debono.jpgDeBono's Six Thinking Hats

See also Seis Sombreros Para Pensar / Seis pares de zapatos para la acción

Brief Description:

Adapted from the OHCHR Toolkit:
The Thinking Hats exercise is a kind of role-play in which different perspectives are represented by hats of different colours. When a participant is symbolically wearing a specific hat, they must seek to perceive the situation through the lens associated with that colour. This method shows how different aspects of one’s personality can approach a problem differently.
It is tool that assists in the critical analysis of complex situations by simulating diverse points of view in a controlled environment. It helps to achieve more comprehensive perspectives and sounder solutions, by forcing the participants to step outside the limits of their standard thought processes and points of view.


When to use:

  • To explore diverse opinions and decisions
  • To minimize confrontation (in some cases paradoxically emphasising confrontation through role-playing)
  • To illustrate distinct perspectives
  • To examine hypothetical consequences
  • To form comprehensive strategies or scenarios
  • To become more respectful and aware of different opinions
  • This method is normally used in the context of training and can be considered a training technique.
  • When you have some participants who have a tendency to stick to a certain profile. ie when someone is always negative.

How to use:

  1. Identify the issue. For example, it could be the pros and cons of engaging the Office in a new human rights situation at the national level. Or it could be about the risks and opportunities of working with a new partner, the contents of a sensitive press statement, or any other controversial situation in which a multitude of viewpoints converge or diverge.
  2. Arrange the room to allow for conversation in small groups according to the number of participants.
  3. Describe the characteristics/opinions of each coloured hat in detail and post clearly visible reminders in the working space.
  4. Present background information on the subject matter.
  5. Instruct participants to break into groups and ask each group to select a colour hat to begin with. An alternative approach is for the groups to all start out wearing the same hat and then move on to the other ones, in an order predetermined by the facilitator. This slightly limits the freedom of each working group, but renders the process easier to monitor because everyone will be using the same perspective simultaneously.
  6. Assign facilitators for each group, or ask participants to select their own facilitator. The role of facilitator is to guide a productive discussion.
  7. Move between groups to ensure that participants remain disciplined in their assigned perspectives and that the conversations are progressing according to the learning objectives. If participants seem to be facing barriers or losing control of the process, they may make an emergency switch of roles to the hat that will best help them deal with the challenges being faced. For example, the “creative” green hat can help find new ideas and the “managerial” blue hat can be used to reduce chaos. Following all their explorations under each coloured hat, instruct the groups to collaboratively evaluate the outcomes of their process and establish action items to solidify the lessons learned.
  8. Each small group must identify a reporter to provide a summary of conclusions to the larger group.
  9. Summarize the results and communicate them for future reference if appropriate.

Hat colours and their meanings:

WhiteHat.gifThe white hat focuses on data, facts, and information known or needed.
RedHat.gifThe red hat focuses on feelings, hunches, gut instinct, and intuition.
BlackHat.gifThe black hat focuses on difficulties and potential problems, like why something may not work.
YellowHat.gifThe yellow hat focuses on values and benefits, like why something probably may work.
GreenHat.gifThe green hat focuses on creativity: possibilities, alternatives, solutions, new ideas.
BlueHat.gifThe blue hat focuses on managing the thinking process: focus, next steps, action plans.

Timing (1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes)

  • Introduction to thinking hats method and roles (15 minutes)
  • Group processes and discussion (30-45 minutes)
  • Collective debriefing (20-30 minutes).


  • Copies of the descriptions and roles for the participants who have a specific role to play
  • Pencils and markers
  • Flip chart.

Variation of the method

  • Adapt the method to create a constructive debate around a controversial issue or complex challenge. (This variation is best suited for situations when the group can be divided by six. If the number is not quite right, set up a panel of six participants, each assigned to a different perspective):
  • Divide the participants into groups and instruct each person to select a different coloured hat. Provide 5 to 10 minutes for them to examine the case or subject matter from the perspective of the hat they have chosen, and then open the floor for debate.
  • The debate will highlight diverse perspectives, but must remain constructive, not combative.
  • In order to maintain balance between diverse yet equal perspectives, every participant in the group must contribute to the process.
  • The participant with the white hat should act as facilitator for his/her working group and the blue hat is a good choice for the note taking role.
  • After the panel reviews the case or challenge, open the floor for questions and have panelists respond according to their roles.
  • Assign coloured hats to participants in advance of a group discussion period. (Although it is difficult to ensure everyone maintains their roles, this creates intriguing dynamics and can be formulated as a challenge.)
  • Roles can be played in a closed fishbowl modality (see: FISHBOWL). Each group receives a hat with a perspective to play and one representative per group will play it in the inner circle with the other participants observing.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

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  • If “hats” are not culturally appropriate, use T-shirts, coloured cards or badges, or coloured pens.
  • Establish collaborative group dynamics before the exercise, either through suitable ice-breakers or by scheduling the session in the middle of a course. As with most role-play exercises, this one works best if the participants are confident.

Examples & Stories

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Who can tell me more?

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Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Photo or image credits

(URLs, photos, podcasts, we should perhaps think of a sub-classification of resources)