Giving away some of the secret recipe: “The Six Thinking Hats”


The biggest responsibility of a leader or manager is to think, and decide.

So what do you do when the pressure’s on, but your brain isn’t cooperating? Thinking is often less about eureka! moments and more about banging your head on the wall in frustration.

I wish we all had a “brain trust” with us 24/7. A gathering of the smartest minds focused on solving problems. A group of geniuses that can help us make our toughest decisions.

In reality, it can be hard to find that perfect supergroup of thinkers… unless you hire SRH, of course

If you find yourself without a brain trust, and maybe even without your own brain for the day (as I often do), I recommend The Six Thinking Hats approach. I first read Edward De Bono’s book when Angela Ryan, one of the many brilliant minds at SRH, bought it for me.

The core idea is simple – you can provoke your brain to think outside the box by putting on different “hats” as you think through a problem. If you are working with a team, you can assign everyone different hats.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Blue Hat. The organization hat. Taking chaotic ideas and ordering them in a way that can be understood and acted on. Usually the hat you wear when opening and closing a brainstorm.
  • White Hat. The data hat. Cold, hard facts. What do you know? What are you unsure of? Lay out the landscape of data without putting any spin or judgement on it. The goal while wearing this hat is to find pure information.
  • Red Hat. The “gut feeling” hat. What do your emotions tell you? Your intuition? Your ego? In my experience, many people put too much emphasis on this hat and end up making a decision that’s not actually best for accomplishing their goal. But we humans work in mysterious ways, and our “gut” can be very wise. Listen to it, but give it equal weight as the other hats.
  • Black Hat. The critical judgement hat. Probably the second-most used hat in my experience, and one that can be DEADLY if too many people in the group are wearing it all the time. Put simply, this hat is “the Devil’s advocate.”
  • Yellow Hat. The sunny, positive hat. Go ahead, be a Pollyanna for a moment. I know it feels weird in this cynical, anxious world, but you never know what you’ll think of if you approach the problem with unbridled optimism.
  • Green Hat. The new ideas hat. This one’s a little complicated, but it’s the type of thinking you usually associate with creativity. The rule here is “new.” You have to push yourself to be illogical. Be silly. Come up with off-the-wall ideas that are totally out of the realm of possibility. You may discover gold.

The real magic happens when you combine hat sequences for different types of problems.

Need to make a big-budget decision? Blue, White, Black, Yellow, Blue.

Maybe you need to come up with a great ad campaign? Blue, Red, Green, Black, Blue.

In our business, we’re often asked to be brilliant on a deadline. The thinking hats are a shortcut. They won’t solve all of your problems, but they will certainly tip the scales in your favor!

So, next time you feel like you are banging your head against the wall, try on a different hat.