De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”: A Powerful Visual Thinking Method That Will Forever Change the Way You Think
Of all the different management, leadership, communication, innovation, and thinking tools, tips and techniques that I’ve learned over the years, nothing has impacted me more, or has had more practical applications and benefits, than Edward de Bono’s classic “Six Thinking Hats” model.
De Bono, the guru of “thinking about thinking,” originated this framework that I now use -- either consciously or unconsciously -- literally every single day. It’s one of the best examples of how we can use visual and metaphorical thinking and communicating to solve real-world challenges.
The model in brief: There are six metaphorical “hats” — each a different color...and each hat represents a different type of thinking. By metaphorically "taking off" or "putting on" a different hat, you can intentionally and strategically switch to a different type of thinking.
Here are the six hat colors, and a brief overview of what type of thinking each represents:
1. White Hat: Neutral; objective; facts; data; information; objectivity
2. Red Hat: Emotion; gut feeling; intuition; passion; subjectivity
3. Black Hat: Cons; critical; caution; risks; costs; weaknesses; disadvantages
4. Yellow Hat: Pros; optimism; benefits; strengths; advantages
5. Green Hat: Creativity; innovation; brainstorming; new ideas; possibilities
6. Blue Hat: Process; structure; thinking about thinking; next steps
The Six Thinking Hats method can be applied in many different types of situations, for example:
- In a meeting: as a formalized, structured process (e.g., a group brainstorming or strategy process);
- In a one-on-one discussion: as a common language that will encourage dialogue and minimize conflict;
- In your own mind: as a way to frame your own thinking, separate fact from emotion, and make better decisions.
When used in a group, it enables what de Bono calls “parallel thinking,” which occurs when all members metaphorically “wear” the same color hat at the same time. This dramatically improves communication, minimizes conflict, and fosters innovation.
How do the Six Thinking Hats do this? The best way to understand it is through a real-life illustration:
Say you’re in a meeting, trying to reach a decision. Instead of the normal chaos and conflict caused by endless debate, cross-talk, shooting down ideas, etc., what if we were able to say:
“Let’s temporarily put aside our Red Hats (our emotional reactions), our Black (negative/critical) and Yellow (positive/supportive) opinions, and all put on our White Hats to first objectively identify the objective facts and relevant data, before we start jumping to possible solutions (Green Hat) and proposing next steps (Blue Hat).”
Once agreed, from there the group can efficiently, and with minimal conflict and debate, run the situation through this simple and logically sequenced series of questions:
1. White Hat: What are the facts about the situation at hand?
2. Red Hat: How do people feel, emotionally, about the situation?
3. Black Hat: What’s not working — and why?
4. Yellow Hat: What is working – and why?
5. Green Hat: What’s new (ideas, possibilities)?
6. Blue Hat: What’s next (where do we go from here)?
(Note: You don’t necessarily always have to use the hats in this exact sequence; but this is an example of a very common and effective approach.)
By enabling parallel thinking – by having everyone "wear" the same color hat at the same time (and headed together in the same direction) — you will see how much more orderly your meetings will be, and how much more quickly you can reach decisions and get things done!
And if you assign one person in the meeting to be the Blue Hat leader, that person (regardless of organizational role or rank) will serve to make sure that things run smoothly, stay on track, and that everyone plays by the rules.
Using this methodology, my company has successfully conducted numerous executive-level strategy meetings, facilitated cross-functional team-building and brainstorming sessions, and helped hundreds of individuals maximize the effectiveness of their own decision-making skills, along with their ability to more effectively conceive and communicate ideas.
Here’s another real-life example, this one using the Six Thinking Hats method relative to a job search:
Let’s say that you were presented with a potential job opportunity. What kind of question might each Thinking Hat pose to help you make the best possible decision?
1. White Hat: What are the objective facts about the position and the company (title, salary, benefits, location, industry, work environment, department, new manager, etc.)?
2. Red Hat: How do I feel about this opportunity; what is my gut telling me (am I excited, nervous, hesitant, concerned, etc)?
3. Black Hat: What don‘t I like about it, what’s bad about it — and why (i.e., what are the negatives or concerns associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?
4. Yellow Hat: What do I like about it, what’s good about it – and why (what are the positives associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?
5. Green Hat: What are the various options, alternatives, choices available to me (i.e., what’s going through my mind in terms of what-ifs, and out-of-the-box possibilities; what does it look like if I visualize actually taking this job)?
6. Blue Hat: What are the next steps; where do I go from here (when do I have to make a decision by, what do I have to do next, what actions should I take)?
