Six Hats and Better Meetings

Almost nobody likes meetings and almost everybody will agree that precious little ever seems to get accomplished in meetings.  And yet we keep on having them.  There are a lot of ideas out there about how to improve meetings and one useful insight is that there are different kinds of meetings and some techniques work better for some kinds than for others.

One intriguing approach for meetings of collaborative teams developed by E. deBono is called “six hats.”  I first came across it when my step-son learned about it in a week-long workshop on team-work that he participated in during “Independent Activities Period” (IAP) at MIT.  They are teaching it to young engineers as a set of skills right alongside integration by parts and balancing equations.

The basic idea is to recognize that there are different genres of contribution to conversations and that it can be helpful to recognize and manage/organize these.  They are:

  • Yellow = ideas, speculation, “how about…”, “what if…”
  • Red = feelings, emotions, intuitions
  • Blue = agenda, sequence, process, rules of the road
  • Green = creative, options, alternatives
  • White = facts & figures, observations not interpretations, usuble info, checked facts
  • Black = criticism, flaw-finding, no need to be balanced or fair

Participants can self-consciously identify the kind of contribution they are making, a facilitator can ask for specific genres, or the agenda can be dedicated to a specific sequence of contribution types.

Here are some slides from a 2010 talk I gave for Division of Student Life staff on the technique:

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Author: Dan Ryan

I've been an Academic Program Director at, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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