In a recent interview I was asked to add one more thinking hat to the original ‘6 thinking caps’ developed by SOT in 1983.

I have designed the 7th Hat for Wisdom which is the Grey Thinking Hat.

Of all the original Thinking Hats–White, Black, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue–the Grey Hat is also the Senior Hat.

(Master Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Grey Hat, Paris, 1887)



wisdom n. experience and knowledge together
with the power of applying them critically or practically
Oxford English Dictionary



is all about the escape

from judgmental thinking to wisdom.


Survival is clever and requires intelligence. Long term survival endows wisdom and this is a very clever thing, indeed

From the hard-won accomplishment of longevity emerges broad experience and special knowledge. It cannot be taught. It also offers a deep appreciation of the role that sheer random luck plays in long term survival.

My father was one of the wisest people I have ever known. He had a great deal of experience. In WWII he had served and survived in two theatres of war. He received a classical education, was widely read and had a great deal of knowledge and common sense. He was also very lucky. He survived bowel cancer, completely, and other narrow escapes. He’s used to say, “Nobody’s perfect”. How right he was!


Martin Joseph Hewitt-Gleeson – 15.11.1919 — 09.08.2003


The Grey Thinking Hat is for Wisdom.

The experience of surviving for a complete generation through childhood, adolescence and adulthood endows knowledge and perspective that a young brain simply cannot match.

To achieve 50 years of survival, through two or more generations, allows the brain to build a database of experience which offers a perspective of history, an understanding of long term consequences, a faculty for prediction and a wisdom that cannot be acquired in any other way. It takes half a century.

Grey Hat Thinking is the ability to see consequences, immediate, short term and long term. It is the ability to look back over history and to see forward into the future. To understand cycles, passages of time, the passing of fashions, eras, eons and the many possible futures including extinction, the possibility of no future at all.

My mentor, Professor George Gallup, was acknowledged worldwide as one of the greatest leaders of change. George was also a wonderful American gentleman and a very nice man. He was 84 when he died at his place in Switzerland in 1984.

He was the inventor of the Gallup Poll at Princeton and the designer of market research. He was the first to map the Human Meme Pool. George Gallup’s great personal wisdom was supported by his long experience of measuring, in scientific detail, the opinions of more people around the world than anyone else in history. In The Miracle Ahead he wrote that:
Change cannot be brought about easily by leaders, except in those situations in which the changes advocated do not disturb present relationships. In fact, it is the leaders who typically become the most bitter and the most effective foes of change. The public, therefore, must take the initiative and assume responsibility for progress in the affairs of man. The public must force change upon its leaders (who) command more respect today than perhaps they deserve… The leader is expert in his small world as it presently exists, not expert in the world as it might be. Although he plays an important role in modern society, it is not realistic to expect him to advocate change. This is the surest way for him to lose his status … The hope of the future rests with the citizen. To be effective, he must be well informed, and he must discover ways of making better use of his own great capacities and those of his fellow man. He cannot expect his leaders to give him much help in his upward march.

Grey Hat Thinking also means the wisdom to see other points of view. It includes the sagacity of patience to see beyond one’s own immediate viewpoint and the wisdom to see the viewpoints of others involved in situations: your partner’s viewpoint, your children’s, your children’s children, your neighbour’s, your customer’s, your enemy’s.

The wisdom of Grey Hat Thinking comes from long term survival.

Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia. She says: “One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change. To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what has remained constant. In my experience, the positive value of a happy family is one of the factors of human existence that hasn’t changed. The immediate family of grandparents, parents and children together with their extended family is still the core of a thriving community. When Prince Philip and I celebrated our Diamond Wedding Anniversary last month we were much aware of the affection and support of our own family as they gathered around us for the occasion.”

It is the wisdom that emerges from the hard won, labour-intensive experience gained from having to solve life’s wide range of random and unexpected problems and having survived through multi-changing environments over several generations and for an extended period of time.

