Edward de Bono: The Mastermind Behind Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono: The Mastermind Behind Lateral Thinking

• Brendon Maynze

• July 1st, 2024

• 6 min read

Once upon a time, in a small Mediterranean island called Malta, a boy was born who would grow up to revolutionize the way we think about thinking. This boy, Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono, came into the world on May 19, 1933, and little did anyone know that he would one day be hailed as the father of lateral thinking[1].

The Early Years: A Genius in the Making

Young Edward was no ordinary child. In fact, his childhood nickname was "Genius" - a moniker he wasn't shy about sharing in later years[5]. But don't roll your eyes just yet! This wasn't just a case of a kid with a big head. Edward had a knack for jumping classes, always finding himself "three or four years younger than anyone else" in his class[5].

Imagine little Edward, his feet barely touching the ground as he sat in chairs meant for much older students, his mind racing with ideas that would one day change the world. It's like he was playing hopscotch while everyone else was still learning to crawl!

The Scholar: From Medicine to Mind-Bending Ideas

As Edward grew older, his thirst for knowledge only intensified. He didn't just stop at one degree - oh no, that would be far too conventional for our Edward! He collected degrees like some people collect stamps[1][4].

First, he earned his medical degree from the University of Malta. But why stop there? He then hopped over to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, because apparently being a doctor wasn't enough of a challenge. At Oxford, he added a master's in psychology and physiology to his collection, along with a DPhil in medicine[4].

But wait, there's more! Not content with conquering Oxford, Edward set his sights on Cambridge, where he earned a PhD[4]. It's as if he was determined to have more letters after his name than in it!

The Thinker: Birth of Lateral Thinking

Now, you might be wondering, "What does all this education have to do with thinking?" Well, it was during his time studying medicine that Edward had his eureka moment. He realized that the principles of self-organizing systems in the body - like glands, kidneys, and circulation - could be applied to the brain[5].

This realization led him to coin the term "lateral thinking" in 1967 with his book "The Use of Lateral Thinking"[5]. But what exactly is lateral thinking? Well, imagine your brain is a field of corn. Traditional thinking would have you walk in straight lines between the rows. Lateral thinking, on the other hand, is like deciding to do cartwheels diagonally across the field. You might get a bit dizzy, but you'll definitely see the corn from a new perspective!

The Six Thinking Hats: A Colorful Approach to Problem-Solving

One of Edward's most famous contributions to the world of thinking is his "Six Thinking Hats" method[3]. Now, before you start imagining Edward as some sort of mad hatter, let me explain.

The Six Thinking Hats is a tool for group discussion and individual thinking. Each "hat" represents a different style of thinking[3]. It's like a mental costume party, where changing your hat changes your whole perspective!

Here's a quick rundown of the hats:

  1. White Hat: Just the facts, ma'am. This hat is all about information and data.
  2. Red Hat: Time to get emotional! This hat is for feelings and intuitions.
  3. Black Hat: The pessimist's favorite. This hat is for critical judgment and caution.
  4. Yellow Hat: Put on your sunglasses, because this hat is all about optimism and benefits.
  5. Green Hat: Time to grow some ideas! This hat is for creativity and new concepts.
  6. Blue Hat: The organizer of the party. This hat manages the thinking process.

Imagine a boardroom full of executives, all switching hats faster than you can say "brainstorm". It might look silly, but it's a powerful tool for looking at problems from all angles.

The Marmite Solution: When Lateral Thinking Goes Yeasty

Now, you might think that with all these fancy degrees and thinking methods, Edward would stick to serious, academic solutions to world problems. But that's where you'd be wrong. In fact, one of his most memorable (and quirky) proposals involved... Marmite[5].

Yes, you read that right. Marmite, that divisive yeast extract spread that people either love or hate. In 1999, during a lecture to Foreign Office officials, Edward proposed that Marmite could be the key to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict[5].

His reasoning? He believed that the root cause of the conflict was a zinc deficiency among Middle Eastern people due to their consumption of unleavened bread. And what's high in zinc? You guessed it - Marmite!

