Lateral thinking & Bono’s Hats

Lateral thinking & Bono’s Hats


Edward de Bono (1933- ) is a Maltese psychologist and physician, a specialist in cognitive science, and a consultant to major corporations and governments. From his practice, he derived lateral thinking and the 6 Bono Hats.

Lateral thinking is a way of directing and staying focused. This method directs thought, acts as a springboard to other ideas and helps innovation.

The strength of this process is that it provides the group with security and comfort so that imagination and creativity can flourish. In a meeting or workshop, each of the participants "puts on" different coloured hats (i.e. a way of thinking) when invited.

The 6 hats of reflection :

NEUTRALITY: Facts only, objectivity

OPTIMISM: Optimistic judgements, hopes, benefits

JUDGMENT: Criticism, strengths, weaknesses

PROCESS: Step back; introduce, conclude, judge method, assign roles and point directions


EMOTIONS: Perspective, emotions, intuitions, feelings


1. How to facilitate group facilitation with Bono Hats?

1.1 Logistics:

  • A quiet, pleasant place to allow a circle to form.

1.2 Materials:

  • 6 hats of the colours shown or 6 cards showing the different hats.
  • 1 talking stick (tennis ball, felt, an object that symbolises the amount of time the individual has to speak).

1.3 Number of participants :

  • 1 facilitator.
  • 6 to 9 participants.

If there are more participants, some can take on the role of timekeeper, or be observers, one per hat for example, or scribe.

1.4 Overall duration :

  • 6 people - 1 hour
  • 9 people - 1 hour 30 minutes

1.5 Rules to be set by the facilitator at the start of the workshop:

  • Benevolence.
  • Respect for others:

Availability is imperative (no telephone, emails or other disturbances).

Respect the time for reflection (1').

Each participant must speak within the allotted time without risk of being interrupted or contradicted afterwards.

  • Respect the colour of the hat.
  • Stay focused on the objective.

1.6 Process:

De Bono proposes to divide the search for solutions into 6 distinct phases, each represented by a coloured hat that symbolises a given way of thinking. The facilitator states the intention of the workshop, invites the participants to put on their hats, and guides the reflection with questions. Under each hat, each person has 1 minute to speak, and speaks at least once, at most twice, hence the importance of using the talking stick.

The speaking time is transmitted from one participant to another symbolically by the talking stick.

The order of speaking is not compulsory, but the following organisation is recommended:

FACTS, neutrality

The facilitator invites the participants to state facts, objective information, and figures, which characterise the situation.

Example of a question to ask:

  • What are the facts and figures?
  • What information do we have? What information are we missing?

EMOTIONS, intuitions

The facilitator invites each of the participants to report their emotions, feelings, intuitions and hunches, without justifying themselves to the others.

Example of a question to ask:

  • What do you feel here and now?
  • What is your intuition for the future?

JUDGEMENT, risks and negative criticism

The facilitator invites the participants to reflect on the risks, dangers, disadvantages and difficulties. Example of a question to ask:

  • What are the shortcomings, and the weaknesses?
  • What are the risks, negative effects, and disadvantages?
  • What should we be careful about? What are the obstacles, and the dangers? - In the worst case, what could happen?
  • Why do you think it will not work?

OPTIMISM, positive criticism

The facilitator invites the participants to take a positive view.

Example of a question to ask:

  • What are the benefits, values, and advantages of this idea?
  • What are our strengths? What is working well?
  • What are the opportunities? What benefits can it bring us? - Ideally, what positive effects can we expect in the long term?
  • What could it enable us to do, to achieve?


The facilitator invites the participants to look for creative, off-the-beaten-track, and even provocative solutions.

Example of a question to ask:

  • How can we do things differently?
  • What new ideas, what alternatives?
  • What would be the possible solutions, including the most far-fetched?

PROCESS, organisation of thought

The facilitator channels the ideas and exchanges them; he/she gives the final summary.

Example of a question to ask:

  • Where have we arrived?
  • What are the main points that have been made?
  • What do we retain from this sequence? What conclusions can be drawn?
  • What is the solution to be retained? What are the priorities?
  • How can we organise its implementation? What action plan should we follow?
  • Do we all agree with this conclusion?