The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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A monumental technique pioneered by a Maltese

Mark Said Sunday, 9 June 2024, 08:41 Last update: about 5 days ago

On June 9, 2021, Malta lost an unparalleled physician, psychologist, author, inventor, and broadcaster. Even the superlative words and phrases of praise and acknowledgement would not do enough justice to him. He was the father of modern philosophy. He is now considered a universal icon and the leading authority in the fields 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 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.

Around 70 books were published by him, and practically all deal with aspects of thinking, creativity, and conflict resolution. His best-known works are The Use of Lateral Thinking, Parallel Thinking, Six Thinking Hats, and Six Action Shoes. The appeal of Dr de Bono’s works is their simplicity and practicality. They can be equally used by four-year-olds and senior executives, by youngsters, and by Nobel laureates. His ‘The de Bono Code Book’, for example, 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’!

De Bono, who was born in Floriana in 1933, was nicknamed "Genius" at school, skipping two academic years, and in his youth won a Rhodes scholarship to study for a master’s degree in psychology and physiology at Christ Church, Oxford. In midlife, his genius seemed to be as much for marketing as for his counterintuitive theories.

In medicine, he dealt with self-organising 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 came 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 the 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 the language and is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

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.

Among his more eccentric theories was the idea that Marmite, that infamously divisive substance, could be used to solve the Middle East conflict. He believed the antagonism between Arabs and Israelis could be solved by the pots of spread because people in the region customarily eat unleavened bread without zinc and are therefore irritable and belligerent. De Bono reasoned that eating yeast extract might achieve peace.

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 skills 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-organising information system that forms asymmetrical patterns. De Bono revolutionised human thinking to include lateral thinking, parallel thinking, and perceptual thinking that are 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 a monument or memorial.

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