The Six Hats Of Freedom


Six Thinking Hats is a highly influential guide to meetings and negotiation by Edward de Bono. It outlines a method of conducting meetings that have proven to improve decision making and reduce meeting times. De Bono lays out six methods of thinking that to provide balance and improve productivity, represented by six hats of different colors. Each hat sums up a mode of filtering that observes and deconstructs any given problem. Utilising all hats saves meetings from becoming a stale merry-go-round of inane arguing.

It’s such a powerful mental model that it really ought to be applied in other fields. There is heaps of potential in it for use in political action and persuasion. Writers and speakers will find much benefit in learning the hats and being able to switch between them when the circumstances require. We will find that some people are better at using one hat more than the others, but learning all of them will give activists more in their toolkit to cope with the world that’s growing ever more complex.

The White Hat

(Bryan Caplan author of The Myth of the Rational Voter)

White symbolizes the lab coat, the dispassionate accumulation of data and bare facts. White hat thinking is all about collecting all the information required to make a practical decision. It necessarily comes first in the list of hats – you can’t think about anything without knowing what the problem is.

In business meetings, the white hat thinking session will be about allowing all members to contribute the facts pertinent to the problem in their respective fields. It’s meant to be cold and hard. There is no interpretation of the facts permitted; when the white hats are on, we only want to see or hear statistics, trends, graphs, tables, and statements of objective truth.

As far as the liberty activist is concerned, there is plenty of value in basic fact collecting. For many, just knowing how much national debt there is is enough to sew the seeds of distrust of government. At the very least, for a productive discussion about anything is to be had, everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to reality. Too often the facts and the interpretation of the facts can be confused. Much like defining definitions before a debate can begin, settling on what the facts of the situation are will make the ensuing back-and-forth much smoother. And it’s a point in common, which is a huge plus. It’s true we have limited knowledge, and there will often be conflict concerning the source and legitimacy of the information presented, but it forms an important part of making a common connection and ensure we are dealing with the real world before we start shouting at each other.

Be a diligent fact collector in your publishings. The world cannot be made any worse by more knowledge.

The Red Hat

(Dave Smith, host of Part of the Problem)

Red is the universal color of the feels. The red hat gives participants the opportunity to let loose with their emotions: “how do you feel about this?”

Almost the opposite of dispassionate white hat, we’re not interested in facts here. We’re only looking for the subjective emotional experience of those involved. Does this problem make you angry? What is your initial reaction? Give people a chance to express their frustration. Validate their emotions and empathize.

This hat is often neglected by libertarians, who are often very good at coldly systematizing and have an inherent distrust of “emotional thinking”. However, we do have to deal with the real world. People are much more fundamentally feelers rather than thinkers. For most of us, our thinking processes are subservient to the emotions. Our body calls to our rational faculties to interpret the emotions. But before we do that, we must recognize them: acknowledge their existence.

This hat is a vital tool for populism. Regardless of the bare facts or the intricacies of political philosophy, there’s something to be said for simply asking: “Bro, doesn’t the government just suck?”, “Isn’t it infuriating having barely enough to feed your children, let alone save for retirement?”, “Just look at all these children getting a shoddy education! Isn’t that sad?” We’re all human, and presumably, most of us have a visceral daily experience. Point it out and give people a chance to channel their justified anger, frustration, and sadness.

The Black Hat

(Walter Block, author of Defending the Undefendable)

“That guy” is the black hat thinker. The one at the meeting who can see a problem with any proposed solution. If you have any idea, it better be the most air-tight, perfectly formed idea you can come up with lest the black hat thinker tears it to shreds. Black hat thinkers are deconstructors. They are adept at spotting flaws and predicting problems. They are inherently “negative” but necessary for any practical problem-solving. Performing a “pre-mortem”, projecting ways in which the method will go wrong is a bulwark against the unpredictable.

Libertarians are the best black hat thinkers, that’s why they’re libertarians. They see clearer than anyone the inherent dysfunction of central planning and are experts at pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions in any idea or belief system. Whilst acknowledging that black hat thinking is not sufficient for a well-rounded approach to persuasion, it is absolutely necessary to keep the direction of the movement rational.

There is definitely a key role in pointing out the fundamental problems with the philosophy of statism. Aside from the inherent value in having an integrated, consistent philosophy, ignoring the problems will give us greater problems down the road. Sure, black hat thinkers are Debbie Downers, but sometimes we need a reality check.