Although this is just one simple and common example, you can easily see how using the Six Thinking Hats to frame your thinking can go a long way toward maximizing your effectiveness – and enhancing your confidence – when it comes to making any decision.
It is important to note, however, that while it takes just a few minutes to learn this seemingly simple model, it takes time, training, and much practice to truly master it.
For more on de Bono and his Six Thinking Hats method, there are tons of online resources, including a number of good (as well as some really bad) YouTube videos available, including this three-minute clip of de Bono himself talking about it. I also highly recommend the Six Thinking Hats book itself...which just might be the best $12 you spend this week!
There was a time, a while back, when I was traveling for business almost every single week. That meant packing for three or four days on the road at a time, having to figure out which suits and shirts and ties I was going to wear. And then having to choose the perfect pair of socks to match each outfit.
This may seem trivial, but I had about 30 different colors and varieties of dress socks in my drawer to choose from, each with different designs, patterns, stripes, and shapes. So every time I got to this dreaded stage of the packing process, I would get more and more bothered by what an annoying, useless, and royal time-waster this was.
Until one day, as I sat there staring deep down into the abyss of my sock drawer, I came to the realization that something had to change. So I made the potentially life-altering decision that I would switch to wearing nothing but solid black socks from then on. And, so, the very next day, I went down to Macy’s in Herald Square and bought 18 pairs of the exact same plain, black dress socks.
Guess how many of my clients ended up noticing? None. And yet, how much time, energy, and stress did I immediately eliminate by making this one simple change? Tons!
By now, you’ve probably figured out that this post – and the Black Sock Decision-Making principle – isn’t really about hosiery at all. It’s about stepping back and finding ways to simplify the complexity in our everyday lives, and exploring the possible ways to reduce – by even one – the dizzying number of decisions we need to make on a daily basis.
Think about it: How many decisions did you have to make today…before you even left for work this morning?
What time to wake up?
Now imagine how much easier and less stressful your morning would be if you could eliminate just one single decision (or more!) from this list, simply by reconsidering your options and then streamlining your decision-making process.
In one of my favorite TED Talks (and books), “The Paradox of Choice,” psychologist Barry Schwartz explains “why more is less,” and how having TOO MANY options is actually too much of a good thing.
And in the beautiful and amazing book, Presentation Zen, the brilliant Garr Reynolds encourages us to seek out ways to turn complexity into simplicity – in our communications and in our lives – by looking for ways to strip things down to the “essential.”
Yes, the ability, and the willingness, to see things with new eyes and to differentiate the “essential” from the “non-essential” requires both mindfulness and time. But it will end up saving time in the long run, helping us to focus, be more purposeful, make better decisions, become less stressed, and ultimately, change our lives for the better.
So keep in mind these three classic quotations:
- “Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
- “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” ~ Albert Einstein
- “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
And remember that the more decisions in our lives that can be standardized, systematized, automated, and/or eliminated, to the point where we don’t even need to think about them anymore, the more we can free our time – and our minds – to focus on the things at work, and in life, that truly matter.
That, in a nutshell, is what the principle of “Black Sock Decision-Making” is all about:
Simplifying your life...one day – and one sock – at a time.
The Little Pink Spoon Approach to Job Interviewing: How to Give 'em a Taste and Leave 'em Wanting More
One of the great pleasures of summertime is popping into a Baskin-Robbins and trying out a few different flavors with those little pink spoons. Who doesn't love those little pink spoons!
Between you and me, 90% of the time I just end up getting Rocky Road anyway, but it's always fun to taste a few other flavors before ordering my cone. (*Although, if you're gonna do that, you better make sure that Larry David is not standing in line behind you!)
If you think about it, though, why is Baskin-Robbins so willing to give away their product for free? Of course, it’s simple and obvious: they hope that by giving us a free taste, we’ll end up buying a cup or a cone or a pint or a gallon. So they gladly give away millions of little pink spoonfuls in order to make many millions of dollars more in return. It’s the same reason movies show trailers, cosmetics companies give away free samples, and car dealers offer test drives: people want to try before they buy.
So, with this concept in mind, how might you apply the Little Pink Spoon principle to your job search in order to increase your odds of getting hired? Simply put, by giving a prospective employer a “free taste” of what you have to offer!
Three ways to leverage the power of the Little Pink Spoon approach in your job search using "the Three Shows": Show & Tell; Show Them That You Can Do It; and Show Them That You Really Want it...
 Show & Tell: No, "show & tell" is not just for kindergarteners. Verbally telling an interviewer how your background qualifies you for the job is one thing; visually showing them is another. As research has shown, vision trumps all other senses. John Medina states in his fascinating book "Brain Rules" that when people hear information, three days later they'll remember 10% of what they heard; but if they see it, they'll remember 65% of what they saw.
