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Problem-Solving With The Six Thinking Hats Method [GeekPack’s Experience]

‘Thinking is the ultimate human resource." 

This sentence comes from Edward de Bono's book Six Thinking Hats.

We’ve used this book in our first-ever team retreat as it teaches a very interesting way of thinking and solving problems.

There are things I love about it, and there are moments I don’t think it works so well.

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Understanding the Six Thinking Hats Method

Edward de Bono's method uses parallel thinking in a way that makes a decision-making process more effective, whether in group meetings or personal dilemmas. 

By donning different "hats," you can explore different perspectives, where each hat has its purpose.

But first, let’s talk about parallel thinking and why this is important.

Parallel Thinking

“Parallel thinking means that at any moment everyone is looking in the same direction.”

Imagine we're trying to solve a puzzle together. 

Instead of arguing over which piece fits where, we decided to work together and share ideas on how each piece might connect, exploring every angle together. 

That's pretty much what parallel thinking is all about. 

It makes us fight our argumentative instincts, so the solution is our only focus.

Edward de Bono suggests that by nature, we're wired to be argumentative. It's like our brains light up at the chance to spot flaws or counter with our own ideas.

While this might make for interesting dinner conversations, it's not always our best friend when it comes to solving problems together. 

This argumentative instinct can lead to a couple of hiccups in problem-solving:

  • We Get Stuck on Winning the Argument: Sometimes, we get so caught up in proving our point that we lose sight of the actual goal—solving the problem.
  • Ideas Get Shut Down Too Early: Great ideas might never see the light of day because they're dismissed too quickly in the heat of debate.
  • It Can Create a 'Me vs. Them' Atmosphere: Instead of feeling like we're all in this together, it can start to feel more like a competition.

What's cool about the Six Thinking Hats method is that it encourages us to switch off that default debate mode. 

By wearing the same "hat" at the same time, we're not fighting to get our voices heard.

Instead, we're collectively exploring different aspects of the problem—factually, creatively, optimistically, and so on.

The Hats and Their Roles

As the book name suggests, there are six different hats and each of them has a different purpose.

White Hat

The neutral one.

It keeps you objective, and it’s all about facts and figures. This is about things you know are true, no assumptions or feelings. It’s neither negative nor positive, simply facts.

Red Hat

The emotional one. 

When you wear the red hat you don’t need to justify anything.  This is the moment to use your gut feeling and just spill it out, no explanation necessary. 

Black Hat

Careful and cautious, the "devil's advocate" hat. 

Also known as the easiest one because as stated before, we are argumentative beings. We’re conditioned to disagree. It’s like our natural habitat. 

But this is not a bad hat, it’s quite an important one. It’s about what can go wrong, what may not work and it’s meant to protect us from making bad decisions. 

It’s very important that everything stated under the black hat can be backed up with facts. If there are no facts, then it’s a feeling. And that's the red hat.

Yellow Hat

The sunny and positive one. 

It’s the opposite of the black hat.  Here you’ll only focus on what can go right. It’s your time to be optimistic and look for opportunities.  

Green Hat

The creative one.

Here there’s no such thing as a silly or crazy idea - there’s no judgment. It’s highly encouraged to think outside of the box and put all your ideas out there even when they don’t make sense.

The reason for that is that even though the original idea may not make sense at first glance, it can lead to a different way of thinking.

And eventually, leads to an idea that’s innovative and that does make sense.

Blue Hat

The organizing hat.

The blue hat is the one that leads the show. The one that ‘controls’ the thinking

It sets the focus, it defines the problems and it's also the hat that keeps the other hats in line. 

If someone says something negative when using a yellow hat, the blue hat thinker is responsible for getting them back on track.

And the blue hat also dictates the order the hats will be used. 

Pros and Cons of Using The Six Thinking Hats (GeekPack’s Experience)

It worked really well for us when we had a single thing to figure out. 

The more specific the better - as an example, we need to make $100k in 6 weeks. How do we do that? 

Using the hats to solve a specific problem worked really well in our experience.

It does not work great when the topic is too broad. 

We tried using the hats to figure out what our yearly goals were, but there wasn’t a specific problem to solve. 

We didn’t know where to begin, so we ended up going in circles for a long time, without a real focus. 

Focusing on one type of thinking at a time is actually quite helpful. 

The hats kept us on track, it dictated where all of our brain power was going. It’s like going through a decision-making journey with a map, if that makes sense. 

We looked at data, we looked at what has worked and what hasn’t, and from there, it was easier to come up with different ideas and narrow them down.

Setting a time for each hat is also very helpful.

One thing we realized after a while was that we could stay on one hat for hours. There’s always something to say. 

So saying from the start, we have 20 minutes for this hat worked well. If the discussion was still productive, then we’d extend - but at least we had this sort of time guideline to keep us moving.

It was our first time using the hats, so it wasn’t perfect and it took us some time to figure out the best way of using them. But I really think towards the end of the retreat we got much better.

Having actual hats as a reminder worked very well too.

We put them on the easel so we all knew the hat we were working with at the time.

Main Takeaway From The 6 Thinking Hats

Though it’s not the most practical method, as it does take some time to get everyone used to it, there are a lot of benefits from this way of thinking.

Next time we’re brainstorming or tackling a problem, remembering our natural tendency to jump into debate mode could be the first step in trying something different. 

By acknowledging this and opting for a parallel thinking approach, we might just find ourselves not only solving problems more effectively but also enjoying the process a whole lot more. 

Join our strong community of 37,000 women who are making their dreams a reality through empowering skills training.

I’d love to hear from you - have you ever used the Six Thinking Hats method? Or do you have any insights on why this may or may not work? Join our FREE facebook community and let me know!

About the Author:
Some people look at the sky and see stars; others see constellations. Some people look at lines of code and see a website; Julia saw a path to empower women in building their dreams. As a (former) military wife, self-taught web developer, and lover of location independence, Julia has taught over 3,600 women to say “YES” to any WordPress request, but not only that, “YES” to themselves, and “YES” to creating life on their own terms. Empowering women and seeing others succeed is the biggest motivator for Julia. And so, she created a program to teach others the skills that allowed her to take back control of her life and start living on her own terms.
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