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"Edward de Bono has spent much of his life trying to teach people how to think."

When I first heard de Bono's work described this way, I thought it was incredibly arrogant. Who does this de Bono character think he is, presuming to tell me that I don't think clearly? If he's some genius, isn't it rude to assert that?

I did some research. And it turns out that, while he may not be the world's most gifted thinker, de Bono is right to say that most people can learn to think better. In many cases, this means learning new styles of thinking. And that is something from which all of us--myself included--can benefit.

For example, it was de Bono who popularized the concept of "lateral thinking," in which problems are not solved head-on but approached from novel angles. Such an approach doesn't make us smarter; it simply makes more efficient use of whatever intelligence we have.

And so it is for another of de Bono's concepts: the notion of six different "thinking hats." According to de Bono, there are six distinct styles of thinking. While most of us tend to prefer one or two styles, de Bono makes the case that problems can be solved most readily by applying all six styles.

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In de Bono's scheme, each of us owns six imaginary hats of different colors. Each hat represents a different style of thinking, which can be referred to by observing that one is "putting on" a hat of a particular color.

These colors are:

Intuition A non-clickable image of a red hat Red is the color of feelings and emotions, of hunches and guesses, and of immediate visceral reactions to ideas.
Data A non-clickable image of a white hat White is the absence of color, just as data consists of facts and figures uncolored by subjective interpretation.
Benefits A non-clickable image of a yellow hat Sunny yellow sees the potential good in things, illuminating with enthusiasm the benefits of a potential course of action.
Risks A non-clickable image of a black hat Black symbolizes paying attention to the "dark side" of issues, suggesting risk analysis, caution, and conservation of resources.
Creativity A non-clickable image of a green hat Green, the color of growing things, suggests original ideas, novel insights into problems, and new ways of doing things.
Process A non-clickable image of a blue hat Cool blue is the conductor of thinking activity, structuring information and guiding all the six hats through the thinking process.

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In thinking about the six hats, it's often useful to group them into three sets of two somewhat opposite-styled hats each.

A non-clickable image of a red hat A non-clickable image of a white hat

Red and White Hats: Information Sources

The red hat and white hat are both used to acquire information relating to the question at hand. The red hat focuses on internal, subjective, personal emotions, while the white hat concentrates on external, objective information.
A non-clickable image of a yellow hat A non-clickable image of a black hat

Yellow and Black Hats: Information Analysis

Both the yellow and black hats are concerned with judging the fitness of ideas. But where the black hat focuses on risks and constraints, yellow hat thinking concentrates on opportunities and benefits.
A non-clickable image of a green hat A non-clickable image of a blue hat

Green and Blue Hats: Information Organization

The difference between the green and blue hats is the difference between the new and the old, respectively. The green hat frees the imagination from old patterns, allowing a focus on results. And blue hat thinking structures ideas, allowing a concentration on process.

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Each of the six hats has its own distinct kind of reasoning associated with it. To learn more about a particular kind of thinking, click on the hat or its name.

A clickable image of a red hat A clickable image of a white hat A clickable image of a yellow hat A clickable image of a black hat A clickable image of a green hat A clickable image of a blue hat

Red hat

White hat

Yellow hat

Black hat

Green hat

Blue hat

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De Bono, Edward -- Six Thinking Hats, Little, Brown, 1985. The origin of the "division into six" by de Bono. Although directed at white-collar business professionals, rational persons will find in this book plenty of suggestions that can improve their creative thinking and decision-making.


Edward de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats" another discussion of the Six Thinking Hats.

The Thinking Page a site dedicated to helping individuals and organizations think better.

Problem Solving Techniques a fascinating compilation of problem-solving techniques and concepts.

Discussions of Lateral Thinking a link to the de Bono/Lateral Thinking list server.

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