So what can you do to become more memorable? Be more visual! Bring stuff to the interview with you that you can show: Samples of work you’ve produced, reports or PowerPoint presentations you’ve created, photos of projects you've worked on, awards you’ve received, copies of articles or blog posts you've written. Even if the interviewer doesn't take the time to read or even look at what you brought, just holding it up and showing it to them makes it real...more real than just telling them about it. And having these samples handy is a great way to visually remind yourself of real-life stories you can use when asked, "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of...."
Even if you are not an artist, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a "portfolio" of your career accomplishments. You may even want to create a "visual bio/resume" or a personal marketing kit to supplement your traditional CV. As Dan Pink reminds us in his recent book, "To Sell is Human," we are ALL in sales. And, when you are interviewing, what you are selling is yourself. Because so few people outside of the design world think of creating a portfolio of their work, your proactivity and creativity in doing so will definitely help you stand out from the crowd.
 Show Them That You Can Do It: While job interviews can sometimes feel more like a one-way interrogation than a two-way conversation, there are things that you can strategically and proactively do to turn the discussion into a dialogue and a demonstration of your capabilities. Ultimately, what you want to do is to get the interviewer to change their perception of you from "an interviewee" to "an employee" by getting them to actually envision you working there.
One way of doing this might be to ask the interviewer to give you an example of a real-world business challenge that you would be facing if you were to be hired for this role. By taking off your "interviewee hat" and putting on your “consultant hat” and asking thoughtful questions, you probably won't solve their puzzle right then and there, but you'll be perceived as someone who is ready, willing, and able to get to work. Earlier in my career, when I asked my new boss at Disney why he hired me over a few other candidates who were more qualified, his response was: "Because you asked the best questions."
Another way you can show what you can do is by providing an example of your abilities using the PARLA model that I discussed in more detail in a previous post. In short, you can demonstrate your potential to do the job you're interviewing for by describing: a relevant PROBLEM you previously faced; the ACTION you took; the RESULT of that action; what you LEARNED from that experience; and how you would APPLY that knowledge in this role.
After the interview, to further demonstrate your potential, you might email them some additional thoughts and ideas, along with your thank-you note. This will further demonstrate your professionalism and capability, as well as reinforcing that you really want the job...
 Show Them That You Really Want It: It's one thing to show that you can DO the job; it's another thing to demonstrate that you really WANT the job. Earlier in my career I was crushed to not be offered a job that I thought I was perfect for. When I asked the hiring manager for some feedback after the decision had been made, he responded that, "It didn't seem to me that you were that enthusiastic about this position. We need people who are passionate about working here." Lesson learned: People aren't mind-readers, so make sure they know how much you want the job (assuming you really do).
Secondly, here's a question to consider: Are you potentially willing to work for free? Of course, you need to earn a living and don’t want to undervalue yourself. But, just as you might want to taste a new flavor before purchasing a whole cone, the prospective employer might be on the fence about hiring you, or might not yet be ready to make a permanent offer. So might there be some other way for you to show how much you have to offer and how much you want to work there? It’s not always possible, but what if you could start out as a volunteer or an intern, or in a temp-to-perm situation, or on a consulting or project or trial basis? This might not be an option, but it never hurts to be creative and open to exploring out-of-the-box possibilities as a way of getting your foot in the door!
In closing, from my experience, if you can "show" these three things -- real-world examples of your previous work accomplishments, that you have what it takes to do the job, and how much you really want it -- you will dramatically improve your odds of getting the job.
So, as you prepare for your next interview, think about how you might give people a "little pink spoon-sized taste" of who you are and what you have to offer so that they will want to buy the entire cone...along with some sprinkles, whipped cream, and a cherry on top as well.
OK, blog post done … time for some ice cream!
*If you have your own examples of the Little Pink Spoon principle in action, please feel free to share them with us...
The classic Gershwin song reminds us each year around this time that it’s “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” While those “fish are jumpin’,” the pace at work tends to slow down; the office dress code tends to get more casual; bosses, co-workers, and clients disappear on vacation; and most everyone tries to sneak out early on Fridays.
So, you’re thinking: Why not join the club, chillax, and shift into cruise control for the next couple of months?
But instead, what if, this summer, you decided to shift gears and do the opposite!
