The Bono hat method: a great classic

Among the many collective intelligence methods for decision-making, the Six Hats method, devised by Edward de Bono in the 1980s, is like a compass. It breaks down the thought process into six perspectives symbolised by hats of different colours, each representing a way of thinking: information (white), emotions (red), criticism (black), optimism (yellow), creativity (green) and organisation (blue).

The aim? To clarify and structure collective thinking. When faced with a problem, this method encourages each participant to explore all the facets of a situation, avoiding the pitfalls of one-sided thinking. It stands out for its ability to balance rationality and creativity, pragmatism and emotion, making it an ideal tool for informed and creative decision-making.

The origin of the Bono Hat method

Edward de Bono was a Maltese psychologist, physician and author, famous for developing innovative concepts in lateral thinking and creativity. Born in 1933, he obtained a doctorate in medicine from the University of Malta and went on to study at Oxford.

De Bono felt the need to develop structured thinking methods, such as the Six Hats, in response to several shortcomings he perceived in traditional thinking methods. He found that traditional thinking was often linear and confrontational, which limited creativity and effectiveness in problem solving. De Bono believed that creative and lateral thinking could be taught and structured, contrary to the widespread belief that creativity was an innate talent.

Making meetings productive and stimulating creativity

The Six Hats method, introduced in his book “Six Thinking Hats” in 1985, is an example of his desire to structure creative thinking. This method encourages people to look at a problem from different angles, rather than limiting themselves to a one-dimensional approach. Using six different coloured ‘hats’, each colour representing a different way of thinking, de Bono provided a framework to help individuals and groups think in a more complete and balanced way.

The aim of this method was to make meetings more productive, decision-making processes more effective, and to improve problem-solving by encouraging a diverse exploration of topics. De Bono was motivated by the idea that structured thinking tools could not only improve individual and group decision-making, but also lead to more innovative and creative thinking in a variety of areas.

Testimony of Benjamin Pagliai – Cabinet Coefficience 3

“I like using this method because it allows us to get out of our cognitive biases and it forces us to look at things in a different way, to shed light on certain blind spots and possibly to bring out new ideas.

I recently used it for an SNCF project management team working on incident handling. The idea was to ‘put through the mill’ the prototype of a process. Using Bono’s hats enabled us to: use the criticisms to find out why things could go wrong and vice versa with the optimist; use the Red Hat to work on the emotions of all the stakeholders (customers, staff, passengers); use the Creative Hat to help the team come up with new ideas. The Master (Blue Hat) is very important for re-establishing the rules, for example to focus on the facts and not on emotions.

There are several ways of facilitating: either to create a discussion between hats or in successive sequences. Depending on the number of participants and their maturity, you can choose one or the other. So, if everyone is capable of playing their part, the discussion can continue thanks to the blue hat, which plays the role of facilitator.

Thanks to Glowbl, even from a distance, I can run facilitation workshops using Bono Hats. The benefits: it’s really easy to organise from a logistical point of view, and it helps me to teach my clients’ teams about these decision-making processes. As a facilitator ».

Best practices:

  • Role Clarity: Ensure that all participants understand the meaning of each hat and its role in the thought process.
  • Structured Rotation: Alternate hats systematically to ensure that all perspectives are explored.
  • Time Limit per Hat: Define a time limit for each hat to avoid certain perspectives dominating the discussion.
  • Encourage Participation: Encourage all participants to contribute under each hat, even if it takes them out of their comfort zone.
  • Flexibility: Although structure is important, be flexible in applying the method to suit the context and specific needs of the group.
  • Recording Ideas: Document the ideas and insights generated under each hat for future reference.
  • Follow-up: Follow up after the session to implement decisions or explore further the ideas generated.

Pitfalls to avoid :

  • Role conflict: Avoid participants becoming locked into one type of thinking or resisting adopting the perspective of a particular hat.
  • Hat Dominance: Ensure that no one hat (e.g. the critical black hat) dominates the discussion to the detriment of the others.
  • Lack of seriousness: Take the method seriously. It may be easy to think of it as a game, but its effectiveness depends on its serious application. 
  • Lack of Preparation: Make sure participants are well prepared and understand the method before you start.
  • Neglecting Follow-up: Failure to act on the results of the session can lead to a feeling that the method is ineffective.
  • Underestimating the Time Needed: Not allowing enough time to explore each hat can lead to superficial analysis.

And of course on Glowbl this method has been transposed into a template 

This classic method is one of the first facilitation templates we offer on Glowbl. We offer several facilitation scenarios that can be adapted to the number of participants. So you can easily and effectively run this collective intelligence workshop from a distance.

In conclusion, De Bono’s Six Hats method offers a comprehensive and flexible approach to problem solving, essential for any company aiming for excellence in its decision-making.