Critical Incidents and Six Hats

In People Development

Critical Incident Stories + Six Hat Thinking = Powerful Learnings

Critical Incidents

Broadly defined, a ‘critical incident’ is an incident that makes a significant contribution – positively or negatively – to an activity or event. Stories are a useful means of gathering and sharing critical incidents in workplace experience. The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) is an investigative process that usually relies on exploring five major areas:

  1. Determining a review of the incident
  2. Fact-finding (collecting details of the incident from participants)
  3. Identifying the issues
  4. Looking at various solutions to help decide how to resolve the issues
  5. Evaluating whether the solution selected addresses the situation root cause and stops futher incidents from occuring


Six Hat Thinking

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is an analytical or problem-solving technique. A bit like the Five Whys technique, it enables exploring a decision or situation through a range of lenses, points of view, or perspectives. Examining a problem with Six Thinking Hats facilitates arriving at a solution that combines factual, emotional, critical, positive, creative, and rational or process control elements.

  • White — Objective facts and figures; historical data
  • Red — Emotions, feelings, and attitudes
  • Black — Negative thinking; cautious and careful; pessimism and limitations
  • Yellow —  Positive thinking; mission possible; on time and on target; what-if
  • Green —  Creativity; exploring the situation from fresh, new angles
  • Blue — Process control; understanding and management; logistics of organising, leading and supporting

Viewing Critical Incident Stories through Six Hat Lenses

This technique can also add variety to project after action reviews, or post-completion reviews.  I like to adapt it by providing updated picture concept cards instead of the hats.

Here’s a downloadable example: Six Thinking Concepts. The steps involved are:

  1. Explain the concept of critical incidents
  2. Share a critical incident story
  3. Reaffirm the gist of the Six Thinking Hats methodology and provide each participant with a hat through which to view the critical incident
  4. Participants lead discussion of the critical incident, trying to see it through the lens of the colour/concept they are hosting; the discussion is chaired by the Blue Hat, who also summaries the process and any discussion outcomes and learnings