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17 Nov, 2009

Mind Master – Edward de Bono

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles

Edward de Bono
The world’s leading authority on creativity and conceptual thinking, Edward de Bono has applied his thinking skills to subjects such as business, economics, foreign policy, health and education and has filled nearly 70 books with his ideas on his favourite subject. Now aged in his early 70s (the exact age remains a secret – from female enquirers at least), he paused between one of his many international engagements to share his thoughts on everything from coaching to creativity.

By Marie-Louise Cook.

You’ve said that a key underlying restraining force in the work of a coach or a consultant is the almost singular use of analysis and critique as a thinking methodology. What should coaches or consultants use?

Edward de Bono: ‘The point about the Greek thinking, the Greek gang of three, is that it is very useful just like the rear left wheel of a motorcar. It is very useful, nothing wrong with it at all. But it is not sufficient by itself. We need to add conceptual thinking, creative thinking and design thinking in addition to our analysis and judgement thinking. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just not sufficient.’

Are you familiar with coaches or consultants who have used parallel thinking?

Edward de Bono: ‘No, I’m familiar with corporations that have used it but not specifically coaches. I do have a network of 1200 trainers worldwide who do a lot of training. But they do more training than coaching.’

What is the simplest way to introduce creativity into an organisation?

Edward de Bono: ‘First of all you need to have someone who is responsible for that task, someone who is the greatest champion, if you like. And this would be the person who would organise training, the person who would put together what I call a ‘creative hit list’: defining certain focus areas which needed new thinking and creativity, and the person who would act as a collecting point for ideas which people generated. In other words, you’ve got to create someone outside the normal hierarchy who’s specifically there to encourage, receive and develop ideas because the normal hierarchy would rather not deal with ideas because it’s extra hassle, extra risk, extra trouble.’

When you say ‘someone outside the normal hierarchy’, do you mean a consultant or trainer?

Edward de Bono: ‘No, it can be a person within the organisation, but she or he has a specific role if you like as a ‘Chief Ideas Officer’ or something. And that person’s role is to help and encourage creativity within the organisation.’

Do you know of organisations that have a Creative Ideas Officer?

Edward de Bono: ‘Well, it happened with DuPont – I did a lot of work with them –
and the person who invited me in became that person. And he organised training, he organised meetings, he set up a network of people who did creative thinking. And set up in fact, in the end, a centre for creative thinking and innovation.’

What effect did that have on the organisation in terms of productivity, design etc?

Edward de Bono: ‘I do remember they opened this project, a big project, $30 million or $40 million dollar project, that sort of thing.’

When leaders encourage creativity, what qualities do they need to succeed?

‘Listen to good ideas, wherever they come from, and endorse them without feeling threatened by them. Leaders should be interested in two things. One is the survival of the organisation, and its effectiveness in carrying out its mission and values. The other is to get the best out of the people in their organisation. They should have a willingness to listen, and a willingness to innovate – or at least to encourage other people to innovate.’

Will people revert to their old way of thinking once the pressure is on them?

Edward de Bono: ‘Not necessarily, once you’ve learnt the skill. And the point really is, there are two aspects of the skill. One aspect is when you specifically say, right, now here is the focus, here is the subject, I want to be creative about it and you use the tools deliberately. And the second aspect is where some of the attitudes attached to the skill become part of your everyday thinking. Both of those have an effect. And when the pressure’s on, obviously you are going to try to find a way out of it, which is going to bring up your creative skills.’

What steps can be taken to improve the way the world thinks?

Edward de Bono: ‘I think the first point is, to really say, “Okay we are going to take creativity and innovation seriously.” A lot of people pay lipservice to it and say, “Yes, we are creative and from time to time ideas happen or someone else has a successful idea and we borrow it or copy it.” But they don’t really take it seriously. So, the first step is for corporations to take creativity seriously and then to do something about it, like having some training, and then set up some structure like the idea box I mentioned, perhaps the centre for creativity, to make it happen.’

You’ve chosen to focus a lot of your energy on improving the way that children think. Obviously, they are the future thinkers but is it possible to alter the way that adults think?

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes. I do a lot of work with adults. One corporation used to spend 30 days on their multi-national project discussions but using my method, they do it in two days. In the United States, juries have been trained in my method so successfully that they’ve altered the law and the Judge can now ask that the jury be trained in that thinking style. So, adults do use these things very effectively.

‘Another time in South Africa, a group of workshops using just one of my techniques generated 21,000 ideas at an afternoon for a steel corporation.’

You’ve set up the Centre for New Thinking in Malta. What areas will it tackle and what has the reception been to the Centre?

Edward de Bono: ‘The reception’s been good and there are some big projects that we have in mind, for example to set up a World Council for New Thinking because representative bodies like the United Nations are not in a position to put forward new ideas. I’ve set up a Council for New Thinking to generate, collect and test ideas with public opinion polls. So these things will add the dimension of creativity to our existing structures and government systems.’

What sort of areas will you tackle?

Edward de Bono: ‘It could be anything. It could be major conflicts, employment, trade, health, or education.’

How do you come up with new ideas for books?

