Six Thinking Hats for better decision-making

Marketing Tips

In the business world making decisions is like playing chess, a single move can jeopardise a winning strategy. Individuals have their instinctive approach to decision-making, while some people are innately optimistic, and therefore don’t always consider potential downsides; others are more cautious and tend to adopt a more risk-averse outlook, inhibiting their focus on opportunities that could arise.

When it comes to decisions about marketing or brand, or anything market related, a cocktail of caution, creativity, calculation and credit-taking turns decision-making into a complex process and consequently what suffers is the introduction to new ideas. 

As humans thinking is our most powerful tool and often the best decisions emanate from looking at things from different perspectives. Hence, examining a problem from different viewpoints can help conceive a better solution by taking more things into consideration. However, changing the way we look at things when we have our instinctive way of doing so can prove challenging, especially when working in a team where different outlooks on problem-solving can clash. 

Edward de Bono, a Maltese prolific psychologist and author responsible for coining the term, “lateral thinking”, developed a method to help us solve problems by looking at them from different perspectives; the Six Thinking Hats. Although it may sound like a children’s game, Six Thinking Hats is a simple, effective parallel thinking process that helps people be more productive, focused, and mindfully involved. A powerful toolset, which once learned can be applied immediately.

The process is collected in a book by the same name, Six Thinking Hats, yet for the purpose of this piece we will break it down. The idea is that when you “wear” one of these hats you adopt a different viewpoint, but don’t worry you don’t have to go and buy colourful hats for the whole team, imagining them works just as well!

  • The White Hat calls for information known or needed, the “facts”. In marketing, this could be objectively culling data from market research.

  • The Yellow Hat symbolises brightness and optimism, wearing the Yellow Hat you explore the positives and examine value and benefits.

  • The Black Hat represents judgement, it’s the opposite to the Yellow Hat, the devil’s advocate always looking out for what could go wrong, the difficulties and risks.

  • The Red Hat signifies emotion, feelings, hunches and intuition when wearing it, you express fears, likes and dislikes, and love and hate. For example; how you feel about a slogan or a brand name, etc

  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives and new ideas, it provides total freedom to suggest new concepts and perceptions.

  • The Blue Hat is the referee, wearing it you manage the thinking process. It is the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are kept.

The Six Thinking Hats mechanism forces us to move outside our usual or innate thinking style. The idea is that the whole team “wears” the different hats so everyone explores the situation from each perspective, but one at a time, avoiding confusion from too many angles crowding the thinking process. It also allows emotion and scepticism to be brought into what usually is a purely rational process, opening up the opportunity for more creativity within decision making.

Overall, it is a very simple technique that enriches the dynamics of problem-solving, especially when applied by a team. By looking at the “problem” this way the outcome will be sounder and more resilient decisions.

Naturally, people have their own innate “thinking hats", but deliberately forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones, adds a lot of value to the outcome. At Kenshō our favourite place to think is outside the box, which has proven especially valuable in the ever- changing world of marketing, especially in the online environment. The ability to arrive at a decision having observed it from contrasting viewpoints helps avoid possible pitfalls before committing to it. We want to encourage you to try this parallel thinking process on your own or with your team next time you have a decision to make, surely you’ll find this as useful as we do.