Skip to content

The Six Hats Of Critical Thinking

The critical thinking process can be complex and may be confusing. One of the proven successful methods to organize both group and individual thinking is the six thinking hats, also known as De Bono’s six thinking hats. The method has been first introduced in 1985 by Edward De Bono in a book with the same name.

Human thinking is unstructured and reinforced in a way that different types of thoughts can drive individuals and design thinking groups to think an unorganized ways, which can lead to unexpected results. The six thinking hats introduced the thinking process to follow specific directions when necessary. The thinking hat is a metaphor that represents each thinking direction as the hats can be easily put on and taken off.

While the six thinking hats method does not follow ordinary human thinking, it can be used during a specific critical thinking session to achieve specific targets such as solving problems, discussing argument, in-depth analysis for planning process and running the creative thinking process. Although the method has been introduced for companies to improve the return of investment (ROI), it can successfully be applied to school students for the use of design thinking in education. The Microsoft education sector introduced this method for schools in a workshop presentation, De Bono’s six thinking hats.

The Six Thinking Hats

Solving problems using the six thinking hats model requires looking to at problems with different types of thinking, each type is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion session stakeholders should have better understanding to the problem from different approaches in order to reach creative and innovative solutions. During each critical thinking discussion meeting the facilitator determines which hat should be worn in specific part of the discussion as following:

White hat

This hat represents the facts and the information available about the problem or the argument. During this part, the stockholders only share the information about the problem and take notes with it. No further development in the thinking process should be done. Questions in this part can be “what is the available information?” and “what are the facts we have?”

Yellow hat

In contrast to the black hat, the yellow hat supposes to reflect the sun or an optimistic attitude. The stakeholders think from an optimistic point of view about the problem or suggestion. It helps to spotlight the advantages and benefits of the suggestions. During this the questions which are asked are “what are the advantages of applying the solution?” and “why do you think it is workable?”

Black hat

Wearing the black hat drives attendees to think about the problem or suggestion cautiously and defensively. The aim of this part is to identify the cons of the suggestion and the disadvantages and why the suggestion may not work based on logical reasons.

Focusing on the warnings, risks or cautions, this helps the stakeholders to isolate the reasoning and think in the solutions in the yellow one. The question that can be asked during this discussion “what are the risks?” and “why is the suggestion not working?”

Red hat

The emotions hat presents the stakeholders feelings about the problem and their gut reactions toward it. The target of using this hat is to understand the different emotional reactions such as love, hate, like and dislike. The red hat does not aim to understand the reason behind these feelings. The questions that can be asked during this part is “what do you feel about the suggestion?” and “what is your gut reaction toward the suggestion?”

Green hat

This represents the creative thinking part of the discussion. During the critical thinking discussion, this hat fuels the stakeholders’ thinking to innovate a thinking creative solution for the problems or look to the suggestions from a creative perspective. Creative tools can be applied to drive creativity during the conversations such as the Lego Serious Play and brainstorming techniques.

Blue hat

This is the process control plan where the meeting leaders manage difficulties during the discussions. It makes sure that the guidelines of the six thinking hat process is applied. This hat can be used to drive the thinking process to better routes. For example, if there are no ideas, the facilitators can direct the discussion to the green hat route.

The blue hat is a control hat during the critical thinking discussions, it can also act as a moderation hat before and after each circle of thinking.

While the resources did not indicate a specific sequence between the hats, the sequence indicated above is similar to De Bono’s six thinking hats website.

A Scenario of Applying the Six Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats can be applied to different scenarios based on the aim of the discussion. Furthermore, it can be applied on an educational level to teach students creative thinking and how to build solutions based on in-depth understanding to problems. One of the scenarios that involves applying the six thinking hats is the redesign of a product package, so the flow would go as following:

The facilitators ask the stakeholders to put the white hat to discuss the facts associated with the suggestion such as “what is the current package look like?”,what is the design for competitor’s package?” and “what are consumer feedback about the current package?” Then, the yellow hat is worn to identify the advantages of the redesign process and the product can benefit from the changes in the design. The discussion moderator can ask questions such as “what are the benefits of the redesign?” and “what are the positive impact of the redesign“

Then the team wears the black hat to discuss the disadvantages of applying the design change and how it can impact badly on product sales and the marketing target. During this part, the stakeholders discuss the risks that can be faced when the package redesign is applied. Then the red hat reflects the stakeholder’s emotional feelings toward the current package and in changing it. Do they like the current package? How do they feel regarding changing it? And what do the end consumers may feel toward this change?

