The Grey Thinking Cap is for Wisdom.

At a leadership convention in Melbourne I was asked to add one more 7th cap (or hat) to the original 6 thinking caps developed by SOT in 1983.

I added  the Grey Hat  for Wisdom. The Wisdom Hat is also a broad Metacognition Hat for thinking about thinking.

Of all the Thinking Hats–White, Black, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue–the Grey Hat (or Cap) 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.

I am dedicating this book to my father who was one of the wisest people I have ever known. He had a great deal of life experience. In WWII he had served and survived in two theatres of war in the Middle East and in New Guinea.

Before the war, in Melbourne, he received a classical education. He was widely read, had a great deal of knowledge and common sense and was known for his generosity, his cheerful demeanour and lively sense of humour. He was also very lucky. He survived bowel cancer, completely, and other narrow escapes.

Dad used to always say, “Nobody’s perfect”. How wise he was!


Martin Joseph Hewitt-Gleeson de Saint-Arnaud (15.11.1919—09.08.2003)




The Grey Thinking Hat is for Wisdom.

The Grey Thinking Hat is for Metacognition.

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 encouraged me personally and generously supported SOT by saying that he thought our work in teaching people to think, “may be the most important thing going on in the world”.

He was the inventor of the Gallup Poll at Princeton and the designer of market research. He was the first to map what today we might call ‘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.”

Grey (Gray: US) Hat Thinking 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, Nassim 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.

In the US a person who is often admired for both her philanthropy and her own brand of wisdom is Oprah Gail Winfrey. She has claimed, “Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi”.

Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $51,000,000 for the underprivileged around the world. Behind the scenes Winfrey personally donates more of her own money to charity than any other show-business celebrity in America. In 2005 she became the first black person listed by Business Week as one of America’s top 50 most generous philanthropists, having given an estimated $303 million.

Winfrey has also invested $40 million establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg, South Africa. The school opened in January 2007. Nelson Mandela praised Winfrey for overcoming her own disadvantaged youth to become a benefactor for others and for investing in the future of South Africa.

A Guardian article entitled The Wisdom of Oprah says: The beauty of Oprah’s story is that it is simple, inexpensive things – being taught to read by her grandmother and, later, her father’s discipline and his emphasis on her education – which gave her the tools she needed to become much more than just another statistic. That in itself is inspiring.

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 raise their consciousnes and 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.

— See also: The Original SOT Thinking Caps Concept …

NOTE: If you have any suggestions or comments on this topic, please post your thoughts below.

19 thoughts on “THE 7th HAT: for WISDOM and METACOGNITION

  1. Hi!

    Wisdom is the deliberate pause, and not like a young man shooting from his hip. Wisdom is respectful of circumstances, people and multiplicity of things. Wisdom is concious of the “X” factor – the I don’t know. It is not afraid of uncertainty, but wary of it. The unpredictable 🙂

  2. I see that adding the new sound of future seeing and history reviewing in the six hats technique will help to solve many of the complex problems in new manner!

    Really ‘it will represent a revolution in thinking’

  3. If only it was that easy to put on a “Grey Hat”. I am continually amazed at how life keeps dishing out challenges, testing levels of wisdom and pushing boundaries of understanding others.
    I will agree that with age (go the grey power!) wisdom is more achievable to be tapped into; it is probably more the courage to act on it that creates an obstacle.

  4. A grey wig as used in the legal profession is used equally by females and males and denotes wisdom, is removable like a hat, and escapes from the “Hats Only” concept! Kids will love it!
    Good Luck

  5. Do all of us remember the fervency of some of our elders in trying to educate us on the Truths in Life that they had gleaned through a lifetime of trial and errors and ignoring their elder’s advice like I do?? I find I am in the bully pulpit now with so much to share but I fear my wisdom has not much more effect than that bestowed upon me in my youth. I appreciate it now and see the wisdom, but at the time my mind was not ready to accept the Truth I was given so freely. Is there no way to allow a young mind to process Truth in a more palatable manner to allow a learning curve shortened by decades by understanding?? A pill, a DNA strand to twist, a way to lead to success in Life. If only I had spared my elders the benefit of my intelligence for a few short years and allowed them to lead. But then I would not be me so I guess it all works out well anyway! Synchronicity!!

