Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

How to Find Your Six Writing Hats

While I was reaching for a metaphor about writing last week, my brain suddenly latched onto the six thinking hats of Edward de Bono. Are you familiar with him?

The author of 57 books and the person who coined the phrase "lateral thinking", de Bono is an authority on conceptual thinking. He's taught his ideas to companies such as 3M, Exxon, IBM, Shell and many others. Executives at the newspaper company where I used to work even took a workshop about his principles (from a facilitator, not from de Bono, I regret).

De Bono published a book titled Six Thinking Hats in 1985, to international acclaim. According to him, we often try to do too much when we think and, as a result, we become confused and ineffective. To break through this log-jam, de Bono likes to separate thinking into six distinct modes, which he calls hats. Each has a different color and represents a different type of thinking. Here's a summary:

The six thinking hats…

White hat: facts, figures and objective information
Red hat: emotions and feelings
Black hat: logical negative
Yellow hat: positive constructive
Green hat: creativity and new ideas
Blue hat: control of the other hats and thinking steps

(At the workshop I attended, the facilitator even brought a collection of hats in these precise colors. We had to wear them whenever we spoke. It found it hilarious to see otherwise buttoned down 40- and 50-something executives reluctantly wear colored baseball hats with their suits.)

The concept? By putting on a hat, and by recognizing its color (purpose), we can better focus our thinking. Then, by switching hats we can redirect it. As a result, we think more productively and a whole lot faster.

Why had I never noticed the connection between de Bono's theory and my own advice to never edit while you write? In fact, the idea of separating the various different jobs of writing is core to how I approach writing.

I was meeting with a client last week and she had discovered she needed to do some more research before she could finish her piece of writing. Was that okay, she wanted to know? Of course, I said, as long as she did it separately — not while writing. But I was especially pleased to hear her succinct paraphrasing of my advice.

"Ah, so it's okay to change tasks sequentially," she said, "as long as I don't multitask." That's perfect, I confirmed.

Sequential thinking, in fact, is the whole ballgame when it comes to writing fluently and without angst. For this reason, I'd like to propose six writing hats. Because it's 2018, I'm picking jauntier colors than the ones de Bono suggested (mine come from the name nerds website), but you’ll see the roots of his thinking embedded in my own.

The six writing hats…

Purple rain hat: Research. You can't write without doing research first. This may include reading news clips, reports, books and, even more likely, interviewing other people. Try to keep an open mind when you do this so you're sure to collect enough info. (But, like my client, if you have to go back and collect more research later, that's perfectly fine. In fact, it's better to do it that way rather than collect too much research and have to throw much of it away.)

Fuchsia hat: Creativity. Allow yourself time to go crazy. Think whatever wild thoughts you want; explore all sorts of interesting and offbeat ways to approach whatever it is you want to write. Wearing your fuchsia hat is an excellent time to produce a mindmap.

Sea green hat: A positive, critical edit. What about your writing is working well? What could be improved with a few tiny tweaks?

Frosted lemon hat: A logical negative edit. What might your readers have difficulty understanding? Are your ideas presented in the best possible order? Could you add more connectors and transitions to make reading easier?

Vampire red hat: Spelling and grammar. To me, this is the least important hat. But that doesn't make it irrelevant. If you're dyslexic or have difficulty with spelling then get some help. (If you can't afford a copy editor, ask a friend.) And beware of the horrors of autocorrect. Some time ago I'd written about a tenet of deliberate practice and my software changed it to "tenant." ARGH. I was grateful to the half dozen readers who emailed me so I could fix it on my blog.

Aquamarine hat: Control of the other hats and thinking steps. This is perhaps the hardest "hat" to understand, so let me quote de Bono here:

The blue hat thinker is looking at the thinking that is taking place. He is the choreographer who designs the steps, but he is also the critic who watches what is happening. The blue hat thinker is not driving the car along the road, but he is watching the driver. He is also noting the route that is being taken.

So, assemble your collection of colored hats before you next sit down to write. And remember: Our heads are too small to wear more than one hat at a time.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday September 25th 2018, 8:46 PM
Comment by: John D. (Kambah Australia)
Thank you. It is refreshing to know that I am not the only one whose ideas run into the sheep-yard through the narrow gate.
John
Monday October 1st 2018, 6:04 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks for making me laugh, John!
Saturday October 6th 2018, 1:45 PM
Comment by: Thinking Reed
The Six Writing Hats is a succinct way to understand the primary
"colors of thinking" that by necessity are a part of writing. Virtually, everything excellent requires a method. This rational profile of thought types helps me see the parts that make up the whole. I find it makes me feel like I can be more aware of what color I am into when I am writing. This has practical applications right away. Thanks.
Wednesday October 10th 2018, 9:01 AM
Comment by: David S.
Sequential thinking or activity versus multitasking--I consider this one of the most important concepts in today's age of automation, artificial intelligence, and speed of communication. Ms. Gray-Grant, you nailed it!

I second your admonition: "...beware of the horrors of autocorrect". It's impossible to spend one hour browsing blogs or posts by professionals without finding one or more examples of this.

Sadly, even in this article an example exists: "(At the workshop I attended, the facilitator even brought a collection of hats in these precise colors. We had to wear them whenever we spoke. It found it hilarious to see otherwise buttoned down 40- and 50-something executives reluctantly wear colored baseball hats with their suits.)" It found it hilarious .. Was this an editorial or publishing error long after your input? Or did you miss this? And, I don't know if you use Grammarly or not, but it strongly suggests a hyphen in "buttoned down".

I really like your writing and advice, and I am going to your website. Please accept this comment as a friendly, even admiring, heads-up. You wrote: "I was grateful to the half dozen readers who emailed me so I could fix it on my blog." It is my sincere hope you take my observation in the same vein.

I am blessed with an uncanny eye to capture such things when reading. I am cursed with an uncanny eye to capture such things when reading.
Monday October 15th 2018, 9:40 AM
Comment by: William A.
Be faithful to DeBono's lateral thinking. When organizing your writing, don't go down the page -- go across a horizontal outline. Put the hats on top of vertical columns.
Thursday October 18th 2018, 7:34 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks for your comments, David. Regretably, I was not born with your DNA so mistakes such as the "It found it hilarious" one just slide right by my eyeballs. I have no way to fix the error on the Visual Thesaurus site but I have just corrected it on my blog (and I've added the hypen to buttoned-down.) I ALWAYS appreciate corrections and I am especially grateful to you for offering them to me so graciously today! Your skill is NOT a curse. It's a feature! You could make (so-so) money as a copy editor or a proofreader.
Thursday October 18th 2018, 7:34 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Good suggestion about putting the hats horizontally across the top of the page, William!

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