Then the green hat is worn to think of the design from a creative and innovative perspective. This part helps the stakeholders to think about the new design and how they reflect on the previous discussions parts on the new design or the current one. During the above process the blue hat can be worn by the chair to moderate the discussion and direct it in a way that can facilitate the session.

The six thinking hats method provides a parallel thinking model to get the most out of critical thinking discussions. By organizing the thinking process using the metaphor of the six hats, stakeholders can ensure that thinking process is covering the topic from different approaches and point of views. This organized thinking approach occurs in a small period of time during the discussion to reach the best possible output of the design thinking process. While the six thinking hats method is discussed separately from the design thinking process, both work closely toward building creative solutions and innovative approaches for solving problems.



AuthorEdward de Bono
PublisherLittle Brown and Company[1]

Publication date

Preceded byMasterthinker's Handbook (1985)
Followed byI Am Right, You Are Wrong (1991)

Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats. "Six Thinking Hats" and the associated idea parallel thinking provide a means for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively.[2]

In 2005, the tool found some use in the United Kingdom innovation sector, where it was offered by some facilitation companies and had been trialled within the United Kingdom's civil service.[3]

Underlying principles[edit]

The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged, and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop tactics for thinking about particular issues. De Bono identifies six distinct directions in which the brain can be challenged. In each of these directions the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered (e.g. gut instinct, pessimistic judgement, neutral facts). None of these directions is a completely natural way of thinking, but rather how some of us already represent the results of our thinking.[citation needed]

Since the hats do not represent natural modes of thinking, each hat must be used for a limited time only.[citation needed] Also, some will feel that using the hats is unnatural, uncomfortable or even counterproductive and against their better judgement.

A compelling example presented is sensitivity to "mismatch" stimuli. This is presented as a valuable survival instinct, because, in the natural world: the thing that is out of the ordinary may well be dangerous. This mode is identified as the root of negative judgement and critical thinking.

Six distinct directions are identified and assigned a color. The six directions are:

  • Managing Blue – what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal? Can look at the big picture.
  • Information White – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions Red – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification).
  • Discernment Black – logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.
  • Optimistic response Yellow – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.
  • Creativity Green – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, outside the box.

Coloured hats are used as metaphors for each direction. Switching to a direction is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either literally or metaphorically. This metaphor of using an imaginary hat or cap as a symbol for a different thinking direction was first mentioned by De Bono as early as 1971 in his book "Lateral Thinking for Management" when describing a brainstorming framework.[4] These metaphors allow for a more complete and elaborate segregation of the thinking directions. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea the thinker may come up with.

Similarly, "The Five Stages of Thinking" method—a set of tools corresponding to all six thinking hats—first appears in his CoRT Thinking Programme in 1973:

  • Blue – CAF, FIP,
  • White – Information,
  • Pink – Emotions and Ego
  • Black – PMI, Evaluation,
  • Yellow – PMI,
  • Green – Concept Challenge, Yes, No, Po.[5]

Strategies and programs[edit]

Having identified the six modes of thinking that can be accessed, distinct programs can be created. These are sequences of hats which encompass and structure the thinking process toward a distinct goal. A number of these are included in the materials provided to support the franchised training of the six hats method; however it is often necessary to adapt them to suit an individual purpose. Also, programs are often "emergent", which is to say that the group might plan the first few hats then the facilitator will see what seems to be the right way to go.

Sequences always begin and end with a blue hat; the group agrees together how they will think, then they do the thinking, then they evaluate the outcomes of that thinking and what they should do next. Sequences (and indeed hats) may be used by individuals working alone or in groups. Example programs are shown below, each hat is typically used for approximately 2 minutes at a time – although at the start of a process an extended white hat session is common to get everyone onto the same page, and the red hat is recommended to be used for a very short period to get a visceral gut reaction – about 30 seconds, and in practice often takes the form of dot-voting.[6]

Initial Ideas – Blue, White, Green, Blue

Choosing between alternatives – Blue, White,(Green), Yellow, Black, Red, Blue

Identifying Solutions – Blue, White, Black, Green, Blue

Quick Feedback – Blue, Black, Green, Blue

Strategic Planning – Blue, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green, Blue