While everyone else is out getting their second Mister Softee or third iced coffee of the day, why not carpe the diem and take at least some of this downtime to do some of those things that you’ve been putting off all year long? That is, instead of cruising through the summer as many do and then wondering where the time went, why not put the pedal to the metal, and take advantage of these lazy, hazy, days of summer to get ahead…
How? By – in addition to, of course, allowing yourself to take some well-earned and much-needed time off for yourself – you may want to consider dedicating at least a few of those dog days of summer – the period between the Fourth of July and Labor Day – to focus on these four imporant, career-enhancing activities:
- Developing yourself;
- Developing your relationships;
- Developing your people;
- Developing your team.
The Time Management Matrix model I mentioned in a previous post (“Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips“) demonstrates that we spend most of our time in either Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important tasks) or Quadrant 3 (Urgent and Unimportant tasks). For good reason, it’s often referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent” because we let external demands and time constraints dictate where and how we spend so much of our time.
But with things slowing down a little and often with fewer Q1 & Q3 fires to put out, summertime just might be the right time to focus on Q2 (Important, but Non-Urgent tasks and projects)…and even allow us to spend some mindless Q4 downtime (Unimportant, and Non-Urgent) on ourselves.
So regarding those four items I mentioned earlier, which quadrant do they fit into? Yes, Quadrant 2!
Q2 is where the bigger picture, longer term, strategic, and developmental things happen. So, developing ourselves, developing our relationships, developing our people, and developing our teams are four high-payoff activities that often end up on our Wish List rather than on our To-Do List. Why? Because, by definition, though they are of high importance, they simply are not “urgent”…and it is the urgent and time-sensitive things that always command our primary attention, often leaving us with no time, or energy, to spend in the all-important Quadrant 2.
And what about Q4 – the unimportant and non-urgent? Well, we cannot live by work alone! There is definitely a need to recharge and refresh ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And summertime is the perfect time to try to carve out some time to do that…yes, during the workweek. After how hard we work throughout most of the year, don’t we kind of owe it to ourselves to take advantage of this downtime…and this beautiful weather? And, though Q4 activities are categorized as “Time-Wasters and Escapes,” as the saying goes, “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time.”
YOUR SUMMERTIME Q2 & Q4 TO-DO LIST
So, to help you seize the day and develop yourself, your relationships, your people, and/or your team this summer, here are just a few of a potentially unlimited number of possible suggestions (in no particular order) that you may want to consider adding to your summertime To-Do list:
While racing to meet deadlines and focusing on getting your work done throughout most of the year, it’s easy to forget about working on yourself. So make the time and take the time this summer to get organized, to create processes and systems that will help you to be more efficient and effective, and, especially, to learn something new. Here are just a few suggestions to help you develop yourself at work this summer:
- · Pick out a business book (or non-business book) and read while having a leisurely lunch somewhere outdoors.
- · Whether online or offline, get in the habit of finding time to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and/or the key periodicals and trade journals of your industry. As President Truman once said, “Leaders are readers.”
- · Sign up for a few work-related blogs and e-newsletters and read 3-5 per day (for example, some of my favorites are: Seth Godin’s blog, Harvard Management Tip of the Day, and SmartBrief).
- · Take some time everyday to watch a couple of TED Talks (these will not only increase your knowledge, but will also help you to improve your presentation and communication skills).
- · Look up a work-related topic on YouTube and watch a few different videos to get different perspectives.
- · Find out if your company has access to book summaries (e.g., summary.com or getAbstract) or other valuable e-learning resources (e.g., Udemy), and, if so, take advantage of them.
- · Learn to speak “the language of your business” by looking up jargon and terminology you’ve heard that you don’t know the meaning of (e.g., the Investopedia dictionary is a good source for improving your financial industry vocabulary, and there’s always Wikipedia as a good starting point for everything else).
- · Take some time to de-clutter and organize your workspace (including your computer desktop). I’ve found that a clean desk contributes to a clear mind. (And if you’re allowed to, perhaps you can take your laptop outside to do your work while, at the same time, getting some fresh air and sunshine!)
- · Initiate informal conversations with various people in your office to learn more about them and to leverage the wisdom of their experience. (As well as being willing to share yours with them.) As business author Dan Pink recently wrote, “Anytime you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve just proved that you’re not." Or, as philospher Thomas Carlyle (and, later, Emerson) put it, “Every man (*or woman) is my superior in that I may learn from him (*or her).”
Develop Your Relationships
Initiatiating conversations with your co-workers will not only increase your knowledge and develop yourself, but will help you to develop and strengthen those relationships. As the saying goes, in the business world it’s not just what you know…but who you know – as well as who wants to know you. And as the best way to be seen as “interesting” is to be “interested,” seek to ask questions and make an effort to get to know people on a sincere, genuine, and human level. A few ways to build your network and deepen your relationships this summer:
- · Go out to lunch with people in your office. Suggest sitting outside (e.g., at a sidewalk café or in Bryant Park, Union Square, etc.) or take a walk around the block (or along the High Line or across the Brooklyn Bridge). This is a great way to exercise your body while exercising your mind and your people skills.
