Thinking Creatively - Changing the Way We Solve Problems

Posted by A.C. Ping
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By any measure Edward De Bono has achieved much in his life, he is the originator of the term ‘lateral thinking’, has written 56 books and made two TV series. Most recently, he has also lent his name and intellectual capital to an Institute in Melbourne established to promote new thinking. When he is not advising governments or leading corporations such as IBM, NTT, Shell, Du Pont and Ford, he lives on and owns an island in Venice.

A.C. Ping talked with him about values, the problems with democracy and how to make the world a better place.

A.C.- Edward, given that you are obviously a very successful man, what motivates you these days ?

Edward - Well, it’s difficult to describe motivation. You see one might as well say of an artist, what is an artist’s motivation ?, what is a scientist’s motivation ? In other words, once you are interested in something you want to go on doing it and, yes I would like to see the thinking in the world being more constructive, more creative. Ah , yes now why ?… do I have a missionary spirit or whatever, I mean one can describe anything in any way. But, the motivation is, the subject is interesting, the subject is important and perhaps more than anything else where I’ve seen directly through other people that it really does have an effect and youngsters like it and business leaders find it produces meetings, makes more constructive meetings. Where you start seeing results, then obviously you want to get more results, see more people using it.

A.C.- So, how do you see the establishment of the De Bono Institute as contributing to this goal ?

Edward - Well, I think you see that given our technological advances, and really technological excellence, I think our thinking habits have lagged way behind, way behind what we can do technically and I think that we are nothing like making full use of the technological and other opportunities which we’ve developed because our thinking is still so old fashioned in the ‘I’m right you’re wrong’ mode. So I think if people become more constructive thinkers they’ll deal better with themselves, they’ll deal better with other people in disputes and conflicts, and they’ll be able to develop a better world in terms of ecological concerns, in terms of economic growth, all these things are going to benefit from some more constructive, more creative thinking.

A.C.- So in a sense you see we are stuck in a rut of thinking that we need to break out of ?

Edward - Yes, I’ve often said, if someone says to me "am I a pessimist or am I an optimist" I always say I’m an optimist because if I thought the world collectively was operating absolutely on all cylinders, in terms of thinking, then I’d really be a pessimist but because I think that we’re operating way below capacity then I’m an optimist because if we come up to something like full capacity then things should change very much.

A.C.- What about if you train yourself in De Bono type thinking techniques, is that likely to improve your moral and ethical outlook, or are they unrelated ?

Edward - Well you see, a good example was when I was in Venezuela, where we had this big program to introduce it in schools, so that now by law every child in school has to do two hours a week on my programs. So the Government trained one hundred and five thousand teachers, now the point about that, at the end of it there was a press conference and some journalist said "Now you say you’re teaching thinking so surely you must just be teaching western bour’geois values and so on". So, I used a simple analogy. Say you’ve got a table and on this table you’ve got a glass of milk, a glass of coke and a glass of, whatever, tequila, whatever the drink is there, and you’ve got poor eyesight. You have no choice, but if we give you a pair of spectacles and you can see these things then you can operate your value system. The spectacles don’t tell you, you’ve got to take the milk, or you’ve got to take the coke or you’ve got to take the tequila. Similarly the purpose of thinking is to so arrange the world so that we apply our value systems. Now it is true in the sense that if you become a better thinker you may change your values in the sense that if you can understand another person’s point of view then you are not necessarily going to make an enemy of that other person, you may become more tolerant and so on. So, the purpose of thinking is to allow us to get a better view of the world so as to allow us to apply our values. Now in the process of doing that, our values may or may not change but that is not the purpose of thinking. The main purpose of thinking is to get a better view of the world.

A.C.- So what you are saying here is that if you learn some of your thinking techniques then it gives you the ability to be able to see opportunities?

Edward - Well what are the values, if for instance you’re in business, one of the values is first survival, second is return to shareholders and third is looking after your customers. You can change that order of course, but the purpose of thinking is to allow you to achieve those values. If in the public service your value is to deliver good service, the purpose of thinking is to make it easier to deliver good service. Sometimes I draw a triangle and at the top of the triangle, the apex is values and one of the base angles is health and the other base angle is thinking. Values is what we want to enjoy, what we want to deliver, health is in terms of organisations; competence, cost control, efficiency, all these things. Thinking is a mechanism which we use to be able to deliver those values. As I said, some times in the course of lateral thinking your values may change. If two people are in a conflict and they look at things more constructively, their values, or what they want out of each other may change, but the purpose of thinking is not to say this value is right and that value is wrong, it is to say let us see the world so that we can deliver our values. So you may say to me if you get a criminal who thinks better he’s going to be a better criminal and the answer is yes. Just as with mathematics, mathematics can be used for doing good things and it can also be used for making atom bombs. If a tool is effective, clearly it can be used in directions that one may not approve of.

A.C.- In regard to values, I’ve been looking at your home page on the Internet and I see that you’ve got a debate going about the problems with democracy. My view is that with so many Governments around the world offering big incentives for global corporations to build factories in their countries, the political system has already become more concerned with economics rather than democracy. What are your thoughts on this ?

Edward - I think this is true. I think one of the problems with democracy, I mean there are many, I think we’ve got a list of about one hundred and forty different ones. One of the problems with democracy is, how can people in a democracy contribute more, rather than just only putting your vote in every three years or five years or whatever, and I think yes, in general economics is becoming a bigger driving force than political differences. And with such a convergence, in other words there are certain sensible things that people do in terms of how to deal with inflation and so on, so the differences between political parties are largely theatrical.

A.C.- Do you think then that we are in a post-ideological political age ?

Edward - In a sense yes. I think we are in a post-age where politics could best be sorted out by one party against another, I think we need a more co-operative, constructive democracy. I think the notion that our party is right and the other party is wrong, I think that sort of politics is really on the way to dying.

A.C.- And you see business as playing a constructive role in this new form of democracy ?

Edward - Well that’s more difficult to say, I think individuals in business might. I don’t think businesses should seek to put pressure on democracy, I think that would be dangerous. But I think individuals in business can, in terms of being constructive. You see what I said originally, why business was more interested in my work is because business had to be more constructive, because just arguing your point and proving the other person wrong simply makes very little sense in business.

A.C.- Nor would it make sense in a constructive democracy.

Edward - Exactly.

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