  6. I enjoyed comment by Lawrence below regarding wisdom and loved Albert Einstein’s new island where he would be an ardent patriot….I especially loved the photograph, which stimulates thinking just by looking at the quirky face of such an incredible person. One can see the myriad of thought streams flowing through his sensitive face. i believe wisdom also comes from ‘sensitivity’ to the world, compassion and empathetic ability; and hence a reason for the dissipation of dissipating/cultivating wisdom in the world, where it was once bountiful, but now is deliberately quashed by the systems of the world to homogenise the world, dissipate difference into sameness, and to extinguish independent thinking and obliterate the holistic components that create our ongoing knowledge and experience.

  7. Wisdom, like awareness and knowledge and enlightenment, is not a destination, not a fixed point in time and space that we arrive at if we take the right steps and play our cards right. Rather wisdom is a journey, an adventure of niversal proportions, on a road that continuously surprises, on a road that continuously shows us that the wiser you become the more wisdom you realise you still have to acquire.

  8. I am just introducing my class of 5 and 6 year olds to the thinking hats. I like the idea of the grey hat and the concept of looking at things from anothers viewpoint – to combine viewpoints and gain wisdom about how others may view the world. Help them to recognise other views, I look forward to the challenge, for them and myself.

  9. life is experianced from the day we are born,we learn to communicate with our mother,followed by our journey through life,experianceing 6 hats thinking along the way. as we percieve.hats change .
    till one day we maybe lucky enough to don the grey hat of wisdom gained from haveing survived the experiance of lifes challenges that each one of us has to face,age i supose identifys the survivours.of best decision makers for survival in todays changeing world

  10. Grey-hat thinking implies that thinking processes have reached the maturity needed to flexible enough to be inclusive, tolerant and patient, open and to understand the natural flow of events and processes.

    It also means statying in the moment to deal with the issues at hand, looking, listening and learning from others as well as re-checking your thought process in the light of critical values (check for ommission and misprecification), relevancy of feedback on perspective of other stakeholders.

    Grey scale thinking when properly executed will expand the comfort zone of others to help promote the process of inclusivity and openess. At a personal level it allows you to escape your own thinking and explore other options awakening the creative process.

  11. I love this site!

    Because of new technology, wisdom seekers can access more of it in a shorter period of time. I look forward to the book.

  12. 7 Hats …what a brilliant idea! I love the idea of the “wisdom”

    My favourite is Jim Rohn American Business Philosopher who had quite a few quotes one of which is “The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become”

    Another of Jim’s quotes is “beware of what you become in pursuit of what you want”

    Looking forward to your book Michael…

  13. as you get older yoy learn to use your resources better
    when you are young you shoot off in all sorts of different directions

    some people thought are just old gits

  14. Goodwill is perhaps an essential element in the characteristic nature and behaviour of a person who has attained , or is showing growth …in WISDOM.
    While power(meaning authoritative power) and goodwill may rest uneasily together in human character ….there is a genuine and benevolent POWER inherent in people who are WISE ….and their contribution to mankind (eg Oprah) is SIGNIFICANT.

  15. Not much I can say nice about religion, but the prayer, or the 7th Hat.
    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
    Seems to me the height of intelligence and wisdom. Especially a good line to remember when all hell is breaking loose, or you feel at wits end.

  16. I completely agree with the importance of wisdom and how it can help us in solving issues and innovation. Having said that we should be careful about something which I will call ‘pseudo wisdom’. While the person who is displayign wisdom thinks its wisdom its actuall not real but an impact of PTV. So the person in fact is infected by PTV and he/she genuinely thinks they are talking from their experience – their wisdom

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