Six hats thinking is a technique that can either an individual or a team look at a problem or situation from a variety of perspectives. In essence, the six hats direct you on ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’, which means it can be applied universally.
Depending on the number of people in your group (ideally 6 or more), you assign each person one of six hats, these can be metaphorical or actual hats. Each of these hats represents a different perspective/attitude to the problem. After an opportunity for each person to collect their thoughts or research the problem, they then present their opinions (as directed by the colour of their hat). This process can be repeated, with people swapping hats, or these ideas can be collated and shared as part of a workshop or event.
This activity can be adapted to fit the desired audience and can be conducted in small groups, or larger groups where audience members can work together all wearing a specific hat.
- Adult citizens
- Children 7-12
You can do it with all those groups, but we did it with professionals from different fields like public engagement or the cultural and creative sector.
This method of problem-solving allows the group to try and approach a situation from all perspectives and can help avoid “tunnel vision” when approaching ideas. By having at least one person think about the situation from each angle, you ensure that all viewpoints are at least in part considered. It is also a good opportunity to help people come up with more informed opinions on a topic, by perhaps having them think about an issue in a way that they would not normally.
Another benefit of this activity type is the versatility, it can be used by big or small groups to talk about any issue or situation.
Very little preparation is needed for this activity, you just need to pick a topic or theme, that can be discussed by the group, a way of picking out which people/persons are approaching the situation with a specific thinking cap on. This could be done randomly, or a team leader could decide who should wear each hat, some pens and paper, a stopwatch, and perhaps some research materials.
After the hat wearers have been selected, the groups are given some time to collect their ideas or conduct research on the topic, writing down ideas as they go along. Then after the allotted time, ideas and perspectives are then shared with the group, with each hat sharing what their thoughts are (from the perspective of the hat they are wearing). This process can be repeated to get a fuller picture of a situation, with groups and hats being swapped. Or some sort of co-creation activity could be implemented to try and address the issue using what was just discussed.
Generally, the hats are as follows (although these can be adapted to better fit your needs):
Blue Hat – The blue hat is metaphorically worn by the individual chairing a meeting, controlling a team, or managing a situation. They will often provide the ground rules in the form of an agenda, goals and scope.
White Hat – The White hat is used at the beginning and end of a session. Used at the beginning to concentrate on the facts or data available. Used at the end of a session to question ideas derived from using the other hats.
Green Hat – The green hat is used to encourage new and innovative ideas. Thinking outside the box where anything should be considered. No negative thinking or comment is allowed at this stage in the process.
Yellow Hat – The yellow hat is the optimistic hat, used to consider the possible merits of ideas which may have been generated by the green hat process.
Red Hat -This is the intuitive hat where feelings and emotions can be expressed, such as fears and dislikes. These feelings do not need to be justified they just identify gut feelings.
Black Hat – The black hat is the negative but logical hat as it looks at possible solutions or ideas to determine if they may or may not work. Negativity without reason must be avoided as this is a red hat function.