Almost 15 years ago, when I was in Engineering, my boss at that time, Ameet Nayak, had introduced me to a concept called “Parallel Thinking.” I am forever indebted to Ameet for the introduction and, of course, Edward De Bono for his work in the “Thinking” field. This method of thinking using the metaphor of 6 imaginary Hats has improved the way I think and I am positive that this will affect you greatly as well.

Many of us have been in meetings or conferences where there is always at least one person who…

  1. Constantly finds fault with every idea proposed
  2. Listens in but does not contribute
  3. Vehemently supports any proposal, regardless of the pros and cons

This often results in futile, overly aggressive discussions and sub-optimal results. This is where I find this method of thinking useful- it is a technique that helps any person think with a given point of view when necessary while taking into consideration all the decision-making factors in play. The description of each colored “hat” below is a breakdown of what the hat means, and how the attendees should be thinking while wearing this hat.

The White Hat

The white hat is all about collecting information and facts. No bias comes into play here- the only factors involved are you and pure information that cannot be disputed. As an example, let’s say we are trying to architect an application. Do we have all the data points in front of us? The data points could include the number of expected users, concurrency, pricing for the resources, or infrastructure. So, essentially, this wearing this hat indicates that everyone involved should be on a fact-finding mission and nothing more. Do we have all the information necessary to formulate a solution? Are we missing anything crucial?

Red Hat:

The red hat symbolizes what you want to do, maybe not necessarily the most logical thing, but your gut feel- your intuition. With the red hat, this is where your emotions come into play. When wearing the Red Hat, everyone in the room is expected to share their emotions. This forces everyone to listen to their instincts and pay attention to what they feel about the decision being made.

Black Hat:

The next one is a black hat. This hat represents all of the cons in a solution- all the reasons something may not work. This is kind of like nitpicking all the plot holes in a book before even thinking about what you liked.  I love this hat, because I personally encounter a lot of people who love to shoot down ideas even before they are brought up completely. Don’t get me wrong, though! They are some of the most important people in the room, and this hat gives them an opportunity to flex their muscles. While wearing this hat is imperative to finding a successful solution, it is essential that you do not overuse it, as it could potentially overpower everything else.

Yellow Hat:

This hat is all about positivity and optimism. What are the pros? What are the benefits of this idea? Everyone in the room is forced to think deeper in the positive direction. This hat is where my personal challenge lies- I tend to wear this all the time! Lately, I have been learning to wear the black hat as well or have constructive peers who complement this habit when coming up with ideas. Dr.De Bono calls this “speculative-positive.” So in the end, it isn’t just about thinking positively, but also thinking about an action plan that can follow.

Green Hat:

This hat is about divergent thinking, being creative, thinking outside the box, and empowering my team to come up with more ideas. Wearing this hat, the team can leverage existing ideas and come up with new ones as well. Often times, I find it difficult to have the quiet ones in the room to come up with ideas. This creates a great opportunity for them to open up with confidence because nobody can shoot them down. Remember, everyone is wearing the same hat at a time! Sorry, black hat!

Blue Hat:

The Blue Hat is all about orchestration. Typically this is worn to control the process around the hats and worn by the moderator to control and pace the overall flow, improve the process, and provide suggestions and recommendations.

There are a few challenges when wearing these hats because it needs a lot of discipline and alignment.  I find this method extremely helpful when I am thinking about a specific problem by myself, even without my peers. The framework helps me segregate various aspects of my own thinking. As AI, Next-Gen Technologies and Design options permeate us, I strongly believe that the need to think well is of paramount importance is often ignored and should be practiced.