Thought Leader Edward de Bono | Daily FT

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I have long-admired the perspicacity and versatility of Edward de Bono’s thinking. He “minted” lateral thinking to remind us there was an alternative to “literal” thinking, a reminder ever more cogent today.

Professor de Bono, whose “practical value” led to his owning his own island and being a resource for civic transformation, helping to establish profitability models for The Olympics and much more, drove home the appreciation that “thinking” is a genuine skill, and can be honed and should be cultivated.

When we presented together at Conferences, his relaxed facility with creating fresh “takes” on stale dilemmas, impressed me tremendously. And having worked together, I have found in presenting this thinking toolkit to leaders in all fields, that it demystifies originality and creativity and renders them such that they are portable, replicable and suitable for shared collaboration and progress.

The most over-rated thinking faculty

We associate “intelligence” with being able to find the flaws, gaps, inadequacies and failings of positions presented. In fact, our ability to be “critical” is associated with intelligence. Someone who can out-debate, find the chink in the analytical armour of another, is considered “intelligent.” However, tearing down ideas, without locating an alternative path to what someone was seeking to accomplish is pointless.

So “proving others wrong” is a fraudulent mismanagement of energy, as no fresh innovation flows, no progress is made. I say “fraudulent” because it “poses” as being constructive.

Linked to it is “proving myself right” insofar as defending and trumpeting my own views, positions and conclusions. This is also rather unconstructive, as the ability to rebut, to fortify, again does not usually lead to fresh exploration, or building bridges between views.

And if we were to just assess how much of our energy in business, in politics, in academia, even in family discourse, goes to proving others wrong and proving myself right, it would be a quite devastating tally.

When we have a conflict of ideas, that should broaden exploration, and lead us to seek “fresh design.

Real brainstorming

When done right, we don’t just ask people to come up with “top of mind” ideas, but they are given a set period of time, during which they continually generate anything and everything that comes to mind, without “editing” it for quality or even “reasonableness.” We are here going into “divergent” thinking and want to throw off the barricades of our outworn thinking patterns.

Once we have a slew of ideas: obvious, intriguing, madcap, absurd, curious, we list them and now we can “filter” them using the following thinking discipline: PMI – These are “Pluses,” “Minuses” and “Improvements” (or “Interesting” facets of the idea if you prefer). That way even “crazy” ideas may have a positive element that can be leveraged or harvested. Incomplete ideas can be “improved.” Glowing ideas can have downsides that can be proactively addressed.

Most people “think” they brainstorm and “think” they look at pluses and minuses but ask them to show you any list of these, and there is nothing, only the obvious. Actually, diving in, diverging and then converging, is where the gold really is. Pick a “stuck” area in your business or life and try it, and compare the “instinctive” and the focused, and you’ll see exponential gains in value and progress.

PO – Provocative Operation

For more dramatic bouts of lateral thinking, make a provocative, compelling “future solution statement”. Don’t ask “if” it’s possible. Assume you’re already there. And then “brainstorm backwards” to today to see how you might possibly have arrived there. The “brainstorming” is now “how” not “if” that became possible.

Credit cards were created by this PO statement: “It should be possible to have dinner without cash.” We are now at the other extreme of that paradigm!

The Olympics were going bankrupt from poor attendance. What saved them was the PO statement (obviously well facilitated, with a gathering of key stakeholders and decision makers who could act on the insight and were accountable for turning it around): “We will be profitable even if “no one” attends.”

That was a breakthrough! The Olympics prospered through selling TV rights, showing cities how they could attract visitors to them and fast-track stalled development, by finding performers and entertainment that would augment the so called “main event.” Then, actual attendance at “Event A” or “Event B” didn’t matter, while still allowing The Olympics to cover a wide spectrum of human physical performance excellence and fulfil its identity.

Lexus in seeking to differentiate from Toyota had an unexpected engine glitch, necessitating a widespread recall. Realising that eroding confidence or seeming to be inept could kill this nascent brand, everyone rallied and generated a seemingly preposterous PO Statement: “People will enjoy having their cars recalled.”

