Academic Insight: It Is Time To Put Your Thinking Cap On: All 6 Of Them

Written by: Shontarius D. Aikens

Photo by Gary Ussery

In elementary school, I had a teacher who would often say to the students in our class, “Now let’s all put our thinking caps on!” And whenever I heard my elementary school teacher say that phrase, it was my verbal cue to really focus on the task at hand.  While elementary school was a long time ago for me, I still find myself reflecting on that simple statement whenever I am facing a difficult or complex task. I’ll typically stop and say to myself,  “Ok, let me really think about this.” Saying that helps me get into the mindset that this problem or task currently in front of me requires my complete attention and focus.

I’ve always admired individuals who have the ability to come up with solutions to what may seem like complex problems. The way those individuals think and how they approach tasks and problems really intrigues me. And in my quest to learn additional methods to improve my thinking abilities, a colleague introduced me to Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method which is based on the concept of parallel thinking. Parallel thinking requires individuals to look at a problem from the same viewpoint at a particular given time. In order to do this, a verbal cue is given for all individuals to demonstrate only one style of thinking at that particular time. In de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats framework, the different types of thinking correspond to six hats of different colors:

  • White Hat“The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures.”
  • Red Hat“The red hat gives the emotional view.”  
  • Black Hat“The black hat is cautious and careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea.”
  • Green Hat“The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.”
  • Yellow Hat“The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.”
  • Blue Hat“The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process, and the use of the other hats.”

While the list above provides the general textbook definitions of the different thinking styles attributed to each hat, I highly recommend that you read this book in its entirety, as it provides more detailed information and how to’s than can be provided in this short article. The biggest takeaway is that by focusing on one thinking style at a time, the end result is less confusion and a better overall view of the big picture in the end. Below are some possible ways to apply this tool within organizations and the potential benefits.

Better Quality Proposals and Recommendations

As a manager, it is common to have direct reports who come up with all kinds of problems that exist in the organization but no solutions or recommendations. I had a supervisor one time that told me “If you are going to bring a problem to me, you need to bring at least 3 solutions or recommendations as well.” This required me to fully vet my ideas beforehand and to make sure that I had given as much thought to a solution before presenting it to my superiors. In fact, in Peter Drucker’s book titled Management Challenges for the 21st Century, he discussed that continuous learning and continuous innovation are key components for the productivity of knowledge workers. Since having the ability to look at a task or problem from multiple viewpoints in order to come up with a solution is at the core of The Six Thinking Hats framework, this tool could be beneficial in improving the quality of proposals or recommendations to be considered for approval by upper management or decision makers. For example, a proposal template could be designed that would guide individuals to provide comments and evidence that a task, problem, and solution had been looked at using all Six Thinking Hats.

Improving Message Tone in Written and Oral Communication

Personally, I have found that using The Six Thinking Hats framework has helped me to be more intentional when it comes to communicating. I’ve used this framework as a mental model to guide me on the best medium to use for communication based on the message I want to convey as well as the appropriate tone to be used. One time, I was drafting an email to share some important information to another person, and my intent was to communicate my message in a tone to be predominantly White Hat (just sharing facts and information). Before sending any important message, I always ask someone to proofread my work, and it just so happened that the person I asked to proofread my draft was well-versed in Six Thinking Hats. After reading my first draft, his reaction was,  “You wrote this hoping to convey a message tone of White Hat? This email is dripping with Red Hat (emotions). You need to revise this!” After reviewing the comments, he was correct, and I made substantial revisions. The final version conveyed the appropriate tone for that message, and it was received in the way that I had intended.  I’ve found that this works not only in written communication but also in oral communication as well. Using the Six Thinking Hats framework to guide our interactions and the tone of our messages with colleagues, clients, and customers can have tremendous benefits and value to an organization.

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