I’ve been reintroduced to Edward de Bono’s six ‘Thinking Hats‘ this week. Described by de Bono as styles of thinking, using them makes it possible to (1) notice your own habitual thinking style, or that of a group in which you are a participant and (2) invite different styles, that in turn open new possibilities for thinking about a problem or situation in which you find yourself.
My friend and colleague Natalie, who brought the hats to my attention this week, taught me that de Bono’s framework is not just about thinking, but also about mood, and in doing so revealed hidden depths that I had not appreciated before.
Moods, you see, are entire orientations to the world. They include thinking, but go far beyond. Each mood opens up certain kinds of possibilities and closes down others. And each mood has us comport ourselves towards the world in distinct ways – we notice different features, we listen differently, we act with varying kinds of intensity and sensitivity, we are present in different ways, and we are more or less open to what we encounter. And kinds of actions we are disposed to take shift with mood.
Moods (which are in some ways harder to see and are more enduring than the more rapidly shifting phenomena we call emotions) bring about in a very profound way the kind of world in which we find ourselves, shaping how we think, act, speak, listen and relate. Which is why we ought to pay them serious attention in the world of work, and why de Bono’s hats can help.
You can read about the Six Hats model in its original form here. And here’s my interpretation – the six ‘mood’ hats:
Hat 1 – the white hat – evokes the mood of sincerity, in which we look with unflinching eyes at what is the case, not turning away or distorting what we see in order to make a point, win affection or esteem, or defend ourselves.
Hat 2 – the red hat – is the mood of tenderness, in which we pay attention to what we and others are experiencing emotionally, naming it as accurately as we can without pushing any emotion away or privileging one over the other, so each can be understood and encountered directly.
Hat 3 – the black hat – brings us into the mood of skepticism, in which everything is called into question, and all the worst outcomes of what we are intending are given expression.
Hat 4 – the yellow hat – is the mood of hope, in which the life-giving future possibilities at the heart of our plans are brought into the light.
Hat 5 – the green hat – invites the mood of playfulness, in which we allow ourselves to imagine creative responses to the situation in which we find ourselves, abandoning ourselves to the wildness of our ever-bubbling imagination.
Hat 6 – the blue hat – is the mood of trust, in which we commit to action, knowing that something will come from stepping in rather than waiting.
The power of the hats becomes clear when we start to notice that we habitually inhabit certain moods, closing off to us whole avenues of response and understanding and that by naming and inviting new moods, we really can do something about it.
Two applications that became clear in the work Natalie and I were doing together:
(1) Explore an issue, together with others, using each hat in turn. For five minutes or so, take up the body, pace and orientation to the world that the hat invites, and speak and listen from there.
(2) Start naming which hat you’re wearing when you speak, declaring when you change hat, and invite others to do the same. It’s revelatory to know, for example, that someone who you know as speaking most often from a mood of skepticism (black hat) is expressing tenderness (red) or hope (yellow). And equally revelatory to set aside your predominant mood, in the moment, and find out what the world looks like from the midst of another.
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