All departments and leaders brainstormed making that true, doing a “PMI” to improve each idea, and from being given a newer Lexus to drive in the interim, to having each car being checked out technically being given a complete gratis service tune-up, to dropping off and picking up cars to ensure no inconvenience, each time with a full tank of gas, and customers were overjoyed and telling stories of this crazy brand that produced lovely cars, but more than that, actually made what is always an “inconvenience” an outright pleasure.

Parallel thinking and the six hats

Many meetings go off the rails as everyone is in a different mode and campaigning for “prime time” for their preferred modality. When decisions have to be made, these “hats” are worn in a sequence agreed by the team making the decision, and everyone (and this is critical), must wear the same hat at the same time. This way they each get an experience of each modality, and those naturally suited to each, can naturally take the lead without alienating anyone.

Otherwise, one person gets emotional, another wants to stick to the facts, yet another wants to organise everyone, another keeps harping back to the vision, and so people leave unfulfilled. But this way, each “aspect” can get united, relatively comprehensive attention. Some will try and “switch” hats in the midst of the exchanges, but someone agreed to “referee” the Parallel Thinking needs to gently remind them of the need to concentrate on one hat at a time, assuring them that the hat they are keen to speak from, can be upcoming, or even cycled back to.

Blue: Processes, how to organise the effort, creating action plans and milestones.

White: Relating to data and facts, ensuring we all are operating from the same data and can analyse the situation on that basis.

Yellow: Sunshine, optimism, possibilities, benefits from that course of action or decision.

Black: The other side of the ledger, the dangers, what can go wrong, challenges and concerns.

Green: Creativity, generating new ideas, considering fresh alternatives, a new look.

Red: Emotion, intuitive takes, what people feel about the ideas or actions, even just needing to vent.

One sequence that has worked for many teams: Galvanise with emotion (Red), inspire with innovative takes (Green), look at what can go wrong and play Devil’s Advocate (Black), engage with opportunity and possibility (Yellow), provide a bedrock of fact and data (White), organise for execution success (Blue). You can of course “revisit” Hats based on what emerges.

Transforming conflict

When people have varying perspectives, have them practice “deep listening” first. Namely, they listen (without being able to rebut or refute). They then practice an “OPV” (Other People’s Views), which is to paraphrase not only what they understood the person “said” but also what they believe they “meant.” So their “content” and their “intent.”

Only when you can satisfactorily convey, to the other person’s satisfaction their “View”, can you then make your point(s). They too, in the same way, listen without interfering or interrupting (for an agreed time). They too then do an OPV relative your positions and perceived intentions. When there is harmony in terms of accuracy of perceiving and relaying your views, can they then make their next reply.

Rarely, in numerous conflict resolution scenarios, have I seen it take more than a round or two, before the “conflict” evaporates, and a bridge between positions starts to be built. Or if truly you have to move on, and no alignment will be forthcoming, that then emerges from understanding and respect, not bias or prejudice or laziness. More times than thought likely or even possible though, some latent synergy will reveal itself, making “fresh design” possible.

Thinking and feeling and behaving

What we learn from De Bono’s genius is that “thinking” is a skill which can be improved, honed, stirred and stimulated. And it holds the open sesame to our feelings, as we then know what we are having feelings about. Obfuscation and mental smokescreens lead to feelings that are confused or inapplicable. And when we have feelings about things as they emerge from clear literal and lateral thinking, then our actions flow with that much more wisdom and decisiveness as well. The world needs this toolkit, in the fog of pandemics and global acrimony, in the face of challenges both “natural” and behavioural, now more than ever.

Inspired Success organised by EPL Global will be held on 20 October from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. at Waters Edge, Battaramulla.

It will be conducted by global success coach Omar Khan who is also the founder of EPL Global and Sensei Lanka and moderated by Ranjan De Silva, Partner of EPL Global and Sensei Lanka. The event will feature a trail blazing tour of some of the most remarkable thought leaders Omar Khan has personally worked with. They include Leo Buscaglia, Edward de Bono, Robert Allen, Dan Sullivan, Don Wolfe, Alan Weiss, Scott Peck, Marshall Goldsmith, Tom Peters, Lester Levenson and Ron Kaufman. For registration visit or call Sarani on +94763329328