What was the true origin of the “thinking caps idea for teaching thinking skills”?



1. In New York in 1983 The Edward de Bono School of Thinking Inc pioneered the ‘thinking caps method of teaching thinking skills’ and began disseminating the idea. The first publication of the idea was in a New York Times syndicated column about the School of Thinking which was published in 30 newspapers in the USA entitled, It’s time to put on your thinking caps” (April 1, 1984).

This fact and all the facts stated in this case are supported by documentary evidence and third-party corroboration secured with SOT’s Melbourne and New York lawyers.

2. The School of Thinking created the six thinking caps strategy to help thinkers to escape from their current thinking patterns. This method is now used widely around the world.

3.  In August 1984, as a result of a dispute over intellectual property rights, Edward de Bono and The Edward de Bono School of Thinking Inc (incorporated in the State of New York) became legally separated. The details of this story are written up here in The Story of the Edward de Bono School of Thinking.

4.  The following year, in London 1985, Edward published an unauthorised version of Six Thinking Hats in which he lifted the original School of Thinking idea by making just a few minor changes.

5.  In his book De Bono changed School of Thinking Caps and Headbands to ‘thinking hats’. He then switched the definitions of the  ‘blue’ and ‘green’ ones around. That’s all! There are no other significant innovations in ‘his’ book.

6.  In his book he took full credit for the idea and failed to attribute The Edward de Bono School of Thinking, Inc. as the owners and originators of the IP of the ‘Thinking Caps Method for teaching thinking’. This was not only an illegal act but also a serious academic misrepresentation.

7.  After many requests from the School of Thinking and repeated assurances from Edward that he would rectify this, he has still failed to do so.

8.  In the Preface of a recent edition of Six Thinking Hats Dr de Bono acknowledges that, “The Six Thinking Hats method may well be the most important change in human thinking for the past 2300 years”.

8.  For the record, and for those who are interested in such things, here is the original transcript of the ‘School of Thinking Caps’ idea which was designed in a series of meetings in September 1983 between directors of The Edward de Bono School of Thinking, Inc in New York and in London.

9.  Both audio and written records were kept of these meetings in September 1983. The following transcript is taken, word-for-word from these original records:



Put on your thinking cap. Which one? If you play-act being a thinker then you will become a thinker. There are many different sorts of thinking.

At each moment you should know what sort of thinking you are using. So you put on the thinking cap that fits the occasion.

(The caps are sold in sets of six. Each is of a different colour and each bears the logo of the School of Thinking. Instead of caps elasticised head bands could be used.)

Information. Facts and figures. When you are wearing the white cap you just give neutral information. You are a sort of library. Just get the facts out. Give all the information you can on the matter.

Negative. Why it is wrong. What is wrong with it. Why it won’t work. Why it is not true. Why you do not believe it or do not agree with it. Note that if you simply do not like something then that comes under another hat.

Being positive. Plus. Yellow for sunshine. Build on the idea. Be constructive. Use the idea. Show its good points. Be enthusiastic.

This is the emotional hat. Feelings. Just say what you feel about the idea without bothering to explain. You hate the idea. You love the idea. Feelings and values. What your instinctive reaction happens to be. Be emotional.

This is cool and laid back. This is detached and objective. Here you are organising your thinking about the matter. Green is for focusing your thinking. For giving instructions to yourself and others. Green is neutral. You can be exploring the subject through the use of deliberate thinking tools.

This is for ‘blue-sky’ or creative ideas. The ideas do not have to be sensible or logical. You can use provocations. You can try things out. Wild and crazy ideas are allowed. The purpose is to have new ideas. Blue also allows ‘interesting’ comments about the idea. Observations of interest even if they do not follow the main track of the thinking.

So put on your thinking cap. Ask someone else to put on their thinking cap. When you have chosen your cap then think only according to that cap’s colour. In this way you come to use your thinking as a skill: using whatever type of thinking you want. On whatever occasion. So you become a thinker.

Copyright © 1983 New York.

Edward de Bono School of Thinking, Inc.

All rights reserved.

10. Twenty-four years later, in 2007, the School of Thinking created the seventh thinking cap, the Grey Hat for Wisdom. See: The 7th Hat – The Grey Hat for Wisdom


  1. a wonderful tool for “setting aside the ego for the moment” in the service of generating creative ideas.

  2. Admiring the dedication you put into your site and in depth information you provide. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  3. Hello.

    I am a thinking instructor in México actually an Innovation professor, but I liked your concept ‘Thinking instructor’ so I used it.

    I found all the Edward de Bono’s case very interesting. As I said I am a professor and I teach Innovation and creative thinking or methodoly for Design in various Universities in Mexico, I also finishing a Masters in Education so you can figure the topic is more than interesting to me.

    But also this sunday my team and I are presenting the ‘Six thinking hats method ‘ as a sample class for our Education Communication class. Of course I am going to mention your point of view and let my classmates at the masters know that you guys exist and have this amazing free online school.

  4. t may be an interesting idea to play-act your current type of thinking.
    Making oneself aware of the process by exercising certain way of thinking being limited by the hat one is wearing currently.as by the type of thinking this hat is actually symbolizing.

  5. I was very disappointed to read this about Dr de Bono but whoever came up with the idea – hats off to them, it is a brilliant idea, I have done the course and have the books.

    There is a Junior Primary School that uses the system in Darwin, from the earliest grades and they have different coloured hats hanging over different areas of the classrooms, very progressive and a great atmosphere in the classrooms.

