Techniques to control your thinking

Six thinking hats


The main difficulty in thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us.


The Six Thinking Hats technique, developed by Edward de Bono allows us to control our thinking. It gives us a means of directing attention to different aspects of a matter.


A hat is used as part of a uniform, and defines a role. A thinking hat can define a specific role in the thinking process. By putting your thinking hat on, you become a thinker. Your playacting becomes real. The thinking hats provide a tangible way of translating intention into performance.


The symbolism of the six hats provides a very convenient way of asking someone to change gears. These hats set rules for the thinking game.


Each of the six thinking hats has a colour: white, red, black, yellow, green and blue. The colour gives the hat its name and specific character.


The colours make visualization easier. The colour of each hat is also related to its function.


In practice the hats are always referred to by their function.



White Hat


Neutral and factual



Think of a computer!


–           It is neutral, objective

–           It does not offer interpretations or opinions

–           It gives facts and figures


The person requesting the information should use focusing questions in order to obtain information gaps


In practice there is a two-tier system of information:


The first tier contains checked and proven facts: first class facts. The second tier contains facts that are believed to be true but have not yet been fully checked: Second class facts


White hat thinking is a discipline and a direction. The thinker strives to be more neutral and more objective in the presentation of information


White Hat Statements:


Mr Smith:        “Last year there was a twenty-five percent increase in the sale of turkey meat in the US, owing to the interest in dieting and the concern with health. Turkey meat is considered to be lighter.


Mr Jones:         “I have asked you to put on your white hat. The fact is the twenty-five percent increase. The rest is interpretation.


Mr Smith:        “No, sir. Market research clearly shows that the reason people give for buying turkey meat is that they think it is lower in cholesterol”.


Mr Jones:         “Well then we have two facts


Red Hat


Intuition, impressions. No need to justify.


–           Wearing the red hat allows a thinker to say:

“This is how I feel about the matter”


The red hat legitimises emotions and feelings as an important part of thinking


The red hat provides a convenient method for a thinker to change in and out of the “feeling” mode in a way that would be impossible without such a device


The red hat allows a thinker to explore others’ feelings by asking for a “red hat view”


When a thinker is using the red hat there should never be any attempt to justify the feelings or to provide a logical basis for them


The red hat covers two broad types of feeling:


Firstly, there are the ordinary emotions as we know them: ranging from strong emotions such as fear and dislike, to more subtle ones such as suspicion


Secondly, there are the complex judgments that go into types of “feeling” such as intuition, sense, taste, aesthetic feeling and other types of feelings that are not visibly justified. If an opinion has a large measure of this type of feeling, it can also fit under the red hat.


Red Hat Statements:


“I have a feeling that he will back down when it comes to the crunch”.


“I have the feeling that this is not the right theory. It is complex and messy”


“My red hat tells me that this offer is not going to be accepted”


“I don’t think it’s fair to withhold this information until the deal has been signed”


“I am very angry. At the moment I just want to get my own back. I don’t like being cheated”


“I want to make a red hat statement. I feel we are being bullied into an agreement we do not want”


The red hat gives a thinker the freedom to be more of a poet with his or her feelings. The red hat gives feelings the right to be made visible.


Black Hat


Critical judgment, the pessimistic view


Black hat thinking is specifically concerned with negative assessment. A black hat thinker points out what is wrong, incorrect and in error.


A black hat thinker points out how something does not fit  their experience or accepted knowledge.


A black hat thinker points out why something will not work; points out risks and dangers; points out faults in a design.


Black hat thinking is not an argument, and should never be seen as such. It is an objective attempt to put the negative elements onto the map.


Black hat thinking may point out errors in the thinking procedure and in the method itself.


Black hat thinking may judge an idea against the past to see how well it fits what is known.


Black hat thinking may also project an idea into the future to see what might fail or go wrong.  Black hat thinking can ask “negative questions”


Black hat thinking should not be used to cover negative indulgence or negative feelings, which should make use of the red hat.


Black Hat Statements:




“I would like to black hat your thinking on this. The figures you gave are four years out of date, the sample is very small, and the figures are only from the south of the country”.


“I have found that working in a small organization is much more motivating. I disagree that decentralized large organizations are like small organizations”.


“If we were to abandon the first use of nuclear weapons, the Russians could overrun Europe with conventional weapons”.


“My black hat thinking tells me that Apple computers will be squeezed out the market unless they become compatible with IBM machines. Buyers are going to want access to all the software written for IBM”.


“I see a danger of the competition matching our lower prices”.


Black hat thinking is not concerned with problem solving – only with pointing out the problem.

Yellow Hat




Yellow hat thinking is positive and constructive. The yellow colour symbolizes sunshine, brightness and optimism.


