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The six stages of critical thinking

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Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats. In 2005, the tool found some use in the United Kingdom innovation sector, where it was offered by some facilitation companies and had been trialled within the United Kingdom’s civil service. The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged, and the six stages of critical thinking planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop tactics for thinking about particular issues.

Robust thinking

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De Bono identifies six distinct directions in which the brain can be challenged. Since the hats do not represent natural modes of thinking, each hat must be used for a limited time only. Also, some will feel that using the hats is unnatural, uncomfortable or even counterproductive and against their better judgement. A compelling example presented is sensitivity to «mismatch» stimuli. This is presented as a valuable survival instinct, because, in the natural world: the thing that is out of the ordinary may well be dangerous. This mode is identified as the root of negative judgement and critical thinking.

Six distinct directions are identified and assigned a color. Can look at the big picture. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations. Colored hats are used as metaphors for each direction. Switching to a direction is symbolized by the act of putting on a colored hat, either literally or metaphorically. This metaphor of using an imaginary hat or cap as a symbol for a different thinking direction was first mentioned by De Bono as early as 1971 in his book «Lateral Thinking for Management» when describing a brainstorming framework. Having identified the six modes of thinking that can be accessed, distinct programs can be created.

These are sequences of hats which encompass and structure the thinking process toward a distinct goal. This article needs additional citations for verification. Speedo researchers are said to have tried the six thinking hats in the creation of swimsuits. They tried the «Six Thinking Hats» method of brainstorming, a green hat for creative ways to attack a problem, a black one to look at the feasibility of those ideas. Typically, a project will begin with an extended white hat action, as facts are assembled. Thereafter each hat is used for a few minutes at a time only, except the red hat which is limited to a very short 30 seconds or so to ensure that it is an instinctive gut reaction, rather than a form of judgement. De Bono believed that the key to a successful use of the Six Thinking Hats methodology was the deliberate focusing of the discussion on a particular approach as needed during the meeting or collaboration session.

For instance, a meeting may be called to review a particular problem and to develop a solution for the problem. The meeting may start with everyone assuming the Blue hat to discuss how the meeting will be conducted and to develop the goals and objectives. The discussion may then move to Red hat thinking in order to collect opinions and reactions to the problem. The hats aid individuals in addressing problems from a variety of angles, and focus individuals on deficiencies in the way that they approach problem solving. Even with good courtesy and clear shared objectives in any collaborative thinking activity there is a natural tendency for «spaghetti thinking» where one person is thinking about the benefits while another considers the facts and so on.

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