The Red Thinking Hat

Ed de Bono has published a number of interesting books on using what we seem to understand about the brain to force ourselves to be more creative and get out of ruts. Some of his training was included in a leadership class I took back in 2006. Among the various models for thinking about thinking he created, one is this idea of the Six Thinking Hats.

One of the things we learn from Western Classical teaching is that the road to the truth is through 2 sides arguing, and eventually the truth emerges. Our entire legal system is based on it. The problem is, this is actually a really poor way to get to consensus, because once people start arguing for a side they actually become more entrenched in the idea as it progresses.

The human mind is an interesting thing, we often decide something is good or bad from our gut, and then spin a complex set of justifications later. Justifications that come out on the fly about why a gut reaction is provably true in some way. Everyone does this to some degree. As with everything, it’s easier to see this flaw in others, but watch yourself in a heated discussion next time. If you pay attention close enough, you’ll see yourself doing it. We all have these reactions, that’s part of being human.

But it’s not part of being productive or moving forward. de Bono created a methodology for working with ideas with different colored hats. You tell everyone that now is the time for White Hat, which means facts only on the table. Black and Yellow are worst case and best case scenarios respectively. Green is for new idea generation, and Blue for wrapping things together. And then there is the Red hat. If what you are discussing has any level of contentiousness, it’s really important to open up a time where everyone can express their feeling and gut reactions about it, not with a complex justification for those feelings, just the feelings themselves. I divorces the gut instincts from logical arguments, but it still lets everyone express them, and that can be useful data in making a decision.

Even if you are doing anything that formal, the Red Thinking Hat is an interesting model for realizing you are no longer in a conversation or debate that’s going anywhere except round and round in circles on previous prejudices.

While de Bono wrote lots of books, including one specific to this, the book Serious Creativity, was the one most recommended to us by the instructor I had. I’ve used as a class refresher over the years, and it includes an introduction to the Six Thinking Hats, as well as much more about idea generation.

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