Process Improvement – Blue, White, White (Other peoples views), Yellow, Black, Green, Red, Blue

Solving Problems – Blue, White, Green, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Blue

Performance Review – Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Black, Green Red, Blue


Speedo researchers are said to have tried the six thinking hats in the creation of swimsuits. "They tried the "Six Thinking Hats" method of brainstorming, a green hat for creative ways to attack a problem, a black one to look at the feasibility of those ideas."[7]

Typically, a project will begin with an extended white hat action, as facts are assembled. Thereafter each hat is used for a few minutes at a time only, except the red hat which is limited to a very short 30 seconds or so to ensure that it is an instinctive gut reaction, rather than a form of judgement. This pace is believed to have a positive impact on the thinking process, in accordance with Malcolm Gladwell's theories on "blink" thinking.

De Bono believed[8] that the key to a successful use of the Six Thinking Hats methodology was the deliberate focusing of the discussion on a particular approach as needed during the meeting or collaboration session. For instance, a meeting may be called to review a particular problem and to develop a solution for the problem. The Six Thinking Hats method could then be used in a sequence to first explore the problem, then develop a set of solutions, and to finally choose a solution through critical examination of the solution set.

The meeting may start with everyone assuming the Blue hat to discuss how the meeting will be conducted and to develop the goals and objectives. The discussion may then move to Red hat thinking in order to collect opinions and reactions to the problem. This phase may also be used to develop constraints for the actual solution such as who will be affected by the problem and/or solutions. Next the discussion may move to the (Yellow then) Green hat in order to generate ideas and possible solutions. Next the discussion may move between White hat thinking as part of developing information and Black hat thinking to develop criticisms of the solution set.

Because everyone is focused on a particular approach at any one time, the group tends to be more collaborative than if one person is reacting emotionally (Red hat) while another person is trying to be objective (White hat) and still another person is being critical of the points which emerge from the discussion (Black hat). The hats aid individuals in addressing problems from a variety of angles, and focus individuals on deficiencies in the way that they approach problem solving.[9]

Even with good courtesy and clear shared objectives in any collaborative thinking activity there is a natural tendency for "spaghetti thinking" where one person is thinking about the benefits while another considers the facts and so on. The hats process avoids this. Everyone considers and all look in the same direction together. For example, a façade of a house (metaphorically speaking) and then the group will turn to the backyard. These can also be problems, or the benefits, or the facts, reducing distractions and supporting cross pollination of thought. This is achieved because everyone will put on one hat, e.g., the white hat, together, then they will all put on the next hat together. In this way all present think in the same way at the same time. The only exception is the facilitator, who will tend to keep the blue hat on all the time to make sure things progress effectively. The blue hat tends to be the outward-looking, leader/trail blazing hat that attracts the leaders of all groups. The hats are not a description but a way to look at things. They should not be used to describe thinking that has already taken place but they are directions in which to think next. Therefore, such methodology aids in better design.

Publication data[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ listing, Hardcover edition, retrieved March 7, 2012.
  2. ^de Bono, Edward (1985). Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management. Little, Brown, & Company. ISBN 0-316-17791-1 (hardback) and 0316178314 (paperback).
  3. ^Kamal S. Birdi, No idea? Evaluating the effectiveness of creativity training, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 29 No. 2, 2005, pp. 102–111, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
  4. ^Edward De Bono 1971. Lateral Thinking for Management: A Handbook Of Creativity. American Management Association, New York. pp. 116
  5. ^de Bono, Edward, CoRT Thinking Program, Workcards and Teacher’s Notes, 1973a, Sydney: Direct Education Services.
  6. ^Six Thinking Hats; Official training materials, DeBono Thinking Systems
  7. ^Spanx on Steroids: How Speedo Created the New Record-Breaking Swimsuit
  8. ^De Bono, E (2005). De zes denkende hoofddeksels [Six Thinking Hats] (16th ed.). Amsterdam: Uitgeverij. 
  9. ^"InnovationNet: the Art of Creating and Benefiting from Innovation Networks". Uitgeverij Van Gorcum. 23 December 2017. p. 58. ISBN 9789023243656 – via Google Books.