Edward de Bono: ‘Let’s put it this way, thinking is the most important human activity. Nothing is more important than thinking. Now there are dozens of books on golf, on dieting, on fishing, on yachting, so it’s not surprising that there are many, many aspects on thinking. Different types of thinking: thinking for children; thinking for businesses; creative thinking; constructive thinking; value thinking – so it’s a vast subject.’

Normally if there are dozens of books on golf, it’s often by different authors – you seem to have been the most prolific….

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes, it’s a huge field.’

Do you have dozens more book ideas?

Edward de Bono: ‘Oh yes, absolutely. I’m just starting. Like Stephen King says in one of his interviews, “I’m just starting.” He’s only done 37,000 or something!’

And how old are you, now?

Edward de Bono: ‘I never tell ladies my age. That’s not good policy!’

Okay! Where do you live?

Edward de Bono: ‘ Technically, I am resident in Malta, where I was born. I spend some time of the year, less than three months, in London; sometime in Australia where I have an institute in Melbourne; some in New York, some in Italy where I have an apartment in Venice; some in France; so I move around a lot.’

Do you have any plans to slow down?

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes, I’m going to meet a fat, cross-eyed hunchback, who’s going to look after me, and then I will slow down.’

Why continue to give talks and travel so much when you could really retire?

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes, that’s true, I often think about that, and maybe one day I will do more than think about it.’

Are you pursuing a mission?

Edward de Bono: ‘When people show enthusiasm I tend to respond to it. But the time will come when I will have to say, “Well, I’d like to but I am not going to.”’

But that time is not close?

Edward de Bono: ‘No.’

What areas do you continue to work in?

Edward de Bono: ‘The whole area of thinking, interaction with people, and the area of design, value creation… there’s a lot more to be done.’

What are you working on now?

Edward de Bono: ‘There’s a book of mine coming out. That’s more training in creative thinking – there are 62 different exercises and so on. I’ve written a couple of books recently, in the last two weeks, and they will be coming out in due course. So there is a lot more to do. One book is on the rise of the East and the danger of the West being pushed aside.’

Do you feel your ideas for education are better accepted in developing countries?

Edward de Bono: ‘In some ways, yes. I mean, China is doing a pilot project. And they are thinking of putting my work into four million schools. In India, they’ve just introduced my ideas into 55,000 schools. So there’s a big use… in Venezuela by law every school has to do it; so it varies.’

Why are the developing countries more ready to accept your ideas?

Edward de Bono: ‘I think they know they have some distance to go, whereas the developed countries are very complacent. They think everything they have is just perfect, can’t be altered, can’t be improved.

‘It’s what mathematicians call a local equilibrium. In any self-organising system, you get local equilibria, which settle down and are very difficult to change. Complacency is a sort of overall word that covers the process in society.’

How did you come up with your 6 Thinking Hats method?

Edward de Bono: ‘That’s really by having started with lateral thinking and every time an idea came up everyone was just ready to attack it. It seemed to me there was more to thinking than just attack. And that argument was not a very good way of exploring a subject. That’s how the 6 Hats came about.’

Does it work in all business meetings?

Edward de Bono: ‘It works in all ages, from four year olds to 90 year olds, from Down’s Syndrome children to Nobel Prize winning people, from Japan, Korea, South America, North America, Europe, South Africa.’

What area of your work are you most proud of?

Edward de Bono: ‘Clearly the Lateral Thinking, based on what I described in The Mechanism of Mind, is a huge change, historically; for the first time in human history we can understand creativity as the behaviour of a certain type of information system. Now that is a huge step forward. Philosophers have been playing with words for centuries without getting very far. So, for the first time, we can relate to the behaviour of a certain type of information system in the human brain.’

Is there any person that you admire, in terms of their thinking?

Edward de Bono: ‘No one immediately comes to mind. The answer is no one particularly – I am sure there are a lot of people around that perhaps I don’t know them well or don’t know enough about them, but no one comes to mind.’

What values drive you in your work?

Edward de Bono: ‘In terms of my writing, it must be simplicity. In terms of value, it must be effectiveness – making things happen –
and practicality. It’s no use having some theory which a few people sitting in some corner say is marvellous, I’d much rather have a theory that millions of youngsters can use, and so on.’

Why do you believe that efficiency, new technology and problem-solving are no guarantee of success?

Edward de Bono: ‘I wouldn’t say they are no guarantee of success. They may be successful in certain areas but they are not enough. They don’t open up new markets. They don’t give any particular marketing concepts. They don’t give you any new products and so on. I’m not saying they are bad at all. They are just not enough. The rear left wheel on a motorcar is excellent, I’ve no problem with it at all. But if you believe that all you need on a motorcar is the rear left wheel, then I have a problem with that belief.’

What is needed for success?

Edward de Bono: ‘The ability to change concepts; the ability to find different ways of looking at things, different ways of doing things, considering all alternatives, examining values, creating new values – all these are part of it.’

Is there one question that you wished you’d been asked?

Edward de Bono: ‘That’s a good question. Maybe it’s that one. I think the simple question is, ‘If you know, why do you consider thinking to be the most important of all activity and human behaviour?

