How to find your six writing hats

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It used to be considered bad manners to wear a hat inside. No more! Here’s why you should always wear one of six writing hats when you’re at your computer…

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 colour 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 colours. We had to wear them whenever we spoke. I found it hilarious to see otherwise buttoned-down 40- and 50-something executives reluctantly wear coloured baseball hats with their suits.)

The concept? By putting on a hat, and by recognizing its colour (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 my coaching system.

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 2016, I’m picking jauntier colours 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. Last week I’d written about a tenet of deliberate practice and my software changed it to “tenant.” ARGH. Thanks 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 coloured hats before you next sit down to write. And remember: our heads are too small to wear more than one hat at a time.

PS: I upgraded my computer this week and, in the process, lost a week’s worth of emails. (Deep sigh.) If you emailed me between May 14 and 21 and didn’t hear a reply, please email me again.

Are you conscious of the different hats you wear when writing? Which one is your favourite? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of POP: Stand Out In Any Crowd by consultant Sam Horn. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.