Parallel thinking - the six hats

Published on August 31, 2008

For thousands of years, we have been satisfied with argument as the way of thinking. This way of thinking can be seen everywhere - in debates, in courts of laws, classrooms, etc..

I was introduced to parallel thinking from the book How to have a beautiful mind. This is a productive and co-operative way of conducting discussions, where each member wears the same colored hat at any one time. In this way, every member looks at a matter in the same direction, instead of arguing in all different directions.

Hats are used, as it can be put on and taken off easily. Here are the six hats:

1. White Hat

White symbolizes paper and print-outs. When white hat is put on, the focus is on the information at hand. Members are likely to ask “What do we know?”, “What do we need to know?”, etc..

2. Red Hat

Red symbolizes fire and warm. When red hat is put on, members are free to express their emotions, feelings and intuitions. Members are likely to say “I do not like the idea..”, “My intuition is this will fail..”, “I feel..”, etc..

Red hat is one of the most important. In rational thinking, emotions are purposefully left out in arguments. But, it is often disguised in the form of logics, and hence in the end it is bad for the argument. With red hat put one, members are to legitimizes emotions and let other members understand them.

3. Black Hat

Black symbolizes the role of judge. When black hat is put on, members will assess the risks and cover the cautious aspects. This is the critical thinking hat usually seen in rational thinking.

4. Yellow Hat

Yellow symbolizes positiveness. When yellow hat is put on, members will look for values, benefits and why something should work. This is another judgement hat (vs black hat), but it exhibit positiveness.

5. Green Hat

Green symbolizes vegetation, growth and energy. When green hat is put on, members is to be creative and ‘grow the idea’. This is a productive hat where alternatives and possibilities are explored.

6. Blue Hat

Blue symbolizes the sky, a big overview. When blue hat is put on, members is to organize the other hats and the thinking. Usually, the person chairing the meeting will wear this hat first, but it could be wore by anyone. The blue hat defines focus and purpose, and put discussions in order.