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Open Dialog Article

De Bono’s Hats in Project Reviews

Open dialog article,
By John D'Hooghe, Executive Consultant - Dialog Information Technology

Dialog consultants often use innovative techniques to undertake consulting assignments.

In this article we will share our experience in using Edward De Bono's 6 thinking hats in undertaking a post-implementation review. Download the full article to see the process and worksheets used.

Concept of the Thinking Hats

The best way to explain the thinking concept called De Bono’s 6 thinking hats is through an excerpt from De Bono’s book – “Serious Creativity".

  • How do you get time for creative thinking?
  • How can you ask someone to make some creative effort?
  • How do you stop someone from being persistently negative?
  • How do you encourage people to look at the benefits of an idea?
  • How do you express your intuition and gut feeling in a serious meeting?

As De Bono explains, “The six thinking hats method is extremely simple but it is powerful in its simplicity. There was a breakfast meeting in Tokyo to launch the Japanese translation of the book Six Thinking Hats. At this meeting were the chief executives of some of the best known Japanese corporations, including Mr. Hisashi Shinto, who was chief executive of NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph). He had just been chosen as Japanese businessman of the year for his feat in privatising this giant organisation. At that time NTT had 350,000 employees and in stock market valuation was worth more than the top five U.S. corporations put together. Mr. Shinto liked the idea of the six hats and asked his executives to read the book. I met him again six months later and he told me the method had a powerful effect on his executives who were now more creative and more constructive.”

In the 1990’s, IBM began using the six hats method as part of the core of their training for their 40,000 managers worldwide. The method is widely used by major corporations including Boeing, Siemens, Du Pont and Prudential.

Schools around the world have integrated the concept into their classrooms. Recently, one of Dialog's senior consultants has been sought after to speak about the concept and Dialog’s use of it at one of the largest private schools in Australia.

Overview of the 6 Hats

Here is a simple overview of the 6 thinking hats. Later we will show how it was used in a post-implementation project review.


Think of white paper, which is neutral and carries information.

The white hat has to do with data and information.

  • What information do we have here?
  • What information is missing?
  • What information would we like to have?
  • How are we going to get the information?

When you ask for white hat thinking at a meeting you are asking those present to put aside the proposals and arguments and to focus directly on the information. For the moment everyone at the meeting looks to see what information is available, what is needed, and how it might be obtained.


Think of red and fire and warm.

The red hat has to do with feelings, intuition, and emotions. In a normal meeting you are not supposed to put forward your emotions, but people do this by disguising their emotions as logic. The red hat gives people permission to put forward their feelings and intuitions without apology, without explanation, and without any need to justify them.

  • Putting on my red hat, this is what I feel about the project.
  • My gut feeling is that it will not work.
  • I don't like the way this is being done.
  • My intuition tells me that prices will fall soon.

Because the red hat "signals" feelings, they can come into the discussion without pretending to be anything else. Intuition may be a composite judgment based on years of experience in the field and may be very valuable even if the reasons behind the intuition cannot be spelled out consciously. It should be said that intuition is not always right.


Think of a stern judge wearing black robes that comes down heavily on criminals.

The black hat is the "caution" hat. The black hat prevents us from making mistakes, doing silly things, and doing things that might be illegal.

The black hat is for critical judgment. The black hat points out why something cannot be done.

The black hat points out why something will not be profitable.

  • The regulations do not permit us to do that.
  • We do not have the production capacity to meet that order.
  • When we tried a higher price the sales fell off.
  • He has no experience in export management.

Mistakes can be disastrous. No one wants to make mistakes. It is the most used hat and possibly the most useful hat. At the same time it is very easy to overuse the black hat. Some people feel that it is enough to be cautious and negative and that if you prevent all mistakes then everything will be fine. It is easy to kill creative ideas with early negativity.


Think of sunshine.

The yellow hat is for optimism and the logical positive view of things.

The yellow hat looks for feasibility and how something can be done.

The yellow hat looks for benefits - but they must be logically based.

  • This might work if we moved the production plant nearer to the customers.
  • The benefit would come from repeat purchases.
  • The high cost of energy would make everyone more energy efficient.

The black hat is much more natural than the yellow hat because we need to avoid mistakes and danger for survival. Yellow hat thinking often requires a deliberate effort. Benefits are not always immediately obvious and we might have to search for them.

Every creative idea deserves some yellow hat attention.


Think of vegetation and rich growth

The green hat is for creative thinking and for new ideas.

The green hat is for additional alternatives and for putting forward possibilities and hypotheses.

  • We need some new ideas here.
  • Are there any additional alternatives?
  • Could we do this in a different way?
  • Could there be another explanation?

The green hat makes it possible to ask directly for a creative effort. The green hat makes time and space available for creative thinking. Even if no creative ideas are forthcoming, the green hat asks for the creative effort.


Think of the sky and an overview.

The blue hat thinks about the thinking being used. It sets the agenda for thinking.

The blue hat suggests the next step in the thinking.

The blue hat can ask for other hats.

The blue hat asks for summaries, conclusions, and decisions.

The blue hat can comment on the thinking being used.

  • We have spent far too much time looking for someone to blame.
  • Could we have a summary of your views?
  • I think we should take a look at the priorities.

The blue hat is usually used by the facilitator of a meeting, but other participants can put forward suggestions. The blue hat is for organising and controlling the thinking process so that it becomes more productive.

The Project in Review with Hats.

Now that we have explained the 6 thinking hats, download the full article to read an approach that John D’Hooghe, Dialog Executive Consultant, has successfully used to undertake a post-implementation review of a large systems development and deployment project in a government department.

Reference this article: John D'Hooghe, De Bono’s Hats in Project Reviews (2012-04-27) Open Dialog - Dialog Information Technology <>

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