Now, before you dismiss this as the ramblings of a mad genius, remember that this is lateral thinking in action. It's about making unexpected connections and coming up with novel solutions. While the Marmite solution might not have brought peace to the Middle East, it certainly got people thinking differently about the problem!

The De Bono Empire: Spreading Lateral Thinking Worldwide

Edward didn't just sit in an ivory tower thinking up these ideas. He was a man of action, determined to spread his methods far and wide. He wrote over 85 books, which have been translated into 46 languages[1]. That's more books than some people read in a lifetime!

But he didn't stop there. Edward established the World Center for New Thinking and the World Academy of New Thinking[4]. He gave lectures in 57 countries and worked with major corporations like IBM, Prudential, and Nokia[4]. It's like he was on a one-man mission to make the whole world think laterally.

And people listened. His methods have been used in schools, businesses, and government agencies around the world. The Six Thinking Hats method, in particular, has been widely adopted in corporate settings[3].

The Controversy: Not Everyone's Cup of Tea (or Marmite)

Of course, with any revolutionary ideas, there's bound to be some pushback. Edward's methods and ideas weren't universally accepted. Some critics found his approach too simplistic or lacking in scientific rigor.

One particularly scathing review of "Six Thinking Hats" by Adam Mars-Jones in the Independent led to a rather amusing exchange. Edward, not one to take criticism lightly, claimed that the book had saved "$40m dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours" and dismissed Mars-Jones as a "silly little idiot"[5].

Mars-Jones fired back, revealing that after his review was published, Edward had demanded compensation for the financial losses caused by his comments on De Bono's lecture tours, which he estimated at £200,000[5]. Talk about thinking outside the box when it comes to dealing with critics!

The Legacy: A New Way of Thinking

Edward de Bono passed away on June 9, 2021, at the age of 88[5]. But his ideas continue to influence how we approach problems and creativity. His methods have been used in schools to teach thinking skills, in businesses to foster innovation, and even in personal development to enhance creativity.

Edward's life work was about breaking free from traditional, linear thinking. He believed that the Western tradition of logic, established by the "Greek Gang of Three" (Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates), had limited our ability to think creatively and perceptually[5].

His methods, while sometimes unconventional (Marmite diplomacy, anyone?), have opened up new ways of approaching problems and generating ideas. In a world that's increasingly complex and interconnected, the ability to think laterally - to make unexpected connections and come up with novel solutions - is more valuable than ever.

Conclusion: The Man Who Taught Us to Think Differently

Edward de Bono was many things - a doctor, a psychologist, an author, a consultant. But above all, he was a thinker who dared to think differently about thinking itself. He challenged us to step outside the comfortable rows of logical thinking and do mental cartwheels across the field of ideas.

From the Six Thinking Hats to the Marmite Solution, Edward's ideas were always designed to shake us out of our mental ruts and see problems from new angles. He showed us that creativity isn't just for artists - it's a crucial skill in business, education, and even international relations.

So the next time you're stuck on a problem, why not try on a different thinking hat? Or better yet, spread some Marmite on your toast and see what creative ideas it might inspire. After all, as Edward de Bono taught us, the solution might come from the most unexpected places.

In a world that often seems divided by rigid thinking and entrenched positions, Edward de Bono's legacy reminds us of the power of flexibility, creativity, and yes, even a bit of silliness in our thinking. And that, perhaps, is the most valuable thing he left us - the permission to think differently, to challenge assumptions, and to always, always keep our minds open to new possibilities.

As Edward himself once said, "If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd"[2]. So go ahead, put on your thinking cap (or hat), and start seeing the world through De Bono-colored glasses. You never know what brilliant, Marmite-flavored ideas you might come up with!

[1] Edward de Bono https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_de_Bono
[2] Edward de Bono https://www.debono.com
[3] Six Thinking Hats - De Bono Group https://www.debonogroup.com/services/core-programs/six-thinking-hats/
[4] Edward De Bono https://www.debonogroup.com/edward-de-bono/
[5] Edward de Bono obituary | Books | The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jun/10/edward-de-bono-obituary