The long-term wisdom of Grey Hat Thinking may also be useful in raising one’s conciousness of Black Swans.

In The Black Swan, Hassim Nicholas Taleb shares his personal insight:

The other day, looking at my gray beard that makes me look ten years older than my true age, and the pleasure I derived from exhibiting it, I realized the following. Effectively, the respect for the elder in many societies might be compensation for our short-term memory. Senate come from senatus, aging in Latin; sheikh in Arabic means both member of the ruling elite and “elder”.

These people had to be repositories of more complicated inductive learning that included information about rare events —in a narrow evolutionary sense they can be deemed be useless since they are past their procreative age, so they have to offer some antidote to the turkey problem and prevent the less experienced members of the tribe from being suckers. In fact the elders can scare us with a story —which is why we become overexcited when we think of a specific Black Swan.

I was excited to find out that this also held in the animal domain: a paper in Science shows that elephant matriarch fill the role of super-advisors on rare events.

One of the well-known paradoxes of wisdom is expressed by Mark Twain’s admission: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years”.

Even though we may not be able to teach children to do Grey Hat Thinking we can still teach them to understand what it is–to recognise it–to appreciate it, to consult it, and to seek it our wherever it can be found.

Wisdom, wrote Albert Einstein, “is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it … The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while … How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of goodwill! In such a place even I would be an ardent patriot.

NOTE: If you have any suggestions or comments on this topic, please post your ideas below and if your comment is included in the book you will be given appropriate attribution and a free copy of the book.

See also: The Original SOT Thinking Caps Concept …

Chinese character for Wisdom


4 thoughts on “The 7th Hat for Wisdom

  1. Ah Katie, but Wisdom would say, we have tried that before and it failed, let’s see how we can do it differently to make sure it works.

    We have seven staff in our office the youngest being 20 the eldest being 62 and every decade in between, it works well and we all listen to each others ideas.

    There is an old saying and it goes; “No idea is a bad idea, it is just not suitable for this issue”, or something to this effect.

  2. […] At SOT we used a number of methodologies including Edward’s CoRT Thinking syllabus and The Scheyville Method (distilled from Australian Army leadership training). We also explored, developed and pioneered a range of innovative training and thinking methodologies. For example, at different times, Edward suggested the idea of ‘Thinking Spectacles’ as a way of teaching parallel thinking; I developed the idea of X10 Thinking; and then SOT developed the idea of using ‘Six Thinking Caps’ which is now used widely around the world. Recently, I’ve added a seventh–The Grey Thinking Hat–the only one which cannot be taught. […]

  3. The Wisdom Hat is not ageist.

    It’s not an ‘old thinking’ hat requiring a ‘young thinking’ hat to balance it out. It is for a very specific kind of thinking that requires long term perspective which we call Wisdom.

    Of course, there are people, young and old, that are ageist in their thinking but that is a different issue.

    We have all seen examples of people making comments like Katie points out–“In my experience, this idea will never work and it’s worthless for us to pursue it further.”–but this is not an example of wisdom in action nor of Grey Hat Thinking.

    I think Katie’s concern is an important one but it is well-covered by the already available Black and Green Hats.

    What we need here is the kind of thinking not already dealt with by the existing 6 hats.

    There is a need for Wisdom.

  4. If adding a wisdom hat is necessary, wouldn’t it also be a good idea to add a hat for “young” thinking? My concern is that older thinkers will use the wisdom hat to overrule younger thinkers and use their “grey hat” to veto any ideas/thinking that they don’t like. It would be very easy for people to say something like, “In my experience, this idea will never work and it’s worthless for us to pursue it further.”

    “Young” thinking on the other hand could be used to say “This idea sounds improbably, but also new, different and exciting. What would it take to make it work?”

    I realize that this is a more black hat assessment of the grey hat, but I’ve seen how much people gravitate towards black hat thinking. They might see grey hat thinking as an opportunity to give more authority to black/red hat statements.

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