Learn To Wear 6 Hats

This is a useful concept from Edward de Bono, researcher and author known for his thoughts on thinking. Now, we’ve all heard the term that you must wear more than one hat, and as you might have guessed, this method requires looking at a problem or decision from six separate perspectives by wearing six different hats. This is probably five more perspectives than you’re used to, which injects a certain amount of creativity into your mind. It’s not that the hats here are creative by themselves, but the combination of the six of them can drastically change your perception to be more creative and open.

Along with the hats themselves, an avatar that embodies the main purpose of each hat will make matters much clearer. It’s like you are making a decision by committee, but all the roles are played by you. This allows you to uncover a wide range of perspectives outside of your own, and we know how important it is to gather sources at this point. Different patterns of thought give rise to different ideas, as well as a combination of ideas.

The colors of the six hats are white, red, black, yellow, green, and blue. The colors are fairly inconsequential, and it’s probably easier if you categorize them by the avatar. I’ll go into each of them in depth.

“Tell me more. What does this mean, and where did you get that information?”

The white hat is Sherlock Holmes, of course. This is the thinking and analytical hat. You are trying to gather as much information as possible by whatever means possible. Be observant and act like an information sponge. While you’re at it, analyze your information and determine the gaps you have and what you can deduce from your current knowledge. Dig deep, fill in the information gaps, and try to gather an understanding of what you really have in front of you.

You want to absorb as much of the available information as you can while also determining what you are missing to make a more informed and suitable decision. The white hat is also where you should be resourceful about learning. As we discussed earlier, lack of information is one of the worst detriments to your decisions.

Make sure you are armed with information, seek multiple perspectives and don’t let yourself be influenced by bias. You want an objective view of the entire landscape. Get out your magnifying glass and start sleuthing, Detective Holmes.

“And how does that make you feel? Why is that?”

The red hat is Sigmund Freud, the psychotherapist. This is your emotion hat. You are trying to determine how you feel about something and what your gut tells you. Those are not always the same emotions. Combined with the information you collected as Sherlock Holmes, this will already give you a more complete picture than you are used to.

You are asking how you feel about your options and why. Beyond the objective level, decisions affect us on an emotional level. You must account for that—happiness and unhappiness. Ask yourself what you find yourself leaning toward or avoiding and why that might be. You can also attempt to predict how others might react emotionally.

Your actions might have consequences beyond your current understanding, and how people will feel is often different from how you think they will feel. What are the origins of your emotions toward each option, and are they reasonable or even relevant, for that matter? Often, our emotions aren’t in the open, so when you can understand them better, you will understand your options better as well.

“I don’t know. I have my doubts. What about X? Will Y really happen that way?”

The black hat is Eeyore, the morose donkey from Winnie the Pooh. If you don’t know who that is, you can imagine the black hat to be the ultimate depressed pessimist that never believes anything will work out. Indeed, the purpose of the black hat is to attempt to poke holes in everything and to try to account for everything that can go wrong. They are skeptics who always look on the darker side of life.

They believe in Murphy’s law: everything that can go wrong will go wrong. This is a hat most people never wear because they are afraid to look at their decisions or reasoning from a critical point of view. On some level, it probably indicates recognition that their views fall apart under deeper scrutiny, but that is exactly why it’s so important to wear the black hat.

This viewpoint is essentially planning for failure and the worst-case scenario. Planning for success is easy and instantaneous, but what happens when things don’t work out and you have to put out fires? How would you prepare differently if you thought there was a high probability of failure?

You change your approach, look for alternatives, and create contingency plans to account for everything. This is the type of analysis that leads to better planning and decisions because you can objectively take into account what is good and what is not. Wearing your black hat makes your plans tougher and stronger over the long haul, though it can be exhausting to continually reject positivity and hopefulness—which is why we have alternative hats to turn to as well.

“It’s going to be so great when this all comes together. Just imagine how you’ll feel.”

The yellow hat is the cheerleader. It is the opposite of the black hat—you are now thinking positively and optimistically. This is a motivating hat that allows you to feel good about your decision and the value of putting all the work into it. This is where you turn dark clouds into a silver lining.

It also allows you to project into the future and imagine the opportunities that come along with it. If this decision goes well, what else will follow? Where do optimistic projections place you, and what is necessary for you to reach them?

Belief in yourself is still one of the concepts that fuels achievement and motivation, so it’s important to be balanced with pessimism and nitpicking flaws.

“Call me crazy, but what if we completely change X and try Y?”

The green hat is Pablo Picasso, the famous artist. This hat is for creativity. When you wear this hat, you want to think outside the box and come up with creative perspectives, angles, and solutions to whatever you are facing. It can be as simple as pretending that your current leading option is unavailable and having to figure out what you can do instead. You must deviate from the current options and discover other ways of solving your problem.

Brainstorming is the name of the game here. No judgment or criticism is allowed when you are wearing this hat because you want to generate as many ideas as possible. You can always curate them later, but the more solutions you can think of, no matter how zany or ineffective, there will always be something you can learn or apply from them.

This is also a hat of open-mindedness and not being stuck in one track of thinking, which can be dangerous if you refuse to alter your course in the face of hardships.

“Now, now, children. Everyone will have their turn to be heard.”

The blue hat is Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company and inventor of the modern assembly line. The blue hat is all about coordinating and creating a system to integrate all the information you obtained from the other hats. You can also look at this hat as the CEO: you are in charge of making things happen and putting things in place, though not necessarily creating anything by yourself.

You are in charge of weighing how heavily each hat should be considered and what factors you must take into account when integrating the information. The CEO knows the context the best, so the input from each different hat is synthesized and weighed based on personal priorities and the situation at hand. You are the ultimate decider.

These six perspectives should get your mind jumping at the number of perspectives that you aren’t using. For instance, what would your role model do? Or how might da Vinci himself think about something? How would someone that you admire, with a distinct combination of positive traits, approach what you are looking at? For that matter, what about a distinct combination of negative traits?

What kind of ideas would spring from their head? Batman might generate morbid, brutal ideas, but Wonder Woman might be completely different.

Shifting your perspective is an important aspect of the problem-solving process, especially when you’re faced with a complex problem for which traditional views and thinking styles just don’t cut it anymore. When you need creative solutions for highly challenging or unconventional scenarios, you can count on several perspective-shifting techniques to help you through.