Remembering the great Maltese pioneer of lateral thinking

Even the superlative words and phrases of praise and acknowledgement would not do enough justice to him. He was the father of the modern philosophy of thought. He is now considered a universal icon and the leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. The late Edward de Bono really did Malta proud. He was, and will always remain, internationally acclaimed.

Mastering psychology, physiology and medicine he experienced learning and eventually teaching at the most renowned Universities around the world. Throughout his career, he had applied his thinking skills to a variety of subjects from business and economics to foreign policy and education. His methods are now mandatory in the school curriculum in many countries and widely used in others.

HisThe de Bono Code Book, published just last year, tackles the subject of language and how it limits our perceptions and communication. From his father’s side, medicine and surgery were the order of the day, whereas his mother was a seasoned journalist. Thus, two things came together in his life: the courage to do things and the academic side. No wonder his little-known nickname was ‘Genius’!

In medicine, he dealt with self-organizing systems such as the glands, kidneys, respiration, and circulation, and he started to ask himself what would happen if the same principles were applied to the brain. From psychology came an interest in thinking, and from computers an interest in the types of perceptual and creative thinking that computers could not do. The fusion of these elements led to his detailed account of the Mechanism of mind. He is equally renowned for his development of the Six Thinking Hats technique and the Direct Attention Thinking Tools. He is the originator of the concept of Lateral Thinking, which is now part of language and is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

His methods are now mandatory in the school curriculum in many countries and widely used in others.

Around 70 books were published by him, and practically all deal with aspects of thinking, creativity and conflict resolution. The appeal of Dr de Bono’s works is their simplicity and practicality. They can be equally used by four-year-olds and by senior executives; by Down syndrome youngsters and Nobel laureates.

Basically, his Lateral Thinking concept means new perceptions, fresh alternatives, a change of emphasis and the generation and design of new concepts and ideas. It is specifically concerned with new thinking in conflict resolution, problem-solving, economic development, education, health and most areas affecting daily life.

Perhaps his concept could eventually be applied in practice to those pockets of Maltese who do not want to change, who do not want to let go of the traditional, feudalistic, group-centred, hierarchical, know-your-position approach. Indeed, if they apply such a concept, they do not need to: the method of change is to learn an additional game. Using a card game analogy, suppose a bridge player switches to, for example, poker. This forces the player to think and act differently; apply the same simple rationale to a business or any other activity, and creativity is set free without threatening the original skill. You have to add on skill rather than force people to change.

There is a lot more that needs to be done about thinking. We are so complacent; we do not even conceive that our thinking is not absolutely perfect. It is not, it is very, very limited. De Bono coined the term “lateral thinking,” the first time anyone had put creativity on a logical basis, identifying the brain as a self-organizing information system that forms asymmetrical patterns.

De Bono revolutionised human thinking to include lateral thinking, parallel thinking and perceptual thinking — that is applicable to everyone from 4-year-olds in school to the top executives of a firm, to the people governing our country.

While we have made tremendous progress in science and technology, we have made virtually no progress in human affairs because our method of thinking is simply not design-based. Mankind is operating well below full thinking capacity, even in this day and age.

I think that the best way we can and should remember Professor De Bono is to always be guided by one fundamental principle that clearly emerges from his Lateral Thinking concept, namely that intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.

Should the authorities ever consider putting up a monument or memorial in a prominent place on our Islands, perhaps that principle enshrined in those words could be placed at the bottom of such monument or memorial.

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