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Turn a Good Idea Into a Great One With the ‘Six Thinking Hats’

A method to help you think big while staying realistic

Photo: Hero Images/Getty

OOne of my most life-changing moments took place back in college: I was giving a presentation on a product I had been developing over the semester, and midway through my talk, the professor interrupted with a question that caught me off guard: “Can we see the other concepts you worked on?”

My face turned red. The answer was no, because I didn’t have any. I was presenting the only idea I had worked on, because I thought it was great.

The instructor was less than impressed.

Walking out of the classroom a little while later, I looked down at notes my instructor had left for me on my assignment. There, scribbled in red pen, were instructions that would fundamentally change how I approach my ideas: “Research the Six Thinking Hats Method.”

Six Thinking Hats is a system designed in the 1980s by the psychologist and inventor Edward de Bono. The process involves wearing different imaginary “hats,” which represent different mindsets and emotions, allowing people to look at an idea from various angles with a different focus each time. “The main difficulty of thinking is confusion,” de Bono has said. “We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope, and creativity all crowd in on us. It is like juggling with too many balls.”

Originally developed as a way to make meetings more productive, Six Thinking Hats has since been adopted by the creative world as a way to critique ideas. The method allows you be creative and bold in a safe space, while forcing you to also be honest and realistic. While you can use it in meetings, I like to use it on my own — I think of it as having a personal team of consultants, each with their own expertise. But in this case, they’re all living inside my brain.

The Six Thinking Hats are as follows:

  1. The Blue Hat, also known as the Management Hat, is used at the start of the conversation to define the outlines of an idea, and at the end to summarize and draw conclusions. With this hat, you’re stepping back and getting the 10,000-foot-view of your idea, getting a sense of what to look at during and after the critique.
  2. Next comes the White Hat. When wearing this hat, you are looking for facts and data. This should be the first hat you use after setting your outline, as it allows you to establish relevant facts and information about your idea. Ask yourself: What is the concept, in its basic form? What is its purpose? Who does it serve? You should also use this hat to discover any gaps in your knowledge and understanding of your concept.
  3. The Yellow Hat brings a bit of positivity, and establishes the value of what you’re working on. Ask yourself: What is great about your idea? What benefits would it bring? Remember to keep your enthusiasm in check, though. Look for true value in the concept, and keep expectations realistic.
  4. The Red Hat comes next. This is where you can get a little emotional. With this hat on, you’re looking for the emotive response you get from your idea. Ask yourself: How does this make me feel? What is my reaction when I first see this idea? Then think outside yourself — what would a user’s reaction be, if they had never seen it before?
  5. Now, we flip things upside down and get ruthlessly negative with the Black Hat. Ask yourself: Why wouldn’t your idea work? Where are the issues and flaws? What are the drawbacks? By uncovering the potential problems, you can remove them and develop a stronger concept. Be careful not to bring in this hat too early in the discussions, as it can hinder any positive ideas that may come up.
  6. It’s time to let your mind off the leash with the Green Hat. Now that you’re aware of potential issues and flaws, how are you going to work through them? Ask yourself: What can you improve? What can be reiterated? Or is there a completely fresh idea forming in your head? If so, what is it? This is where you can get creative and begin fresh brainstorming. Use everything you have gained from the exercise to begin developing new ideas and directions.

The day I learned about the Six Thinking Hats was the day I learned an important, if uncomfortable lesson: Even if you’re amped about an idea — even if you’ve run it through your head a hundred times, sketched out a logo, and prepared to release it to wild acclaim — that idea may still suck. Or at the very least, it may need to be seriously refined.

When you hold on too tightly to your original concept, because of your pride or your ego, it blinds you to the possibilities ahead. The Six Thinking Hats can transform your idea from something mediocre to something good, and from something good to something that could change your life.

Editor in Chief of Post-Grad Survival Guide • Columnist in Marker • Words in Forge, Debugger & more • Lets connect on LinkedIn:

Thanks to Michael Thompson

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