De Bono Six Thinking Hats

Looking at decisions from all points of view


Thinking Hats assists critical analysis of complex situations by simulating diverse points of view in a controlled environment. Several distinct states in which the brain can be trained to approach a problem are each represented by a different colour hat. When a participant is symbolically wearing a specific hat, they must try to perceive the situation through the lens associated with that colour. The activity helps to achieve appropriate and sustainable resolutions to a wide range of challenges, and sensitizes participants to the variety of viewpoints found within themselves, as well as in others.

How to use it

  • Well suited for oral cultures, such as some indigenous groups.
  • Explore diverse positions and illustrate multiple perspectives.
  • Promote balanced analysis.
  • Minimize confrontation.
  • Create awareness.

How to apply it


Arrange the room to allow small group conversations according to the number of participants. Post reminders of the characteristics of each hat throughout the working space.

  • Describe the characteristics of each coloured hat in detail.
  • Present background information on the subject matter and collaboratively develop learning objectives for the session. If goals have already been identified, explain them clearly before starting the process.
  • Instruct participants to break into groups and collectively select a colour hat to begin with. An alternative approach is to predetermine the order for ‘wearing’ each hat. This slightly limits the freedom of each working group, but makes the process easier to monitor because everyone will be using the same perspective simultaneously.
  • Either assign, or have participants select a facilitator for each group. Their role is to guide a productive discussion.
  • Move between groups to ensure that participants are remaining disciplined in their assigned perspectives and that the conversations are progressing according to the learning objectives.
  • Allow a minimum of 30 minutes for the entire working process.
  • Following the exploration of each coloured hat, instruct the groups to collaboratively evaluate the outcomes of their process and establish action items to solidify the lessons learned.
  • Each table must identify a reporter to capture key notes and provide condensed conclusions to the group as a whole.
  • Summarize the results and communicate them for future reference if appropriate.

How to adapt it

  • Create a constructive debate around a controversial issue or complex challenge. This is best suited for situations when the training group can be divided by six, because mixing hats often proves to be confusing.
    • After dividing the participants into groups, instruct each to select a different coloured hat. Provide approximately 5 to 10 minutes to examine the case or subject matter from the assigned perspective before opening the floor for debate.
    • This will highlight diverse perspectives, but must remain constructive, not combative.
    • In order to maintain balance between the diverse yet equal, perspectives, every participant in the group must contribute to the process. The participant with the white hat should act as facilitator for their working group and the blue hat is a good choice for the note taking role.
  • If the number is not quite right, set up a panel of six participants, each assigned to a different hat. After reviewing the case or challenge, open the floor for questions directed at the panel and have speakers respond according to their role.
  • Secretly assign the coloured hats to participants in advance of a group discussion period. Although it is difficult to ensure everyone maintains their role, this creates intriguing dynamics and can be formulated as a challenge to solve.
  • Use the Six Thinking Hats in Phase 3 of the Blended Learning Approach to jointly examine an issue or case through an online discussion forum. Assign participants various coloured hats and instruct them to comment and contribute to the conversation according to their respective roles.

Case study


Expressing world views through role approach


Training of Trainers for European Trade Union


Robin Poppe, (Learning and Communication)


The objective of the workshop was to look into specific issues of the discussion by applying the six hats. Six participants (out of 35) were given a picture of a coloured hat along with a short description of the characteristic that goes along with it. The function of the participants with the hats was to intervene in the group discussion according to their specific bias or focus. It took some time before the group understood the value of the different points of view but in the end the hats proved to be a constructive element in the discussion.


  • If “hats” are not relevant to the background of the participants, refer to shirt or pen colour instead.
  • Establish collaborative group dynamics before the exercise, either through suitable ice-breakers or by scheduling the session in the middle of a course. There are elements of Role Play in this method and the participants must be confident.
  • If participants seem to be facing barriers or losing control of the process, they may make an emergency switch of roles into the coloured hat that will help them deal with the challenges faced within the conversation itself. For example, the creative green hat can help find new ideas and the managerial blue hat can be used to reduce chaos.


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