The Yellow Hat

(Jeffrey A. Tucker, author of Bourbon for Breakfast)

Where the black hat thinker is tasked with pointing out how the idea won’t or might not work, the yellow hat thinker thinks of a way the idea could work. Yellow symbolizes optimism – it’s for constructing a positive vision of how to move forward. It’s for when the black hat has seemingly broken something down so much that the problem seems irreparable; the yellow hat finds a way to fix the pieces back together again, and incorporate.

Libertarians can tell you a million and one ways in which the state doesn’t live up to moral or practical value, and that’s fine, but sometimes we forget to help people imagine a free world. We all have an idea of what the free society would look like – let’s share it. As we point out the disastrous healthcare system, let’s express a vision of a truly free and workable health care system we could feasibly put in its place. Deconstruct, and then build better.

How many times have you heard this criticism: “You’re always telling us what’s wrong with the system, but you don’t tell us what would be better.”? They have a point. Let’s say we are successful in proving irrefutably that statism is doomed – now what? This doesn’t mean that this person, our interlocutor, after having all their beliefs shattered, is ready to jump on board with the movement. People need something to get excited about. How about extraordinary prosperity and peace? Sounds good to me.

Trump wouldn’t have won the Presidency if he solely focused on pointing out the problems, as he sees it, with the presiding establishment. He had to couple with that with a glorious vision that the masses could get behind, hence “Make America Great Again.” We can do the same thing but with a vision of the free world, far more exciting in my estimation.

The Green Hat

(Larken Rose, the author of The Most Dangerous Superstition)

This is where it gets fun. The green hat represents creative expression, openness and out of the box thinking. Green hat thinkers are the ones who will come up with some wacky idea that nobody else thought of that ends up revolutionizing the way the company works. Entrepreneurs are invariably green hat thinkers, in the quest for finding more efficient ways to solve problems, they don’t just make the same, but better, but come at it from a whole new angle.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Albert Einstein.

This is in the same mode as lateral thinking; rather than building on top of solutions previously put forward, or merely asking for more of what was good before, problems can be tackled side-on, or upside down even. Green hat thinkers may use something like the Oblique Strategies, a pack of cards produced by Brian Eno designed to encourage creative thinking – on each card is written some abstract instruction like “Give up the thing that most don’t want to give up.”, or “Go backward.” Such methods have informed artists as great as David Bowie.

How does this apply to political motivation? Well, in times where the debate is getting stale or circular with no foreseeable settlement, the problem has to be approached through a different filtering mechanism. Sometimes, in order to get someone to see the truth, they have to walk around it 180 degrees. Or they have to put on the sunglasses from They Live.

I truly believe you’ve really found something true when you receive multiple confirmations of it from different perspectives. If the truth is white light, its many applications and interpretations are the rays splintered through a prism. This is why, for me, libertarianism has to be true. It’s remarkable to me that the theory does all of these things at once: 1. Solves the problem of political authority 2. Allows us to coexist with the minimum amount of conflict 3. Does not violate anybody’s rights 4. Give us more prosperity than any other political philosophy and 5. Respects every person on Earth’s autonomy and personal preferences. Each of these allows us another angle through which we can to help people understand, and I’m sure there are many more.

If you’re at a stalling point in your discussion, break out the whiteboard and start brainstorming on some other unique way to approach the topic. If it’s true, there has to be some way you allow a chink of light to come through.

The Blue Hat

(Ron Paul, author of Liberty Defined)

There has to be some way to organize all of these modes of thinking. That’s where blue comes in. The blue hat thinker is the organizer, the leader, the one that governs all the other thinkers. The blue hat is the independent moderator that gives each hat its time to make its case.

In meetings, this is usually the meeting leader who can direct discussion and provide some organized structure so that no hat is overwhelming, or one hat being neglected, whilst allowing for some natural flow. The blue hat thinker will say things like “Okay, now we know how it might not work, let’s put our yellow hats on for a while” thus encouraging participants to think differently about the problem.

When it’s just you, you have to do your blue hat thinking for yourself. If you are doing any kind of project for the liberty movement, you may notice a general theme in your work. You might find that one hat is taking precedence over all of the others. The blue hat takes the wide view and is better positioned to see whether the fullest aspect of the thing you’re trying to teach are being represented. Had a bunch of black hat articles in a row? Try a yellow hat or a green hat. Vary it up, and you may even teach something to yourself.

You can read more by James Smith on Think Liberty here.


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