Book Review: Expanding How We Think

By Rob Cooney 

Six Thinking Hats – Edward DeBono

Have you ever stepped back and thought about how you think?  Not all thinking is the same.  Unfortunately, western thinking is dominated by argument as perfected by the ancient Greek philosophers. This type of thinking still works, but in our ever-evolving world it isn’t enough.  In his book, Six Thinking Hats, De Bono outlines his method for engaging in what he describes as “parallel thinking.”  Parallel thinking attempts to hold both sides of an argument in focus and explore them in parallel.  He goes on to explain:

“…Both views, no matter how contradictory, are put down in parallel.  If, later on, it is essential to choose between the differing positions, then an attempt to choose is made at that point.  If a choice cannot be made, then the design has to cover both possibilities (p. 4).”

So how can you engage in parallel thinking?  Using the metaphor of wearing “hats” of different colors, De Bono explains how you and your team can have a common language to explore problem solving with parallel thinking.  The hats are:

  • White: Neutral, objective, concerned with objective facts
  • Black: Seriousness; caution; explore weakness in an idea or position
  • Green: Growth; creative thinking; new ideas
  • Red: Seeing red; anger; emotional view
  • Yellow: Opportunistic; positive; hope and positive thinking
  • Blue: Cool; control; thinking about the process of thinking and the use of the other hats

Using coloured hats as a metaphor offers psychological safety when going through the thinking process as a group.  Instead of asking a person to “not be so emotional,” which would likely evoke more anger, you can remain neutral and ask them to “please take off the red hat and try on the green hat.”

De Bono spends the rest of the book explaining the utility of the hats and how they fit together to form the parallel thinking methodology.  Questions pertaining to each hat are covered in detail, as is a methodology for using the hats in sequence to solve problems.

Given the amount of time that we waste in meetings trying to make decisions or achieve creative solutions to problems, Six Thinking Hats should be mandatory reading (and mastery) for any Clinician Educator who participates as a member of a team… And that’s probably all of us.