hats work as a kind of thought ladder, with which you as an individual, team or organisation can achieve higher results. It creates order and structure in the thinking process. You make better use of the intelligence at your disposal. Thinking errors are often the result of not taking one of the thinking hats seriously enough. The black thinking hat could potentially have prevented disasters such as the one that occurred in Fukushima. The careful application of risk analysis is now leading hopefully to a temporary reinforcement of a major dyke (the ‘afsluitdijk’ in the Northern Netherlands.) The decision by Germany to close nuclear reactors is potentially driven more by emotion (the red thinking hat) than as a consequence of rational consideration.

The Thinking Hats questionnaire

To the best of my knowledge, De Bono has never developed a questionnaire to create insight into the six thinking hats – so we have done so because we consider it to be such a useful model. The third, improved, version is now available via the Toolkit. You can complete this questionnaire as an individual or with your team. Contact us if you are interested in doing so.

Want to know more about the Thinking Styles questionnaire?

To be applied in coaching at an individual, team and organisational level

When coaching, I use this model to teach mostly managers in how to improve their way of thinking in order to enlarge their decision-making abilities and ultimately to take better decisions. They learn to appreciate their styles of preference and when to deploy which of the thinking hats. They learn how to balance these with other thinking hats. Noteworthy is that the favourite thinking hat of the leader is often taken over by the team and other thinking hats are rejected – for no good reason! It is also a way to improve each of the thinking hats: to be even more creative, more critical, more factual and more emotional. This can have an enormous impact on an organisation when leaders learn to think things through and better understand the thought processes that take place in the team they lead.

In terms of team development, the thinking hats model is useful in communicating more effectively and working better together. In a decision-making process, it makes sense to apply the various thinking hats one after another, perhaps something like this:
Problem definition: Red, White, Blue
Problem analysis: White
Generation of alternatives: Yellow, Green,
Research of alternatives: Green, Black, White
Making choices: Yellow, Black, Blue
Executing choices: White and Blue

A team that jointly, and at the right moment, applies the Green or Black thinking hat, for example, makes itself stronger. You can make sure that you do not use an inappropriate thinking hat at the wrong moment or that you do not consider using all thinking hats.
Finally, extrapolation of the team approach at an organisational level can make a considerable impact. By applying the questionnaire, rapid insight is gained into the favourite thinking hats of people, teams and departments. This helps people to reflect more effectively and to take better decisions. De Bono has been accredited for the role his thinking hats have played in the organisation of successful ventures such as the Olympic Games.

The benefits of thinking hats in comparison to Team roles

More dynamic
The major benefit of the use of the thinking hats model above Team roles is that the former model is much more dynamic. De Bono emphasizes that everyone can use each thinking hat, but has a certain preference for – or certain qualities by which – a particular thinking hat can be more applicable than others. In the case of team roles, the thinking is more static; you play a certain role. Your role becomes your ‘corner’ – and you never step out of your role. Thinking hats assume that everyone can apply every thinking model. That makes it less stigmatizing and offers more opportunities for developing starting points.
Fewer styles than roles
Another benefit for group application is that there are only six thinking hats. They are immediately recognizable, for everyone. Belbin distinguishes nine separate roles. I view that as quite a few, especially when you consider that teams with four to eight players are the most effective.
Teambuilding made fun
I consider working with team roles a little static. In a team, you can provide insight into each other’s role and that leads to acceptance and understanding. But there’s not much to come afterwards. The thinking hats enable you to apply a range of interesting experiments, for example working with each of the thinking hats on a particular case, by allocating people a certain thinking hat, or by providing feedback on a particular thinking hat. That broadens the spectrum of opportunity for the creative trainer/coach!
But team roles too offer a valuable approach. There’s nothing wrong with Team roles! In certain situations I use these myself, for example in the composition of management teams. We also offer this questionnaire for team roles in the toolkit.

Useful links

In conclusion I would like to draw a number of films to your attention, should you wish to delve deeper into the Six Thinking Hats.
Eduard de Bono himself presents his model in six consecutive videos. Watch the video
De Bono discusses entrepreneurship and thinking styles: Watch the video
An informal introduction to the thinking styles: Watch the video
Please access the information about our manual re the thinking hats questionnaire.

thinking hats De Bono
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