Subject: Parallel Thinking – Six Thinking Hats 

Event: Edward De Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats published, 1985

You have heard of the Mad Hatter, but have you heard of the Colorful Caps of Cognition?

On January 1, 1985, Edward De Bono published his book Six Thinking Hats.  De Bono is known for coining the term “lateral thinking,” which involves solving problems via indirect, creative approaches.  In Six Thinking Hats, he presents a different type of thinking, a type of thinking that might be even more radical and unorthodox than lateral thinking;  De Bono calls it parallel thinking. 

With parallel thinking, De Bono has the audacity to take on the Greek Gang of Three:  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  De Bono concedes that 2,400 years ago the GG3 established argumentation as an effective method for seeking the truth.  However, De Bono is concerned with the limits of argument because it is too negative, too ego-driven, and too limited for the creative exploration of ideas. Too often argumentative thinking puts us at each other’s throats; De Bono’s vision was to try to put us at each other’s side — thinking together.

Six Thinking Hats.jpg

The antidote to these limits is the Six Thinking Hats which divides thinking into six distinctly different modes.  When working with a group to solve a problem, De Bono’s key rule is that everyone must employ the same mode of thinking at the same time. This is what he means by parallel thinking:  instead of facing off against each other with clashing claims and arguments in the traditional debate format, parallel thinking has everyone facing the same direction.  Everyone in the group puts on the same thinking cap, facing the issue as a team as they generate ideas and possible solutions.  This prevents anyone in the group from slipping into instinctive negative, adversarial thinking that shuts down the generation and exploration of ideas. Each of the six hats represents a different mode or perspective.  By everyone taking the same perspective at the same time, the thinking becomes more systematic and less chaotic.

First is the Blue Hat.  It’s the metacognition hat, the hat where we think about our thinking.  The Blue Hat allows everyone to organize their thinking, deciding the sequence in which they will wear the other five hats.

Here are the thinking modes and colors of the other hats, in no particular order:

White Hat: Focus only on information and facts, not arguments. Identify the information you have, and ask questions about what information is missing and where you might find it. 

Red Hat: Focus on feelings, emotion, and intuition. What feelings and emotions do you have regarding the issue?  Don’t worry about explaining your feelings or about needing to logically justify them.

Black Hat:  Focus on critical thinking and judgment, looking for weaknesses and problems. This is where everyone in the group gets to play Devil’s Advocate.

Yellow Hat: Focus on positive thinking, looking for the benefits and the value of an idea. This is where everyone forgets about the “cons,” focusing ONLY on the “pros.”

Green Hat:  Focus on creative thinking, generating ideas and alternatives without judging them.

The goal of the Six Hats method is to reduce the chaos normally associated with thinking.  Instead of juggling multiple modes at the same time, the parallel thinking approach allows an individual or a group to focus the thinking in one direction at a time.  For De Bono, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, the Six Thinking Hats method is not just theory; he has made practical application of it for years, working with corporations, educators, and government leaders around the world.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is parallel thinking, and what are the six different modes of thinking represented by the six different colors of De Bono’s hats?

Challenge – The Six Pack Thinking App:  Apply the Six Thinking Hats to the following proposition:  “The electoral college should be abolished.”  List ideas by trying on and thinking with one hat at a time.  Once you’ve created a list with ideas for each of the Six Hats, put on the Blue Hat again, and reflect on what ideas you produced that you might not have if you took a traditional approach of arguing for or against the proposition.

Also on this day: The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to learn about the fresh start effect and the work of Katherine Milkman.


Sources:  De Bono, Edward.  Six Thinking Hats.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

January 1: Exordium Day

On New Year’s Day, our head is on a swivel; we look backward, reflecting on the year just passed, and forward, anticipating the new year ahead.

This swivel-headedness is reflected in the etymology – the word history – of the word “January.” The month’s name comes to us from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, gateways, and doorways.  Janus was depicted as a two-faced god, one face looking backward to the past and the other looking forward to the future.  

Like Janus, on this New Year’s Day, we look forward as we begin a new year.  It’s an appropriate day to spend some time considering methods for getting off on the right foot, whether writing an essay or a speech.  

In classical rhetoric, the introduction or beginning of a speech was called the exordium.  In Latin it means “to urge forward,” and it is the ancestor of the English verb exhort, which means “to urge earnestly.”  Any good exordium introduces the speaker’s topic and purpose, but the exordium is also important to establish the speaker’s ethos, or credibility, by showing the audience that he or she is intelligent, reliable, and trustworthy.  When you write a speech or essay, the exordium is your first impression, so it is important to give it careful thought (1).

Whatever you do, it is important to establish why your topic matters and why it is relevant to your audience.  The best way to do this is not by telling the audience; instead, show the audience using specific concrete language.  Use a captivating story or relevant anecdote that shows how real people are impacted by your topic.

Today’s Challenge:  New Year’s Introduction

What issues do you believe will be or will continue to be important in the coming year?  Brainstorm some issues and your specific position on those issues.  Then select one specific claim that you feel you can defend.  Imagine that you are presenting a speech on your issue, and write your exordium. Before stating your claim, show the reader why the topic is relevant.  Look at the issue from your audience’s perspective, and explain why this issue matters today and why it will still matter tomorrow. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The beginning is the most important part of the work. –Plato

1- Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee.  Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (Third Edition).  New York:  Pearson, Longman, 2004.