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Six thinking hats - The power of parallel thinking

Six thinking hats

Have you ever been in a room where everybody is arguing and you are getting nowhere fast? It happens all the time.

The problem with argument

Argument is an inefficient slow and egotistical way of reasoning.

Let's say we were using the power of argument to decide on the direction of a project. I wanted to take it an in 'Direction A' and you wanted to take it in 'Direction B'. I'd put forward the best ideas I could think of for 'Direction A'. You'd do the same for 'Direction B'.

Argument dictates this is a battle, a war, a way of us beating each other intellectually. The winner will take all. The loser will fall by the wayside. What's wrong with that? Its dog eat dog out there. Well, it's inefficient and slow. It also will not get the best out of either of us.

The winner in this method of decision making is the person whose argument goes unanswered. The person who can shout the loudest. The person who can think fast on their feet and articulate themselves well.

Imagine in the course of the argument I thought of something which might be a plus point for 'Direction B' there is no way I would say it. That would be like giving my enemy a battalion of troops from which to attack me with. No. I'll keep quiet so that I win. And you lose.

All this back and forth going on the attack, countering the attack and defending one's position is tiresome and immature.

Having to win an argument is superficial and counterproductive, especially in a situation where we are both on the same team - like in business.

So what is the answer?

The power of parallel thinking

Imagine four people all looking at a house from different angles - north, south, east and west. Each person is asked to describe the house.

From the north side, it is described as having a chimney to the left and painted red. From the south, it is described as having a chimney to the right and being made of beautiful grey stone. From the east, it is described as having a huge red front door and six windows. From the west, it is described as being white, having eight windows and a small entranceway.

Each person's description is different based on their point of view. Yet they are all right and they are all looking at the same building. This is like the process of argument.

Now imagine we got all of the four people to stand at the north and look at the house. Then walk around to the West and describe it, then the South and finally the East. Suddenly all of the descriptions would be aligned. They will have a full picture.

This is parallel thinking. A thinking process where focus is split into specific modes of thought. Everyone in a group thinks in one way before moving to another. When done effectively it avoids the consequences of adversarial debate.

The objective is not to prove or disprove statements but to make the most observations which all can agree upon. This is more positive. More productive.

The winner in parallel thinking is the most observant contributor. The person who suggests the most ideas based on the perspective the whole group is using. It is not the person who shouts the loudest.

Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats'

Parallel thinking was championed by a Maltese psychologist by the name of Edward de Bono. He devised a system for parallel thinking involving six coloured hats and wrote a best selling book "Six Thinking Hats" in 1985.

The hats help to separate everyone's thinking into six clear modes and roles allowing you to easily focus thought. They stop people gravitating to their natural mode of thought and they stop arguments.

According to de Bono, the use of this simple method has had the following benefits for some of its practitioners:

  • Huge increases in return on investment

  • Reduction of business meeting times to one-quarter of their previous time

  • Lightening fast problem solving for an oil rig

  • Reduction in the time it took for a jury's to reach a verdict

  • Increase in thinking productivity by civil servants

As a creative design team leader, I use this to help obtain a brief which my team can go away and execute on.

I have found this method partially helpful when working with multi-disciplined teams. Most designers and creatives are used to thinking differently about a problem or idea. For those however who do not operate in the space of imagining solutions which are not yet a reality, it can be difficult. The 'Six Hats' method helps a diverse group pull together.

The Six Thinking Hats and the modes of thinking they represent.

We'll now review each hat giving a high-level description of each. For more detail, you'd need to buy de Bono's book.


White Hat - Facts

Information & data.

What helpful facts do we know about this idea or challenge?

Red Hat - Feelings

Emotions, hunches, intuitions, instincts.

How do we feel about this idea or challenge?

What is our emotional response?

Yellow Hat - Benefits

Positives & plus points

Why is this idea useful?

What good things could come out of this?

Black Hat - Dangers

Difficulties, weaknesses and dangers

What risks does this idea have?

Green Hat - Creativity

Ideas, alternatives & solutions

What other possibilities does this idea or challenge bring?

What concepts answer the problems this idea has thrown up?

Blue Hat - Process

Planning for action

What thinking is needed and how do we get to an outcome?

This method can be used in individual thinking but it is most effective in group discussions because it gets everybody looking at an idea, problem or challenge in the same way. It means that 'observant contributors' are the heroes of the day.

One way to use this is to send an email out to a group before you meet to explain the idea. You could even link them to this blog post. This will prepare the group so that when they are in the room everyone understands what's happening.

It is important that a moderator or 'chairperson' is selected to guide the meeting.

The first step is to frame the idea, goal or challenge. I'd usually suggest this is written up somewhere. Next, the moderator will announce the 'Thinking Hat' the group are to mentally wear. It is helpful if the moderator then documents all of the helpful contributions. For example, if the group had the white hat on the moderator would be listing out all of the facts and data the group knew about this goal.

There is no official order to the hats and I have heard of methods which switch back and forth between hats when necessary. I've found the following order is logical and flows well:

  • White - define the facts

  • Red - acknowledge the emotions

  • Yellow - explore the opportunities

  • Black - explore the dangers

  • Green - ideate around solutions

  • Blue - define the process


The biggest problem with thinking is complexity. Complexity leads to confusion. Any method which helps thinking get simpler has got to be a good one and I've found this to be one of the best.

I also feel the world is full of negativity and egos. Any method which brings us together all onto a level in positivity and constructive way of working has got to be a good thing.

I hope you find this powerful tool helpful and if you use it I'd love to hear about any results you glean off of it's back.

Go - help people think in parallel!

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