How many times have you participated in a brainstorm that never really “took off”? Chances are, it’s because you’re doing it all wrong from the get-go. Keith Green, the vice president of B2B communications and partnerships at Guinness World Records, has the low down on how to how to set up your brainstorm sessions so they actually spark creativity and fast track your content for success.


Start with Hats

Remember the good old days of being asked to don your thinking cap? For Green and his team, this expression still rings true. In fact, he noted the importance of adopting a version of writer and psychologist Edward De Bono’s Six Hats method, developed in 1983. The reason why this tactic still works today? It asks groups to work together to plan projects and allows participants to put on and take off different colored hats to demonstrate what kind of thinking they will be engaging in.

“The concept behind it is that you want everyone in the room to be thinking of the same concept at the same time,” said Green. “There’s science that says people’s brain chemistry will change as they think of things in different ways. So you can appreciate that if you’re doing parallel thinking, which this method uses, because you’re going to have better outcomes.”

Here’s a breakdown of the different hats and the ways they can maximize your brainstorming process:

Blue Hat: Organizing, Thinking, Planning

“You start with a blue hat,” said Green. “This where you have a person who is organizing and planning everything and setting the agenda.”

When the brainstorming session starts with everyone wearing a “blue hat,” members are immediately tasked with organizing their thoughts and keeping the session on track. With an outline of what the meeting should accomplish, how long it should go and the task of summarizing or concluding certain points, the blue hat will set up the brainstorming session for success from the outset.

White Hat: Presents Information

“The white hat follows the blue hat because this person is going to be presenting the information,” said Green. “From there, people start thinking of rough ideas and concepts.”

The white hat might seem like it goes with an outfit from the '80s, but this is the most practical of all the hats. Team members wearing the white hat are tasked with providing key information and data. The goal is to remain neutral and objectives — a “just the facts!” kind of role. This hat will allow your team to answer questions like: what do I know? What do I need to find out? How will I get the information I need? By making sure these questions are top-of-mind, you and your team can make sure your brainstorm is heading in a direction that will guarantee results.

Green Hat: Ideas & Creativity

When we get to the green hat, which is the ideas themselves, we actually start with a word association,” said Green. “We’ll just have people write whatever idea or phrase comes to mind and we’ll pass them up to the front of the room where the facilitator will put them on a white board. From there, we ask what are the concepts that can emerge from these ideas.”

The green hat is where the brainstorm really gets moving by asking your team to participate in idea generation and speak to any possibilities or alternatives presented by your main problem or goal. During the green hat phase, you and your teammates should work intuitively and not be afraid to come up with a “bad” or “wrong” idea — the whole point of the green hat is to encourage freedom amongst responses and spur creativity.

Yellow Hat: Voting

“After we’ve fleshed out some of the ideas from the green hat phase, further downstream, people will vote for what their favorite idea is,” said Green. “If there are 5-8 people in the room, you’ll start to come to a consensus about what will move the needle.”

This is where the Six Hat method emphasizes parallel thinking. Instead of feeling singled out, the group works together to establish the positives of each idea, giving logical reasons about why an idea might be useful. This allows you and your team to narrow down options and find the best problem solving solution.

Red Hat: Gut Intuition

“Once you’ve started to understand what is good about each idea, you listen to what your gut tells you,” said Green. “Everyone is thinking about this at the same time to get a feel for the idea.”

The red hat stage of the process isn’t as logical as the yellow hat phase, which has its own purpose. When wearing the red hat, team members are asked to respond with their gut feelings to an idea, where they don’t have to provide reasons or even sound logic. The point of the red hat is to figure out how you, your team and even others outside your organization will respond to the idea.

Black Hat: Caution

“The last hat is the cautionary hat,” said Green. “The black hat isn’t a bad hat, it’s designed to seek out risks or challenges the idea might present.”

To leave a brainstorm without addressing what might go wrong with a potential idea is never recommended. Although donning the black hat sounds like a bit of a downer, this hat has the important task of weeding out any last minute complications or risks. Instead of being blindsided after a brainstorm by an unforeseen challenge, this hat attempts to address those issues before your ideas even leave the drawing room.

“The Six Hat method is great because it can eliminate the big ego in the room or being concerned about going up against their boss or a senior person,” said Green. “We’re all going up together, at the same time, to the end result.”

Give this method a try and let us know how these hats work to organize, spark and solidify your brainstorming sessions!