Yellow hat thinking is concerned with positive assessment.


Yellow hat thinking covers a positive spectrum that ranges from the logical and practical at one end, to dreams, visions and hopes at the other.


Yellow hat thinking probes and explores for value and benefit, then, strives to find logical support for this value and benefit.


Yellow hat thinking seeks to put forward soundly based optimism but is not restricted to this – provided that other types of optimism are appropriately labelled.


Yellow hat thinking is constructive and generative. It is from yellow hat thinking that concrete proposals and suggestions come.


Yellow hat thinking is concerned with operativeness and with “making things happen”. Effectiveness is the aim of yellow hat constructive thinking.


Yellow hat thinking can be speculative and opportunity seeking; it permits visions and dreams.


Yellow hat thinking is not concerned with mere positive euphoria, nor directly with creating new ideas.


Yellow Hat Statements:


“Failing that examination was the best thing that could have happened to her. She would not have been happy as a teacher”.


“Let’s put on our yellow hats and look at the positive aspects. Kodak has decided to go into the instant camera market, so they will have to advertise their products. That will increase the public’s awareness of the merits of instant photography. That should help our sales – especially if the public sees that our product is better”.


“There is a remote chance of someone having survived the crash landing on the glacier. We must go and look”.


“To improve the water supply we could build a dam on the Elkin river, and so create a reservoir”.



Green Hat

Creative and Lateral thinking


The green hat is for creative thinking. Anyone who puts on the green hat is going to use the idiom of creative thinking.


The green colour symbolizes fertility, growth and the value of seeds.


The search for alternatives is a fundamental aspect of green hat thinking. There is a need to go beyond the known and the obvious and the satisfactory.


With the creative pause, a green hat thinker pauses at any point to consider whether there might be alternative ideas at that point. There need be no reason for this pause.


In green hat thinking the idiom of movement replaces that of judgement. The thinker seeks to move forward from an idea in order to reach a new idea.


Provocation is an important part of green hat thinking and is symbolized by the word po.


Provocation is used to take us out of our usual patterns of thinking.


Lateral thinking is a set of attitudes, idioms and techniques for cutting across patterns in a self-organizing asymmetric patterning system.


Lateral thinking is used to generate new concepts and perceptions.


Green Hat Statements:



“We desperately need a new approach. The time has come for some deliberate green hat thinking”.


“You have laid out the traditional approaches to this problem. We shall come back to them. But first let us have ten minutes of green hat thinking to see whether we can come up with a fresh approach”.


“We need some new ideas”.


“Let’s design a new square hamburger”.


“Let’s challenge the concept”.


“Let’s reverse the idea”.


“I wish I could fly”



Blue Hat


Control of thinking


The blue hat is the control hat. A blue hat thinker organizes the thinking itself. Blue hat thinking is


“Thinking about the thinking needed to explore the subject”.


A blue hat thinker is like the conductor of an orchestra. This calls for the use of the other hats.


The blue hat thinker defines the subject towards which the thinking is to be directed; sets the focus; defines the problems; shapes the questions; determines the thinking tasks that are to be carried out.


Blue hat thinking is responsible for summaries, overviews and conclusions.


Blue hat thinking monitors the thinking and ensures that the rules of the game are observed.


Blue hat thinking stops argument and insists on the “map” type of thinking; enforces the discipline.


Blue hat thinking may be used for occasional interjection that requests another hat. It may also be used to set up a step by step sequence of thinking operations that is to be followed.


Blue hat thinking is the choreographer of a play.


Blue Hat Statements:


“My blue hat thinking definitely suggest that we ought to be looking for alternatives at this point”.


“We do not have much time to consider this matter so we must use our time effectively. Let’s begin with white hat thinking. What facts do we have?


“Now we need some proposals. That means yellow hat thinking”.


“I need some more red hat thinking”


“Could the green hat help us with some alternatives and some new ideas?”


“Put on your blue hats and tell us how you think we are doing”.


“Let’s summarize what we have achieved so far”.






The purpose of the six thinking hats is to unscramble thinking so that a thinker is able to use one thinking mode at a time – instead of trying to do everything at once.


This method is designed to switch thinking away from the normal argument style to a mapmaking style. This makes thinking a two-stage process: the first stage is to make the map; the second is to choose a route on the map.


It is the very artificiality of the hats that is their greatest value. They provide a formality and a convenience for requesting a certain type of thinking, either of oneself or of others.


They establish rules for the game of thinking. Anyone playing the game will be aware of these rules.


The great value of the hats is that they provide thinking roles. A thinker can take pride in playacting each of these roles. Without the formality of the hats, some thinkers would remain permanently stuck in one mode (usually the black hat mode).