Six thinking hats

In 1985, Dr Edward de Bono wrote a book called Six Thinking Hats.

In the book, he describes a technique in which there are six imaginary hats. Each hat is a different colour and represents a specific type of thinking.

The six hats include:

  • white hat – fact-based thinking
  • red hat – thinking about feelings
  • yellow hat – thinking about opportunities and benefits
  • black hat – thinking about problems and risks (opposite to yellow)
  • green hat – thinking about new ideas
  • blue hat – only worn by one person who leads the discussion

When someone puts on one of the imaginary hats, they are only allowed to think in that specific way.

Diagram of Edward de Bono's 6 thinking hats. They are labelled white hat facts, red hat feelings, yellow hat benefits, black hat problems, green hat creativity, and blue hat managing

The person with the blue hat on starts the discussion of ideas.

  1. Initially, people may be asked to put on their imaginary white hat in order to state the facts relating to the discussion.
  2. Next, everyone may be asked to put on their imaginary green hat to come up with ideas. People are not allowed to come up with any negative comments at this stage because they can only do this when they are wearing the black hat.
  3. Once a number of ideas have been generated, the person wearing the blue hat may suggest moving on to wearing the yellow hat in order to think about the positives of each idea.
  4. They may then move onto asking everyone to wear the black hat to think about difficulties relating to any ideas.
  5. Usually the red hat is the final hat to be worn. This is because people have to select a final idea, and this is often based on a gut feeling.
  6. The blue hat wearer will then state the final conclusions.
Diagram of Edward de Bono's 6 thinking hats. They are arranged from left to right as follows: blue hat, white hat, green hat, yellow hat, black hat, red hat, blue hat

Real-life examples

The swimsuit company Speedo used de Bono’s six thinking hats concept to brainstorm innovative ways to make swimmers swim faster. Other well-known companies such as Motorola and IBM have also reported that the technique helped them generate innovative ideas.

Female swimmer at the swimming pool