In this article I interview Dr. Edward de Bono, physician, psychologist, philosopher, inventor, consultant and author of Six Thinking Hats, Lateral Thinking, How to have a Beautiful Mind, The Mechanism of Mind, and 80+ other books.
In this interview we talk about his famous six thinking hats, creative thinking strategies, mistakes and weaknesses in thinking, and more…
The 6 Thinking Hats
Michael Frank: For those not familiar with your work…
What are the 6 thinking hats?
Dr. Edward de Bono: The 6 thinking hats are 6 different modes of thinking:
The Blue Hat is Project Management:
- What are we here for?
- What are we doing?
- What do we want to achieve?
- Metacognition (thinking about thinking) standing back and looking at the thinking process itself, like a conductor of an orchestra, like a ringmaster of a circus
The Red Hat is emotions and feelings:
- Gut feel
The White Hat is Information:
- What we know and what we don’t know
- What information is missing
- What information is needed
- How will we get the information we need?
The Yellow Hat is Positive Thinking:
- Looking for benefits
- Being positive and optimistic about an idea
- Thinking about how to make an idea work
- Advocating for an idea
The Black Hat is Critical Thinking:
- Risk assessment
- Being against things and why they won’t work
The Green Hat is Creative Thinking:
- Generating ideas and being creative
- Out of the box thinking
- Possibilities thinking
- Doesn’t have to be logical
The Six Hat Thinking Hats
Six hat thinking is parallel thinking, that is, instead of people thinking competitively against each other, everyone thinks together cooperatively in the same direction.
In a group setting everyone wears the same hat at the same time.
“For 2400 years we have been using argument as a way of discussing or exploring a subject. Argument is actually a very primitive and inefficient way of exploring a subject. In argument it’s mainly negative, mainly attacking, and there’s no constructive effort, no design effort. However there is an alternative to argument where everyone is thinking constructively in parallel, and this is the six hats. Each hat is a symbol of a mode or direction of thinking. So instead of people attacking each other and saying that’s wrong and try to point score, with the six thinking hats everyone cooperates and helps to try to open up and explore the subject.” – Edward de Bono
The 7th hat: Uncertainty
Michael Frank: If you had created a 7th thinking hat, what would it have been?
Dr. Edward de Bono: That’s a good question. I think it would probably have had something to do with uncertainty. When you don’t want to say yes or no, and you want something in between like possibly or probably. A new type of judgement, which is not yes or no.
Michael Frank: What color would you have chosen for the 7th hat – uncertainty?
Dr. Edward de Bono: I would say Orange.
Michael Frank: How can one become a better creative thinker?
Dr. Edward de Bono: I think you need to take steps that are insecure and uncertain, where you’re not sure exactly where they’re going to go, just to see where they lead, and then you can move on and try to get somewhere useful from that.
Creative thinking exercises
Michael Frank: What are your favorite creative thinking exercises?
Dr. Edward de Bono: Random word is the simplest one. You simply introduce a totally random word into a subject, and then use that as a trigger to generate ideas.
You can also try exaggerating an idea to ridiculous extremes, to create an insecurity out of the ordinary, and then from that insecurity, you move onto something new.
You can also make comparisons between something. You can say an interview is like riding on a scooter. So you have to keep your balance with what you’re discussing and you’ve got to keep moving.
Why it’s logical to be illogical
Michael Frank: You once said: “It’s logical to be illogical” – why?
Dr. Edward de Bono: Because logic is the history of experience, but being illogical can take you to new ideas and new places.
90% of thinking errors are errors of perception – not logic
Michael Frank: You also said “90% of thinking errors are errors of perception, not logic”
(Perfect logic can follow from a faulty perception, leading to an incorrect conclusion)
What can we do to improve our perception?
Dr. Edward de Bono: I think the way to improve perception is to first of all, have some doubts about it. Say, I see it this way, and yes it could be that way, but maybe there’s another way to see it, and to try on alternative perceptions and perspectives before choosing one. Always be willing to explore, to open up alternatives in your thinking.
Mistakes in thinking
Michael Frank: What do you think are the biggest mistakes most people make in their thinking?
Edward de Bono: I think to feel very sure about something, to say this is the only possible way, I don’t need to think of it any more. I think to exclude possibilities, to exclude alternatives, that’s the biggest mistake.
Weaknesses in thinking
Michael Frank: What do you think are the biggest weaknesses in most people’s thinking?
Dr. Edward de Bono: I’d say the inability to think of different things. The inability to come up with alternative ideas and possibilities. A lack of creativity, a lack of energy, a lack of a willingness to do things differently.
Michael Frank: Any final thoughts?
Dr. Edward de Bono: We always want to find the right answer, the quick answer, but we don’t pay much attention to our thinking, or treat it as importantly as we should. It’s probably more important than any other subject. We have the attitude of if you know the right answer, that’s all you need to know.
We need to spend more time on our thinking, and consider many possibilities, and not just look for one right answer.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.