Perhaps thinking is a lot more complex and nuanced than previously thought. We’re told to stop thinking and to calm the mind, but the famous psychologist, Dr Edward de Bono, has an interesting technique to help us harness more effective and productive thinking that can also enhance and strengthen our intelligence.
Becoming better thinkers
An inventor, philosopher, and physician, de Bono was one of the pioneers of brain training. He coined the idea of ‘Lateral Thinking,’ along with interesting new ways of working with creative thinking and strengthening our cognitive abilities. Widely regarded as the father of thinking and the leading authority in direct teaching of thinking as a skill, de Bono wrote 65 books.
Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of the car is separate from the way the car is driven.
De Bono describes intelligence as an innate ability, inherited or acquired through early childhood. He says that thinking enhances knowledge and that well-developed thinking skill may make good use of limited knowledge or ability.
This innate ability is a potential which had to be expressed in an operating skill (such as thinking) to be effective. Thinking is related to IQ as driving a car is related to the car itself. It is a mistake to assume that the more able do not need to acquire thinking skill. Tape recorded discussions and essays show that more able students are indeed more articulate but not especially skilled at ordinary thinking. There does not seem to be much that education can do about innate abilities, but education can attempt to develop thinking skill. An increase in this skill can help to make up for deficiencies in the other two areas.
The human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways and De Bono identifies six clear directions in which the brain can be challenged. In each of these directions, the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered (e.g. gut instinct, pessimistic judgement, neutral facts). De Bono claims that these six different cognitive modes are rooted in six different kinds of brain processes or brain regions.
According to de Bono, the main challenge of thinking is trying to juggle too many things all at once. His ‘Six Hats’ allow us to systematically hone in on different aspects of a situation or decision so we become more focused, yet see a more complete picture. Each of the Six Thinking Hats represents a different style of thinking. Basically, this parallel thinking technique includes six distinct directions which are each assigned a colour.
Edward de Bono’s six hats thinking technique
1. White Hat
This is for putting up facts and figures in a neutral and objective way. We look at available information and also identify information gaps, so we can choose to fill them or just take account of them. This is where you provide background information, analyse and extrapolate historical trends.
2. Red Hat
The red hat represents the emotional view. It recognises and gives visibility to feelings, intuition and gut reaction as an important part of thinking. The red hat allows a thinker to switch in and out of his feeling mode, and also to invite others to share their feelings, in a non-judgemental way. By making emotions visible, we can observe their influence in the thinking process.
3. Black Hat
The black hat represents caution and what could go wrong. It points out what doesn’t fit, what may not work, what is wrong, and hence protects us from fatal flaws and wasted resources. The black hat recognises the value of caution and risk assessment; it makes our plans more robust.
4. Yellow Hat
The yellow hat focuses on value, benefits and optimism. It is positive and constructive. It helps us to develop ‘value sensitivity’ and invest time to seek out value.
5. Green Hat
The green hat is about creativity, new ideas and change. This is when we present alternative and new ideas, possibilities, and modify or improve suggested ideas. It is about recognizing the value of creative effort and allocating time for it.
6. Blue Hat
The blue hat is for process control, and for managing and organising thinking. It has a strategic role for laying out the overall plan, and also for moment-to-moment instructions. It helps to organize the other hats, assess priorities, list constraints etc.
De Bono believes these cognitive modes are learnable skill sets, which can be enhanced through appropriate targeted practice. He implies, however, that most people are more comfortable with some modes than others. It’s about stretching ourselves to develop new cognitive patterns.
The Six Hats has also been used in the classroom to enhance teaching methods and support people with different learning styles. Damian Gordon, Gerald Craddock and Barry Lynch have adapted de Bono’s Six hats to six learning styles, as a way to individualise and support different modes of learning in students. Here they describe the different learning styles in terms of the six hats:
THE 6 THINKING HATS HAVE BEEN ADAPTED TO SUPPORT PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES.
White Hat learners are logical and analytical, they like the facts, figures and theories, and tend to be objective about ideas. Ideally, they like to do independent research, read books, and compile facts and figures. They usually work best alone and are generally very strong at academic subjects.The ‘Red Hat’ is the emotional approach, this dimension describes people who are in touch with their feelings and with themselves, like the Intra-personal intelligence of Howard Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences.’ Red Hat learners are emotional and instinctive, they love to debate and discuss ideas. They are in touch with their feelings and care a lot about their own environments. They like to participate in lectures, love working in groups and are very strong at practical subjects.
Black Hat learners are cautious and practical, and they worry that the costs will outweigh the benefits of their decisions. They enjoy learning from real-world examples and like to work in groups to help them explore ideas. They like practical subjects and demonstrations.
Yellow Hat learners are upbeat and optimistic, and try to find the positive side to all situations. They enjoy learning real-world examples, are group-orientated and very supportive of other members of the group. They like practical subjects and demonstrations.
Green Hat learners are creative and innovative in their approach to learning, they enjoy puzzles and problem-solving exercises. They like to think ‘outside the box’ and will keep seeking alternative solutions to problems. They should, therefore, be challenged with practical exercises that require many points-of-view to fully solve.
The Blue hat learners are holistic in their approach, can be very effective leaders, but need lots of thinking time to help them ensure they have thought things out fully. They prefer lectures or exercises where a clear overview is given, can have a strong visual preference and tend to be very rule-orientated.
Benefits of using this thinking technique
This simple yet profound thinking technique has some unique benefits. Of course, the main one is becoming a good and efficient thinker. The method removes ego, which is wonderful for group situations. It is simple and mindful, as you focus on one thing at a time and this makes it easier to navigate through complex tasks. Perhaps the most wonderful benefit is that by using this method you will fully utilise your own thinking capacity and extend your brain power. It saves time with its clear pathway and the end result is far more satisfying and creative. Parallel thinking also provides a means for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so, allows them to think together more effectively.
We train our bodies to get fit, imagine what we could achieve if we focused on training our minds more too. Our minds are an endless source of inspiration and by harnessing the creative power of our thinking, we expand our intelligence and capacity for more expanded reasoning.
There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.
– Edward de Bono