Typically, we handle problems in a tried and true way that we’re comfortable with. We don’t even think we have a thinking style because it’s just who we are and how we think. But we do have different ways of thinking. In fact, we may have six different ways of approaching a decision.

One expert, Edward De Bono, describes our thinking styles in terms of six colored hats. (The image above represents how we might be feeling, for example, after all our Holiday thinking!)

An article in Harvard Business Review caught my eye recently: “What Kind of Thinker Are You?” by Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele. The authors view thinking styles on a two-dimensional grid comprised of the way we focus and orient our thinking. I wrote about these ideas and how they can contribute to managing teams better in my previous post here.

I couldn’t help but be curious about other ideas about thinking styles. There’s no page in Wikipedia for “thinking styles,” but I did find a few blog posts and books about various assessments and definitions.

  • In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Robert Bramson identifies five thinking styles to categorize modes of thinking and problem solving we use most frequently.
  • In Six Thinking Hats, Edward De Bono presents a framework for organizing and improving thinking.
  • In Sources of Insight blog, author J.D. Meier shares other resources about critical thinking.
  • At ThinkWatson, there’s a self-assessment you can take for free.

Whether or not we can precisely define thinking style is not the point. What interests me, especially when working in corporations with people who need to collaborate effectively, is that we benefit greatly when we raise awareness of thinking styles. That in itself will help us understand ourselves and others better. Who doesn’t want that?

With the concepts of Professor De Bono in Six Thinking Hats, you explore six different views of a problem, by putting on an imaginary hat for each perspective. This technique helps you explore a problem more robustly to get unstuck from your habitual ways of thinking.  It’s a powerful technique for teams to look at different angles of the problem. The imaginary hats helps people explore alternative or even competing views.

The six thinking hats of De Bono are:

  1. White Hat – the facts and figures
  2. Red Hat – the emotional view
  3. Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”
  4. Yellow Hat – the positive side
  5. Green Hat – the creative side
  6. Blue Hat – the organizing view

It’s easy to change hats – at least metaphorically and temporarily. The experience can alter our views dramatically. Here are my key take-aways:

  • By switching hats, you switch perspective.
  • It’s easier to ask somebody to wear another hat, than tell them to change their thinking.
  • You can reduce meeting time spent arguing and instead engage in constructive dialogue.
  • You can balance out the needs of different styles.

What color is your hat? And what do you think about using this hat metaphor to understand others better? Let’s talk. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.