The Concept Garden - 3 Hats

3-hats idea growth tool

In a training workshop a few years ago I was asked "If you could only use one of these tools from now on, which would you choose?" Without hesitation I answered "3 Hats". Ideation is relatively easy, but the original, "raw", idea is seldom an instant solution to the problem. Usually, there are challenges that will prevent you from using the idea. In most cases, these ideas will be dropped in favour of ideas that are easier to do, even when they do not give a full solution. However, the development step is essential in growing these ideas into concepts that can give a viable solution to the problem. 3-Hats is a powerful tool for doing this.


 The 3-Hats process uses Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats approach to explore and grow an idea. The three hats used are:

  1. Yellow Hat: When using the Yellow Hat, we are looking for the benefits that will be gained if the idea can be implemented. At this stage we do not worry about how easy or difficult that implementation will be.
  2. Black Hat: When using the Black Hat, we are looking for the issues and challenges that may prevent us from implementing the idea, and the problems that might be caused if the idea is implemented. At this stage we are not interested in how to fix these. We are simply listing what the issues are.
  3. Green Hat: When using the Green Hat, we are looking for ways in which the idea can be modified to eliminate the issues/challenges found under the Black Hat, without losing the benefits seen under the Yellow Hat. This does not need to be a single change that solves all of the issues. In fact, normally we have a list of changes, each of which deals with some of the challenges.

The process simply uses the three hats in turn – Yellow Hat then Black Hat then Green Hat. After the Green Hat we decide which of the proposed changes we are going to keep and which we will put aside for the time being. We then return to the Yellow Hat to check that the modified idea still has the same benefits (or possibly even new benefits). This is followed by another round with the Black Hat to check that we have eliminated the issues. Most likely, some issues will remain, or there will be new ones. If that is the case, then we go back to the Green Hat and look for more changes. This cycle is repeated until all the Black Hat issues have been eliminated or at least reduced to an acceptable size. 



  1. This technique works best if the whole Group focuses on each step in turn. In de Bono’s terminology, ‘everyone wears the same hat at the same time’. 
  2. Normally, only 3 or 4 cycles are needed. If you find that you have made more than 6 cycles and there are still issues, then it may be time to consider dropping the idea and moving onto another one.
  3. You should keep the time spent under each Hat short (about 3 minutes is usually sufficient). It is better to run three cycles spending 3 minutes on each Hat (approximately 30 minutes total) that one cycle with 10 minutes on each Hat. 

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