Six Thinking Hats Off for the Week

Here at Kennesaw State, we in the Sturgis Library have just started a professional development reading group.  Our first book was on neither librarianship nor education, nor even on leadership.  It wasn’t one of the year’s hot new books, either.

We kicked our group off with Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, first published in 1985. six thinking hats book coverIt’s simple, direct, and fun.  We applied it to two related issues we are facing right now and found it so helpful we want to spread the technique beyond the ten or so people who attended that session and start applying the technique to certain kinds of decisions and discussions.

So why do I mention this on  a personal knowledge management blog? Because in the end, personal knowledge management is more than collecting.  You have to plan and come to decisions, and for that you need a process.

Six Thinking Hats is a method of thinking that sets up a process of using one thinking skill at a time.  Unlike approaches that identify which type of thinker one is, Six Thinking Hats is based on the premise that each of us can learn to use all of the thinking skills.  The key is to separate the skills and concentrate on one at a time so that the brain isn’t fighting itself by engaging in multiple types of thinking at the same time.  In other words, you don’t need a creative thinker and an analytic thinker and a planner; you can do it all yourself, it you will stop and take the time to set up the method and then stick to it.

The hats are:  all hats

  • White: the information hat; neutral facts and figures; thinking about what information is needed and how to get it
  • Red: emotion, hunches, and intuition
  • Yellow: speculative, finding value and opportunity in ideas, optimism, why things may work
  • Black: caution and analysis; critical thinking, difficulties, why something may not work
  • Green: creativity, provocation, forward movement, alternatives
  • Blue: thinking about how to think, control, process, overview, structure, action plans

You can arrange these in an order that suits you, probably starting and ending with blue.  I find that different types of decisions or stages in a process may call for a different order, or more or less time spent with a different “hat.”   I also find that I need to iterate certain stages. When I am  going through the hats on my own, I can be more ad hoc than I would when working with a group, but it is worthwhile to set up the method and stages carefully, and stick to them.  On my own, I put on the red hat perhaps more often than I would, at least formally, in a group, especially if I feel like something is holding me back or if I am procrastinating.  While many people just make themselves get on with the task, I do better if I go to work on myself laterally and identify what’s holding me back.  Often, it’s an emotion.

One of the great things about the Six Hats method is that it prevents you from either getting carried away with enthusiasm (yellow hat) for an idea, nor killing off an idea prematurely (black hat).  Also, acknowledging the role and validity of emotions helps me deal with them more fruitfully.  When I am looking at the emotions separately, rather than letting them rumble under the surface, I can better identify them and their source, see how they are influencing me and decide what kind of action I need to take.

I also find that I enjoy the playful aspect of the six hats; the whimsy relieves what would otherwise be tedium of the routine and the stress that occurs when I tell myself I it’s time to be creative.  We used to think of work and play as opposites, but they certainly don’t need to be, and in some situations it’s counterproductive to try to eliminate joy and playfulness from work.

There is a ritual aspect to the six hats that appeals to me as well.  I know I have overdeveloped my black hat skills, and I love to wear the blue hat.  I can happily plan and design processes forever!  But I need to get on with the actual work, and wearing the hats in turn, combined with a timer, can help me move along.

This is what a Six Hats process to write a blog post on using the Six Hats for PKM would look like, expressed as a concept map:  Not very comprehensive, a bit tongue-in-cheek, just some basic thoughts so you get the idea —

Six hats process Cmap

Map developed using Cmap.

Have a good week everyone, I’m off to Chicago where I will need another kind of map entirely. – Elisabeth

More Resources:

Edward de Bono Discusses the Six Thinking Hats  Indigo TrainingUK  Uploaded 7/4/2008, accessed 3/12/2013.  The master speaks.

The Six Thinking Hats  Damian Gordon Uploaded 8/23/2008, accessed 3/12/2013.  Animated video reviews the different hats.

Edward de Bono, Six Thinking Hats, various editions since 1985.


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