  6. Hmm, with this idea of a seventh grey hat of wisdom through experience, could you swap that with the white hat? Because then it’d correspond more to Tolkein’s order of wizards lol and I imagine they all wore coloured hats. Plus grey could be seen as an impassive mundane colour whereas white is all the colours of light added together.
    Just a suggestion if you are to add that last cap in.

  7. In the world today there is just not enough time to do anything. The thinking hat principle helps you to define who you are, and helps you to reflect on your attitude towards life. People today can be so ‘black hatted’, because they become so wrapped up in life and in time, they don’t realise that there is a whole rack of other hats, just waiting to be tried on. I say to these people:
    “Try on a yellow, green or blue hat. The world is a scary, difficult place, but there can always be a happy, calm, or wild/exciting moment. Try them on, they just might fit…”

  8. Somewhere in all our problem solving, we use all of those hats from time to time but I’d think we use the blue one the least – pity ….that blue-sky, ideal BVS position is the one we should consider the most if we are to achieve x10

  9. Sort of an expansion of the old adage “When you work, work, when you play, play, and don’t think about one when you are doing the other.”

    Or, do one thing at a time, and do it well. I’d never thought to apply that to thinking styles, but I like the concept. I’ll need to try it.

  10. Encourages a disciplined approach to what one is discerning before it comes out of your mouth. Allows one to recognise the various approaches to problem solving, brainstorming, or just reacting.

  11. I think I would like to use the hats to see where my current strengths and weaknesses lie. ie as I think, becoming more aware which colour hat fits whatever mode of thinking I am in and see which one I use the most. Then I could work on strengthening the weaker areas.

  12. I was aware of the 6x thinking hats prior to this lesson, and I love the refresher.
    I think that the Grey hat of wisdom through experience, (in my world) isnt often sort. I read, research, look forward to these lessons, but I don’t often consult & discuss with an elder. I will certainly try.

  13. While ownership of knowledge is a nonsense, the idea that one would deliberately fail to attribute the source of ideas or information is really awful. If this case is true it should be much more widely known.

  14. This is another great ‘switch’ for us to use. A metaphor to focus elsewhere or take a different perspective.

  15. The 6 + 1 Thinking Hats provide valuable tools to ensure a balanced way of looking at an issue. They enable the issue to be explored from different perspectives.

  16. Reading the comments already posted, I have noticed that some people believe they have to choose a color as their own. I have learned the 6-hats method from Dr de Bono himself, and as far as I remember, one is to wear all collors in a sequence, depending on their attitude to the idea/problem in point. In this manner one works the idea out and acquires a better understanding of the problem by switching the colors of his hat.

  17. I first read about these hats (caps) about 15 years ago. I used them a few times, to good effect, but had largely forgotten about them until I read the SOT article. I am now motivated to start using them again, and I expect them to be very useful indeed.

  18. Perhaps we can have a sequel…the six ear muffs to enhance thinking/ideas
    They can be metalic colours: Aluminumn for blocking out boardroom negativity to a new idea that will impact on self and or others…gold ear muffs for listening to ideas that support impovements for the benefit of the system…???

  19. Being conscious of other points of view and different ways of looking at situations is helpful in almost all circumstances. The trick is to make yourself stop and refelect before making knee jerk responses – sometimes in the heat of the moment!

  20. To stop and think how you are going to respond before you do actually puts you in a more balanced and neutral place to begin with. Great idea. I’m doing this from now on!

  21. Can you have on a multiple colored hat and be able to use the skill of each individual color simultaneously? We sure do have a lot of brain under that hat we wear.

  22. I like the idea of thinking hats no matter who came with it. I probably wear all of them in a day, depending on what I do or read. I don’t see a spiritual hat in the writings. I would define this one as when one is praying or focussing on a Higher Power. When I take a walk, I often talk to God or( whatever name others want here). I’m very gratefull for whatever is hapening in my life or all the blessings I have received or are coming my way. This feel joyfull.

  23. Very interesting. It adds another dimension to thinking. Forces one to look at an issue from different perspectives and therefore use a broader mind.

  24. I love the idea of thinking caps (of elasticized bands), because it generate intentional thinking as as opposed to the automatic thinking we experience, of which oftentimes we are unaware. They could even be dangerous for us because they are usually motivated by negative emotions. It is not enough to just say “I’m putting my x thinking cap on” but we need to make this simple act of physically wearing it in order to intentionally reorganize our thinking process. So I’m going to buy six bands of the indicated colors. The 7th cap will have to wait for later. I’m not there yet.

  25. By habit
    I may ave a blue cap, or maybe a bossy person makes me do it to try to humour them,and they often have a habit of having a black cap.Maybe I should try to define the hat before talking with them.

  26. it is hard for me to believe that a scholar as well-trained as dr. de bono would steal an idea. he is such a creative thinker that he should have been able, without wasting too much time, to come up with another, equally marketable idea without stealing this one. it seems plausible that at the time he stole the thinking cap idea he was wearing the black cap. what’s more, at the time he rearranged the colors and thought that by this intellectual chess-move he could occlude his morally questionable act, he was obviously not wearing the blue hat of creative thought (or, in his schema the green hat, that corresponds to the fecundity of nature). Clearer than all these mistaken hats, or caps, is the choice of headwear when dr. de bono–whose name means “of good” although his actions show otherwise–counted up the profits from his 87 books. at that moment he wears the white hat, which in both systems means attention to facts and nothing but facts.

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