Munch Club #1: Edward deBono’s Six Thinking Hats

EmcArts Staff at Munch Club: Alane Marco, Kurt Richards, Jonas Cartano, Liz Dreyer, Karina Mangu-Ward. Photo: Piama Habibullah.

The staff here at EmcArts has collectively decided we need to “walk the walk” and have banded together to go deeper into the tools and approaches our facilitators use with the organizations in our programs.

Once a month from now on, we’ll be gathering for “Munch Club” around our kitchen table to try out one big idea for ourselves. As a follow up to each session, one staff member will report back here on the ArtsFwd blog.

This August, my amazing colleagues, Karina Mangu-Ward and Piama Habibullah, were kind enough to facilitate a session on Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats.”

What are the Six Thinking Hats?

Six Hats is a method that provides direction for group thinking and decision making by building off the common notion of “putting on your thinking cap.”  De Bono has developed six different “hats” that each focus thinking in one particular direction.

De Bono describes the kind of parallel thinking that results from using the Six Hats in this way:

“Imagine there is a large and beautiful country house.  One person is standing in front of the house.  One person is standing behind the house.  Two other people are standing on each side of the house.  All four have a different view of the house.  All four are arguing (by intercom) that the view each is seeing is the correct view of the house.

Using parallel thinking they all walk around and look at the front.  Then they all walk around to the side, then the back, and finally the remaining side.  So at each moment each person is looking in parallel from the same point of view.”

The Six Hats are De Bono’s way of getting everyone to look at the same side of the house, i.e. thinking in parallel.  Here’s how he describes them:

What I took away from our discussion was that the six hats are a great way to provide language so that different (and differing) points of view can be used to examine an issue.  Instead of one person being the “devil’s advocate” and one person being slated as the “pie in the sky” thinker, the whole group shares in discussing a question from many different sides.

We all noted that the way to approach this technique is NOT to assign a hat to an individual, but to have the whole group try on each hat in turn.

Using the Hats

In order to try out the hats, we chose a topic and each took a turn facilitating a different hat.  We went in the following order: Blue, White, Red, Yellow, Black, Green, Red, White, Blue.  De Bono recommends that you pair complementary hats, such as White/Red, Yellow/Black, Green/Blue and that you determine the full order before you start.

Blue Hat:  We started with the blue hat because it allowed us to frame the discussion, outline how we were going to go about it, to assign our facilitation, and to set the table.

White Hat: Then we discussed what we knew or needed to know about the question, allowing us to set out the facts we had at hand and what we needed to find out in order to make any decisions about our topic.

Red:  Having set out a way to talk about the topic and the evidence of what we had, we then went around and responded to the topic from an emotional level.  The topic we chose was large and had many implications for us all – personally and professionally.   Having set the ground rules about how to respond, it made a safe space for us to respond – to say we were excited, or scared, or both!

Black:  This naturally segued into all the reasons we probably couldn’t accomplish the goals of the topic.  We were all interested to see how easily this came!  It was also great to do this as a group so no one person became the voice of doom.

Green:  Going from black to green was harder.  How it could work?  What we could do to achieve the goals and make it work?  We worked hard move past our doubts and open up all the possibilities.

Red:  We then went back to our emotional responses – a great move having done both green and black – the possible and the barriers.

White:  We finished off in the white hat with outlining what we needed to find out to move forward and then bookended with an examination of what we had just done.

It was very interesting to go through the process.  As a group, it is something that I think we can use together – to guide us through discussions and provide a framework to hold any question up to the light and examine it through many lenses.  I think we’ll be practicing this for some time.

Do the Six Hats seem useful to you and your work?  How might it help you discuss difficult topics or make decisions?

Liz Dreyer is the Senior Program Manager at EmcArts, managing the Community Innovation Labs as well as the Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators (ALACI) program. She is also a Process Facilitator in the New Pathways programs.