De Bono tells us what he thinks

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Douglas Blane talks to the father of lateral thinking about the benefits of teaching pupils to use their heads

Every school in Venezuela has, by law, to teach his work. India has asked him to train 55,000 schools, and China has a pilot project with a view to putting his work into four million schools. Yet Edward de Bono is only now making his first professional visit to Scotland when he comes to speak at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow next week.

Dr de Bono has exerted a potent influence on business and popular culture since the publication of his first book on lateral thinking almost 40 years ago. His subject at the learning festival (SETT 2006) will be the powerful effects of teaching thinking explicitly as a skill, and its message will be simple, he says: "We should be teaching children and young people, from an early age, how to think."

Dr de Bono cites several studies demonstrating the benefits: "The Atkey organisation has done research in the UK which shows that teaching thinking explicitly as a subject increases performance in every other subject by 30-100 per cent."

Two other studies on violent and unemployed youngsters have also shown that teaching thinking skills produces dramatic gains, says Dr de Bono, with a 90 per cent fall in criminal convictions in the first and a 500 per cent rise in employment in the second.

He lists numerous examples of benefits in business: 21,000 ideas generated in an afternoon by one company, a 30-day series of meetings compressed into just two days by another. The preponderance of business over education examples is interesting and, at first sight, curious.

Throughout his life, the business world has been more receptive to Dr de Bono's ideas than formal education. Of all sectors in society, business is most interested in thinking, he says. "Others, such as political and academia, are only interested in proving themselves right."

He adds: "Schools waste two thirds of the talent in society, and universities sterilise the other third."

So while his methods have been adopted by individual teachers, relations with education systems have always been distant, even frosty at times. But this may be changing, given his growing influence in countries such as Venezuela, India and China .

This receptiveness to his ideas may partly explain the subject matter of his latest book - The End of the West and the Rise of the East - which has not yet been published.

"Go back a bit and look at what happened to Africa, which had a people-based civilisation. They did not need to travel, so they did not develop navigation or mathematics. They were stable, comfortable, a little complacent. It was what mathematicians call a local equilibrium. So they got left behind. The West is in a similar position today."

That complacency in western society and education can be traced, he believes, to the pervasive influence of the "Greek gang of three" - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle - whose emphasis on logic and analysis, at the expense of creative thinking, tied the West into a 2,400-year straitjacket.

Loosening the mental bonds and accepting that play, mistakes, non-rigorous thinking, humour, and downright loopiness are perfectly acceptable, indeed essential, in the search for new ideas, has been Dr de Bono's lifelong message.

He also provides a veritable wealth of practical techniques, grounded in his understanding of how the human brain works. Most widely adopted, from the highlands of New Guinea to the inner sanctums of the US government, is the technique of parallel thinking that he calls the Six Hats.

"Children as young as four easily grasp what it's about," says Dr de Bono.

The Six Hats symbolise different ways of looking at an issue. White is neutral and presents the facts, red is about feelings, black is critical, yellow is positive and sunny, green looks at the alternatives to a situation, and blue is about controlling the meeting and clarifying thinking.

The power of the Six Hats is that everybody wears a particular colour at the same time, says Dr de Bono. This forces people to assume different, sometimes uncomfortable perspectives - rather than arguing endlessly from entrenched positions "to see which survives the criticism".

"You need to provide people with a structure, a framework for thinking," he says. "That's what has been missing. All we have had in the past is 'that's right', 'that's wrong', logic and argument. But frameworks for pro-active thinking - doing things rather than just reacting - we haven't had them at all."

He adds: "Youngsters who are not good at other subjects and think they are stupid - and may even have been told so by their teacher - can do very well at thinking when it is explicitly taught to them. That gives them great self-confidence and improves their performance in other subjects.

"There is no such thing as stupid children. Arrogance is the only stupidity."

SETT preview: Scotland Plus

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today