Meetings, in general, can be a pool of ideas but also a source of conflict or, the opposite, group thinking.
To make sure that not only all the ideas are heard, but also that we have looked in every possible direction while exploring the solution, Edward de Bono (the father of lateral thinking, and the one who teaches us about how to improve our thinking) suggests using the 6 Thinking Hats framework.
The framework is an elegant combination of analytical, critical and lateral thinking. Elements of each of the three types of thinking are used under each one of the hats to help structure and set a direction for the thinking process.
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There are 6 imaginary thinking hats. When one hat is used everyone is thinking in the same direction (as opposed to thinking about what the last person said, or worse, what to answer to what the last person said). One hat is used at a time. And the order of the hats is decided by the meeting facilitator. There is no pre-set order.
Analytical Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Lateral Thinking
All under one hat (pun intended).
The White Hat – Analytical Thinking
White paper and printouts.
The focus is on information: what is available? what is needed? how are we going to get the information that is needed?
It’s “The facts. Only the facts.” type of thinking.
Certain aspects of analytical thinking are included here:
- Analyze data
- Focus on facts
What is Analytical Thinking?
Analytical thinking is a thinking process in which we analyze and break down facts and thoughts. It is used when we need to solve problems, analyze data, and use information.
The Red Hat – Lateral Thinking
Fire and warm.
The focus is on feelings, intuition, hunches, emotions. No justifications, no explanations. Feelings exist and they should be allowed into the conversation. As long as they are accepted as feeling and not disguised as logic.
Intuition may be valuable as it may be based on a great experience of the field.
This type of thinking is neither analytical nor critical. It’s when we allow ourselves to take a step to the side and let our feelings and emotions talk. It’s when we start thinking sideways.
Some aspects of lateral thinking are part of this step of the process:
- Delaying judgment and maintaining an open mind.
- Removing stereotypical patterns of thought or knowledge
What is Lateral Thinking?
As defined by Edward de Bono, the originator of the term, lateral thinking is the process of using the information to bring about creativity and insight restructuring.
The Black Hat – Critical Thinking
The judge’s robe. The devil’s advocate.
This hat is for risk assessment, critical thinking: what fits the policy, strategy, resources, etc.
Avoid overusing it.
The critical thinking elements involved in this step are:
- Checking for bias or assumptions
- Checking whether the evidence supports the conclusions
- Checking opinions, arguments or solutions against appropriate criteria
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical Thinking consists of mental processes of analysis and evaluation and includes the process of reflecting upon the collected information in order to form a sound judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense.
The Yellow Hat – Analytical Thinking
Sunshine and optimism.
This hat is the logical positive hat: we seek the values and benefits, how the idea can be put into practice.
The elements of analytical thinking involved at this step:
- Dissecting data/information and the analysis of complex things into simpler constituents
- Reasoning – thinking that is coherent and logical
- Analyzing the possibilities
The Green Hat – Lateral Thinking
Vegetation, growth, energy.
With the green hat, we think about alternatives, seek out new ideas, generate possibilities.
The ideas generated at this stage are only possibilities: they will have to be developed and tested later.
This thinking hat includes elements of lateral thinking, as this is the type of thinking most closely related to creativity. It can also be seen as creative (or generative) thinking.
The Blue Hat – Critical Thinking
The sky. Overview.
This is the control hat. It is used for looking at the thinking process. It is concerned with finding the problem, what we have learned until now, and how do we think about the problem.
It is also concerned with conclusions, summaries and what happens next.
This hat is the organizer of the thinking process, it sets up the sequence of the other hats and makes sure that everyone adheres to the rules of the framework.
The elements of critical thinking involved in this step are:
- Evaluating how far the evidence or opinions presented proves the point.
- Taking a clear line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion.
The Thinking Process – How to Use the Hats
This is a step by step thinking process where we alternate between (without ever mixing them) various types of thinking: analytical thinking, critical thinking, and lateral thinking.
A single hat shall be used at a time.
The meeting facilitator sets the sequence of the hat and the time. In general, it is recommended to start with a blue hat and end with a blue hat and choose a sequence in between according to the type of problem being discussed.
Everyone does the particular type of thinking according to the type of the hat (everyone thinks in parallel instead of in the adversarial mode). When this has been done the next hat is chosen.
Another method is the occasional use of the hats during a meeting, where the meeting facilitator requests a particular type of thinking for a defined duration. After this is done, the participants return to the discussion.
Why This Thinking Process Works
- Because everyone thinks in parallel instead of in an adversarial mode
- It is much more creative and constructive
- One thing at a time – think about one aspect at a time instead of juggling with multiple aspects of thinking
- Easy to learn and use
- It removes ego and politics from thinking
- Much quicker
If you want to learn more:
Edward de Bono https://www.edwdebono.com/
Edward de Bono: Teach Yourself to Think
Edward de Bono: Six Thinking Hats