Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Do not be turned off by the hard-sell marketing that surrounds every one of Edward de Bono’s books. Just because he over-touts his own work doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

It may even be that he only repeats variations on the same ideas in all his other books (which he periodically refers to). Having read only one of the many, I can say that there is at least one set of good ideas.

I’d seen the books for sale here and there and read a bit about them online, so I was really looking forward to reading about the thinking hats. I was not disappointed. It’s worth reading the entire short book rather than relying on information about the hats that’s available online.

To find out more about the hat system and why it’s cool, continue reading.

The hats system described in this book may sound gimmicky and lame, but it’s clever a shorthand mnemonic that helps people learn, remember and practice a good habit. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

What is this system? It’s a method for thinking about thinking that ensures that a group approaches a problem or issue in a thorough and efficient way. The hats are symbols of the different kinds of thinking that should be included. The method, when used consciously and explicitly, increases the chances that the types of thinking will be used in a balanced way.

The types of thinking hats are:

  • blue – for setting goals, staying on course and assessing progress
  • red – for getting feelings into the open and out of the way
  • white – for stating relevant facts and data
  • black – for identifying risks and dangers
  • yellow – for identifying value, strengths, and positive potential
  • green – for innovation and creativity

One interesting suggestion is that the whole group can plan in advance to use them in this order, with more red and then blue at the end.

Imagine how much better that could go than just asking for feedback on something and in reply only hearing negative “ideas” and attacks, or having the optimists and creatives fight the pessimists while once in a while someone tries to tell them both to consider the opposite viewpoint, or rope in a fact that contradicts one or the other, while everyone tries (or doesn’t) to hide the feelings that bias their opinions.

The idea is not to designate particular people to wear particular hats, except maybe the blue one, but to get the whole group to think in the same way at the same time in parallel. One reason is that this can produce more and stronger results at each stage, and another is that people should not be characterized as belonging entirely to one hat or another. Everyone can and should engage in all these types of thinking.

That’s liberating.

De Bono says this is a Confucian and anti-Freudian approach, to focus on systematically directing what people do rather than worrying about why they are the way they are or trying to change them. Since I live in Asia and have never liked Freud, I heartily approve.

When and why I read it

Having been accused of too much devil’s advocate (critical or negative) thinking, I was interested to learn that this approach had a label and a definition and perhaps a legitimate if not a central place in thoughtful discussions. I eventually bit the bullet and bought the book about it.

I recommend this particular edition because it is made with nice paper and actual colored hats are printed on the pages inside.

Genre: Non-fiction (self-improvement, business, psychology)
Date started / date finished: 16-Feb-2016 to 22-Feb-2016
Length: 173 pages
ISBN: 9780316178310 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1985
Amazon link: Six Thinking Hats

“Related” books

De Bono contrasts the hats method with the tradition of Western critical thinking, which is presumably the kind of thing in The Pocket Guide to Critical Thinking by Richard L. Epstein.

De Bono points out that attempts to identify, label, and “fix” personality weaknesses tend to fail. (They fail in much the same way that telling someone not to think about an elephant fails.) This seems similar to the core insight in Marcus Buckingham’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths, which encourages people to build up whatever they are already good at rather than try to build up whatever they aren’t good at. Specialization and exchange make the world go around; you might as well be yourself and let someone else be who you’re not. They’ll obviously do a better job and you’ll be happier that you don’t have to try.

I have other self-improvement books, other business books, and other psychology books; I have books about intelligence, decision-making, thinking, communicating, lying, truth, mistakes, optimism, and epistemology. But I don’t think I have any other books that are equally about both thinking and communication.