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Six hat thinking: A technique to streamline thoughts

As you may have experienced it yourself, thoughts can play havoc with your life. However, if you can control thoughts from hijacking the way you feel and behave, then you have learnt the art of resilience. So today I share with you a problem-solving technique that is popularly used in the corporate world but can be applicable to individuals.

Aldina Braganza

So often we get caught up with our thoughts not realising how they are in fact affecting our emotions, our behaviour and our further thinking. We can become slaves to our thoughts. They hamper us from getting a clear perspective about our world. The questions worth asking are ‘How much of our reality is governed by our thoughts?’ ‘What if our thoughts oscillate to the exact opposite paradigm?’ ‘Would it affect our reality?’

As you might have experienced it yourself, thoughts can play havoc with your life. However, if you can control thoughts from hijacking the way you feel and behave, then you have learnt the art of resilience. So today I share with you a problem-solving technique that is popularly used in the corporate world but can be applicable to individuals.

Developed by physician Edward de Bono, the six hat thinking method is an indirect way to look at problem-solving. The idea used by him is to think circumvent rather than direct. 

How does this technique work? The six hats signify different perspectives of thinking. Bono specifies six different ways that we can look at a problem. Most often when we are faced with a conflicting situation, we are not able to look at it discerningly. However, if we can segregate our thoughts, we would be able to optimise the way we look at things. It combats the traditional thinking strategy in that it specifically segregates and organises the way we think. The challenge is to combat clutter thinking. 

Bono creatively gives us these six hats, each with a different colour and each with their own frame of reference. The blue hat plays the role of the organiser, the white hats deals with facts, the yellow hat is about the optimistic options, the red hat looks at the gut and emotions, black hat is for critical judgments and the green hat allows for creative solutions.

The problem solver is only allowed to think according to what hat is being worn. Thus every hat allows for a systematic thought process.

 Traditionally you begin with the blue hat.

The blue hat is the conductor for the thought process. When you wear the blue hat you decide to outline your problem and give it structure. So questions that the blue hat will ask are ‘What is my desired goal or what do I seek to achieve by solving this problem?’ ‘How do I arrange or organise my thinking so I can resolve it adequately?’ This gives you a framework to your problem.

The white hat stands for facts and figures. While wearing the white hat one looks at the problem very factually without judgment, emotions, critically or creatively except with facts and figures. The type of questions you will ask when dealing with the white hat thinking pattern are ‘What do I know about this problem, facts, figures, dates, amounts?’ ‘What can I learn about this problem?’ ‘What are the missing pieces?’

With the red hat, the thought process is about one’s gut feelings and emotions. Everything based on your intuition to your feelings and moods are to be addressed while wearing this hat. The idea is that we often cloud our thinking by injecting it with doubts about our gut feelings. So this form of thinking gives you the opportunity to explore emotions without interfering with the factual data. The questions we ask while we seek answers in this method are ‘What is my gut/intuition telling me?’ or ‘How do I feel about this choice?’

The yellow hat will, on the other hand, be related to the finding a solution to the problem. It relates to the optimistic view. It is the colour of the sun. You are looking for the advantages and benefits. The questions you ask here are ‘How can I best approach this problem?’ ‘How can I make this realistically and logistically work?’ and ‘What are the long term benefits and positive outcomes?’

The black hat is your critique. It looks at all the loop holes, flaws and doubts. It is a hat of caution. It can see why the answer will not work. When you dawn this hat there is no place for positive thinking. All negative thoughts to your alternatives should flow here. Questions will be related to what risks are involved, how it will backfire or fail, and the flaws and doubts are.

The green hat represents creativity. It involves thinking in alternate ways so that the problem doesn’t weigh you down. Questions will include ‘Can I think outside the box and see it in a completely new way or opposite way?’ This opens doors to view the problem in a totally different perspective.

Finally the blue hat ends this thinking. It moderates thoughts in the end so as to get the clearer picture. It may further orchestrate the use of a hat again till the picture becomes clear.

Once you get the hang of the six hats technique it is effective and fairly simple. All you need is a non-distraction space, some pen and paper and an open mind.

(The writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)

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