Edward De Bono @ the Watershed

1 May 2007

Event on Friday 27 April 2007; part of the celebration “Festival of Ideas

The first thing to strike one was that Edward de Bono is of the old school, presenting via an acetate and OHP. Still it was a remarkably effective method and he’s given the same basic talk so often that he didn’t really need much in the way of props.

Some might question his opening assertion that IQ or intelligence is a biological ‘wiring’ of the brain whereas thinking was a skill to be learned. I’ll let deeper philosophers and neuro-psychologists debate that one.

One very early factor that became apparent early on was that, having given the same (or at least developing concept) presentation over the last +30 years, he rattles off an almost constant stream of ideas, concepts and developments that makes it nearly impossible to critically analyse what’s being said, let alone make notes…

There were 4 types of thinking put forward, but I only captured 3 of them; and only the creative thinking set was developed upon (read his books for the others, this was also a popular aside from the great man).

Creative thinking
Perceptual thinking
Intellectual thinking

Uses of creativity

A series of shapes were presented on the OHP, the first two could be assembled to form a rectangle. More shapes followed, confirming the rectangle. The last shape confounded that sequence, until you reordered the shapes into a square, whereupon the whole made sense. The point was that as time passed and new information arrived, there was a need to optimise but the order in which the information arrives influences those decisions. De Bono’s quip was that if some clever clogs had suggested mid-way through to re-organise around a square shape, he’d have introduced the next in the rectangle sequent; you can’t predict randomness.

We get back to the central theme, Creativity is skill. There are basic skills and there are tools (if you want the skills the book was handed out at the end of the event, you need to buy another of his books for the tools).

Following the shapes sequence example, De Bono explains that the brain organises information into routine patterns (with the example that if you have 11 items of clothing, a logical sort of options on how to get dressed is 11! or about a whole life time just trying out different combinations. The brain forms patterns and you get dressed almost without thinking about it (a fact borne out by his dress sense, which was bordering on the eccentric genius).

He then went on to diagram thought processes as channels with side branches, these were asymmetric patterns. Starting at the beginning and choosing the correct branches to arrive at the optimal point is nearly impossible, but looking back it’s logical. He then went on to have a minor dig at the Greek Philosophers by suggesting they’d pretty much invented logic (fair enough claim) that was then taken up by the religious fanatics in the Renaissance since they just needed to prove heretics guilty and there thinking as a skill stagnated until DeBono.

We then had a barrage of (I think) 6 different tools in getting off the conventional flow of logical thought onto a lateral thinking thought pattern. These were speckled with examples from his career.

  • Challenge as block to normal pattern flow –
  • Concept extraction – the example here was a city authority that wanted to reduce traffic parking problems and was considering parking meters, DeBono suggested that the concept they were chasing was to reduce the time people parked in the city, he extracted this and suggested that people be allowed to park anywhere for as long as they liked; provided they left their headlights on. This would motivate people to be self moderating in their stay. It wasn’t revealed if this idea was adopted or how DeBono got from parking meters to headlights.
  • Provocation – This was demonstrated with the example of pollution from factories affecting houses down stream. The provocation was to put the factory downstream of itself; by putting the inlet pipe downstream of the outflow pipe. Apparently this is now legislation in many US states, a very cute idea and probably effective, but again, something of a leap and no explanation why provocation and not Concept Extraction, or Random Words, etc.
  • Chance & random words – to establish new ideas – this was held up as an incredibly powerful skill and generated some 21,000 new ideas (no mention of quality). Having had a quick read of the accompanying book, this seems to be the current method of choice. I’ve not tried it yet.
  • Parallel thinking – other people’s perception
  • 6 hats, of course (start with red), I didn’t write much here since de Bono’s six hats are pretty much synonymous with his name.
  • Design as creation of values from possibilities. This was something of a throwaway line right at the end, but really struck as important if only I could remember the context.

    Overall, we didn’t have to spend over a thousand pounds to hear him speak (as I think others are/have), if we had I have expected much more explanation on the how and why you’d chose between the various skills and tools and a little less anecdote. But it was an entertaining session and a great introduction / reminder of creative thinking. Hopefully some takeaways to ponder and some things to try out.

    There’ll probably be some editing of this as what was said sinks in and I’m able to chat with others present to gather their thoughts.

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