‘Thinking’ Hats; for wisdom, penitence, or humiliation

Note: I suggested that I might write a blog post on the history of thinking hats in my earlier post – Thinking about ‘Thinking Hats’ – so here it is. In a departure from my usual focus on non-profit governance and management, this material is offered for general interest, although some readers may find aspects of this information relevant to their organisation.

Before Edward de Bono created his 6 Thinking Hats to symbolise styles and stages of thinking, pointed or conical hats symbolising different modes of thought had existed for centuries.

An outline of some key dates in the history of thinking hats is provided in the chart below. While some of the pointed or conical hats mentioned might not be associated directly with the concept of a ‘thinking hat’, they each symbolise a state of mind for their wearer. Those states range from magically empowered, through divinely inspired, to humiliation and penitence, before evolving into imaginative tools for intelligent deliberation on issues, problems, and decisions to be made.

From thinking cap to dunce’s cap

While various sources suggested that the considering cap dated back to the 1650s, an earlier source appears to have been John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308), a Scottish Franciscan scholar of philosophy and theology.

Duns Scotus reportedly believed that a pointed hat would act (metaphysically) like a ‘reverse funnel’ for knowledge. Wisdom, presumably divinely inspired, would flow into the pointed tip and spread into the brain below. These hats became popular among the Dunsmen and came to be viewed as both a symbol of Scotism and a mark of high intelligence.

Regrettably for the Dunsmen, their pointed caps only retained that positive symbolism until the 1500s. By then most church scholars had turned against Scotism, and the Dunsmen were considered dullards. Consequently, their pointed hats were the subject of ridicule.

Ironically, therefore, the instrument intended to promote wisdom became associated with foolish thought, hence the Duns or Dunce’s Cap.

De Bono ‘redeems’ the thinking hat

Edward de Bono did not promote the use of conical hats, but he successfully restored the concept of hats symbolising intelligent (styles and stages of) thought, as his advocacy of lateral thinking evolved into 6 thinking hats.


Readers interested in more background on hat styles mentioned in the chart above may wish to explore some of the following: :
Other pointed hat styles, not necessarily symbolising ways or standards of thinking, are described here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointed_hat

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