‘Because thinking is at the very bottom of how we appreciate our values, how we deliver our values, how we create things, how we look after other people, how we look after the world. In other words, without thinking or the limits of thinking we certainly can’t make progress.’

Why do you think it took so many hundreds of years…?

Edward de Bono: ‘That’s a very good question. Let’s look at one small aspect of it, why for 2,400 years were we happy with argument for exploring a subject when it is so extremely inefficient? Why did it take 2,400 years to develop Parallel Thinking and the 6 Hats? That is extraordinary because today it is a very simple system and there’s no magic about it. Understanding creativity is a little bit more difficult because we do need to understand more about how the brain works, which was not available in the past. So, it is extraordinary. And the reason is, well, there are three reasons.

‘Firstly, during the Renaissance, when Greek thinking came to Europe, the people running schools were Church people – and they were very interested in argument and critical thinking to prove heretics wrong. So that became the main interest of education: argument, critical thinking, and logic. They were not interested in creative thinking, constructive thinking, design thinking, conceptual thinking. That is one reason.

‘Secondly, we always believed that philosophy was dealing with thinking. And unfortunately, it was not. It was dealing with the analysis of language and the analysis of meaning. We thought that was looking after thinking.

‘Then we also considered that mathematics was all about thinking –
the answer is yes – but it has limited applications. So there are a number of reasons why we have not given attention to thinking.

‘Now in the schools where some of my thinking is used, research has shown that it improves performance in every other subject by between 30-100%.’

It’s been a few decades since you came up with lateral thinking. Did you think more progress would have been made?

Edward de Bono: ‘During the last 30 years, a great deal of progress has been made. If you compare 30, maybe 40 years, with 2,400 years, that’s a very short time.’

You’ve said, ‘Corporations hate new ideas.’ Do you believe that is still the case?

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes. I mean, corporations love ideas that work, but new ideas… you don’t know if they are going to work. And testing them, trying them, involves extra work, extra hassle, and extra risk and if they don’t work, then you get blamed for them. So, corporations love ideas that work. But, short of copying them from others, there’s no way that you can tell immediately that an idea is going to work. A new idea is a disruption. And most corporations like continuity of what they are doing, not disruptions.’

Is there any way around that?

Edward de Bono: ‘Only by, say, the new idea champion who I mentioned, as someone who keeps pushing the idea rather than just have it dismissed once. Then the corporation needs to say to itself, “We are going to put some effort, some thinking time, and some resources into trying new ideas from time to time.” You can’t prove an idea is going to work unless you’ve tried it.’

What qualities do you believe that leaders need when they are trying to encourage better thinking?

Edward de Bono: ‘The leader gets there because he or she, at the lower level, has been good at continuity and good at problem solving, which is fine – but when he gets to the top position, he could delegate all that. And what you are supposed to be in, new ideas, innovation and so on… but you are not chosen, you’re not there for that reason. So, it’s hard to see how suddenly a Chief Executive can acquire skills that he or she didn’t have on the way up.’

How can they acquire those skills?

Edward de Bono: ‘Firstly, they have to realise these are important skills. They have to take it seriously and perhaps realise it’s time to get some training in those areas.’

You’ve said that teaching people to be constructive rather than destructive is one of the keys to creativity. Is it possible to reverse the thinking traditions of 2,400 years?

Edward de Bono: ‘Yes. Once you lay out a way to think then people can switch into these ways, rather like ‘6 Hats’, which is now very widely used. I will just give you an example of how widely used. A Nobel Prize economist told me last year, “Last week I was in Washington, at a top economics meeting. They were using your 6 Hats.” Later in the year, a woman in New Zealand said, “I was teaching your 6 Hats in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, which is the most primitive place on Earth. It’s almost Stone Age culture. I went back a month later and they said, ‘That’s changed our lives”.’

‘So the same framework used by top economists in Washington is being used by people in Papua New Guinea.’

Edward de Bono is creator of 6 Thinking Hats, Lateral Thinking, and Management Thinking, and is widely regarded as the leading international authority on creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking skills. He is the author of nearly 70 books. Born in Malta, Dr. de Bono was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and has held faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Harvard. He is an M.D. with a Ph.D. in psychology and physiology.

3 Responses to "Mind Master – Edward de Bono"

1 | Jacqueline Pigdon

November 17th, 2009 at 11:18 am


What an interesting way of thinking!

I’m an Existentialist Spiritual Coach which means ‘I think therefore I am’.

Live Your Best Life!

2 | Emmy

November 17th, 2009 at 12:02 pm


How absolutely fascinating; the idea that thinking is behind every facet of our lives – from a primitive society to the US government. It seems so obvious!

I cant wait to read more and see how I can incorporate some of his concepts into my coaching (in all areas – not just Corporate or Small Business). I believe that creativity maybe the answer to many of the ongoing issues in our lives – whether we are stay at home parents or MD’s of huge corporations

Thank you for a great article.

Emmy -x-

3 | sanju

December 18th, 2009 at 4:21 pm


rightly said that Edward de bono is mind master and a great person.I can say that whatever he replied to the question is the unique one and no one can have such a response in the concern field….

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