- · Reconnect and meet up with old friends and colleagues. Look them up on LinkedIn and/or Facebook to see WHAT they’re doing…and then shoot them a note to find out HOW they’re doing…and ask if they’d like to get together sometime. It could be just for fun, or you never know where your next business connection might come from. Last summer I met up with a guy who was my best friend growing up in Queens, and who I last saw when we were 12 years old. It was a really nice reconnection and a lot of fun to reminisce about old times.
- · Speaking of LinkedIn, another way to develop relationships is to join a few LinkedIn discussion groups and dive into the conversation. It’s a great way to increase your visibility, build your brand, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert or thought-leader in your field. And, again, while doing so you never know whom you might meet.
- · After work, look for opportunities to attend networking events. Often held in the summer at outdoor venues or rooftop bars, it’s a great way to socialize and enjoy the great outdoors while developing your relationships.
Develop Your People
The biggest objection I get when trying to sell clients on my training services is not “We don’t have the budget,” but “We just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately, the reality is that “NOW” is never a good time. So if you sincerely want to develop your people, you simply have to make the time, and the commitment, to do so. If you truly want to attract, retain, engage, and motivate your people, one of the best ways to do that is to invest in their personal and professional development. And summertime just might be a good time to squeeze in some training, coaching, mentoring, and more:
- · Set aside some time to meet informally with each of your people to simply ask, “How’s it going?” Most conversations between bosses and their employees focus on tasks and projects. Or only happen two times a year during formal performance reviews. But this is all about them. Finding out what makes each individual tick will help you to engage and motivate them, and set them up for success. Find out what they want to be coached on, and – whether it’s by you or someone else – get them the coaching and/or mentoring and/or training they need to take their game to the next level.
- · Initiate a mentoring program or buddy system that will encourage people to pair up with others in your organization solely for learning and development purposes. This is a great way to increase cross-functional knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as upward and downward conversations.
- · Create a “learning library” – both online and offline – to provide employees with free access to books, videos, articles, etc. for them to learn what they want, at their own pace. Making this minimal financial investment goes a long way towards creating a learning culture in your organization. And don’t you want your people to be as smart and knowledgeable as they can be?
Btw, while some managers ask, “What will happen if we invest in developing them and they leave?” the other question to consider is, “What will happen if we DON’T, and they stay?”
Develop Your Team
Developing each individual is the first step, but when you develop people to become a high performing team, you’ll find that as a T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More. As I wrote in my post, “Team BONDING Needs To Come Before Team BUILDING,” to build a championship team takes time and attention. Time that you may be able to take advantage of during the summer:
- · One of the easiest and most common ways to create a team environment is to bring people together to bond over lunch. Whether they brown bag it or whether you bring in pizza and salads or something else, creating an opportunity for your people to break bread together in a casual setting will help them connect, exchange ideas, and get to know one another better. If you want to be creative and turn it into a learning experience as well, show a TED Talk, share an article beforehand, or start a summer book club...to get the conversation going.
- · Get out of the office either for an extra-long lunch or allow people to leave just a little bit early to meet up for afterwork drinks at a local rooftop or waterside bar. Social media is one way of connecting; social-izing live, in-person is another.
- · Plan a more structured teambuilding offsite event. Whether you facilitate it yourself or bring in an outside expert, it’s a great way to simultaneously develop your people as individuals and collectively as a team.
- · One other, random, fun way to help people bond: “T-shirt Fridays.” If if suits your culture, pick a different theme for each Friday and invite people to wear a t-shirt that day that represents “My favorite….blank.” One week is “Wear your favorite band or concert t-shirt (e.g., The Ramones); the next week wear your favorite sports team t-shirt (e.g., Mets or Yankees); favorite vacation t-shirt; favorite superhero or cartoon character; etc. This is a fun and no-cost way to break down barriers, help people find commonalities, and initiate conversations.
While there are a million more possibilities, I’ll stop here. If you have other ideas, please share them with us!
In closing, as the inspirational magnet on my refrigerator advises: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Which implies that if you do just some of the things listed above, your “September Self” will appreciate and thank your “Summer Self” for setting you up for a successful remainder of the year.
And again, while you’re busily making progress on your Q2 to-do list, remember to also take some Q4 time to reward yourself…especially if or when you hear that hypnotic and mesmerizing Mister Softee theme song calling your name.