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Edward de Bono: Thinking

I have already declared my interest as a fan of Edward de Bono in the 2012 blog: The Fertile Mind of Edward de Bono, which I followed up with Six times Four: More de Bono. Now it is time for a slightly wider survey of the work of the man who introduced the term ‘lateral thinking’ and who has been trying to teach business people, governments, student and their teachers to think for nearly half a century.

Edward de Bono

Short Biography

Edward de Bono was born in Malta in 1933, the second of four sons of a doctor father and journalist mother, and was an exceptionally bright pupil at his Malta boarding school. He was three years younger than his class-mates when he got his degree in medicine from Malta University and went off to study psychology and physiology at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he also earned a DPhil in medicine. This was followed by slew of further degrees and academic appointments, that leave him, technically, Dr Dr Dr Dr (Dr) de Bono. I may have mis-counted and I have bracketed his first qualification as a medical doctor, as that was not an academic doctorate. I think we can conclude that Edward de Bono is both intelligent and academically motivated.

In 1967, he published the first of his popular books on thinking, the now out of print The Use of Lateral Thinking. This book introduced the world to his idea of ‘lateral thinking’ – a term that de Bono coined. His books now number around 60, of which the current most popular are:

De Bono has also created online thinking skills programmes and the CoRT (Cognitive Research Trust) programme for teaching thinking to school-age children.

De Bono’s Contribution to Managers and Business Professionals

I think this is where de Bono has clearly been at his best and least controversial. Many of his techniques and training programmes have provided business people, public service managers and other professionals with practical and helpful tools to enhance their critical thinking and creative thinking skills. Like any creative powerhouse, de Bono has produced easily as many ideas that have not gained widespread use as he has lasting ideas. But we should judge him on the latter.

Lateral Thinking

This term is now so widely used that de Bono’s original meaning has been largely subsumed into the wider context of ‘creative thinking’. By ‘Lateral Thinking’, I believe de Bono originally meant perceiving the world in different ways, so that your thinking about a problem can pursue lateral branches, rather than following the main route that is obvious to it. It therefore means looking for new starting points for addressing a problem – an implicit assumption that existing patterns of thought rarely solve new problems effectively.

Provocation

A central theme of a lot of de Bono’s books on creative thinking is the idea that provocative assertions stimulate lateral jumps in our thinking. De Bono crystallised this idea in his (now out of print) book Po: Beyond Yes and No. By analysing the provocation (or ‘Po’), we can reach new and possibly fruitful insights.

PMI Analysis

Another key theme of de Bono’s work, including Po, is that the dichotomies of yes versus no, or right versus wrong, or good versus bad, lead us into linear thinking that is poor at identifying new ideas or thinking in a rich and subtle way. Arguably de Bono’s single most powerful tool is PMI analysis, which can get you over that problem.

It takes its inspiration from Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis approach (which, incidentally, leads directly to SWOT Analysis). But instead of looking at the driving and restraining forces, or the strengths and weakness alone, PMI analysis asks us to look at the Pluses, the Minuses and the things that are Interesting about a situation, option or challenge. This third dimension opens your mind to the subtleties and to new ideas.

Six Thinking Hats

We covered this idea more fully in an earlier blog, but the essence of the concept is simple: that there are different ways to think and that we will solve problems more effectively and make more robust decisions, when we apply multiple modes of thinking, rather than a single, favourite style. The six thinking hats represent six modes: analytical, risk-averse, constructive, imaginative, emotional, and procedural thinking (white, black, yellow, green, red and blue hats respectively).

Controversies

De Bono’s work is not without its critics – even his ‘mainstream’ contributions. Many cognitive scientists have critiqued the lack of evidence base for the efficacy of his methods and programmes – which matters deeply where the teaching of children is concerned, as for his CoRt programme. However, I am not qualified to assess these arguments. It does seem to me that there is a dichotomy here between the theoretical/academic assessment and the practical/utilitarian usage. His ideas as an addition to other training and teaching make a useful contribution to thinking skills for many people. There is plenty of testimony to support that assertion, even if the rigorous evidence base is lacking.

So, as with so much else in the world of management ideas, the proof is in the practical application: take de Bono’s ideas out for a test drive, and decide whether they are for you. If they help you: use them. If they do not: consign them to the bookshelf, and take them to the charity shop, next time you are passing. Maybe, if you donate one of de Bono’s books that I don’t own, I may well buy it!

 

 

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Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it

ForceField

To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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