Guru Review: Edward De Bono

As his website states, Edward De Bono is regarded by many as a “leading authority in the world in the field of creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill.” De Bono has “written 62 books with translations into 37 languages and has been invited to lecture in 54 countries.”

De Bono is a well known figure in the field of creative thinking, particularly with regard to his concepts of lateral thinking and six thinking hats.

In reviewing De Bono’s body of work in the field of creative thinking in a short article, it is pertinent to make 4 key points:

1. De Bono’s Work on Creativity Lacks Originality

While De Bono may certainly be credited with introducing – and popularising – terms such as “lateral thinking” and “6 thinking hats,” there appears to be a clear case, for those familiar with the historical development of thought in the field of creativity, that De Bono’s work to develop these concepts was not particularly original in terms of the substantive content.

For example, De Bono developed his concept of lateral thinking in his book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. De Bono’s key conceptual distinction is between concepts of vertical thinking and lateral thinking. In vertical thinking, one eliminates superfluous information and focuses on the essentials and proceeds to narrow down the options to arrive at a “best” solution. In lateral thinking, by contrast, one seeks to open up multiple alternatives, and to reconsider the problem itself and the cognitive frame in which the problem is understood.

De Bono’s conception of vertical and lateral thinking is essentially a direct restatement of the concepts of convergent and divergent thinking developed by Osborne, Parnes, Isaksen and Treffinger in the 1950s and 1960s, and well articulated in the Creative Problem Solving model – well before De Bono published his Lateral Thinking book in 1970. Clearly, De Bono was well aware of this prior work, as Chapter 15 of Lateral Thinking is all about “brainstorming” – i.e. about Osborne’s technique.

On a more fundamental level, De Bono’s work on perceptual frameworks generally and the concept of lateral thinking specifically is strongly rooted in the 1945 Gestalt approach to creativity in Wertheimer’s Productive Thinking model of creative activity.

Similarly, one of De Bono’s most highly regarded conceptual thinking frameworks is his framework of Six Thinking Hats, in which an individual or a group can use the concept of putting on a different “hat” – representing a different approach to thinking and feeling – to allow a more balanced development of an idea and discussion. However, once again it is easy to point to clear historical precedents were the concept was well developed well before De Bono published his work. For example, while Six Thinking Hats was first published in 1985, Roger Van Oech published a similar model in 1983 in his book A Whack On The Side of the Head, containing four thinking modes of “explorer,” “artist,” “judge,” and “warrior.” By that time, Van Oech was a prominent creativity speaker and consultant in the United States, and it is difficult to imagine that De Bono would not have been aware of Van Oech’s work.

Incidentally, in passing, two points worth mentioning in relation to De Bono’s Six Think Hats are that firstly the model has been found very useful in practice. Secondly, De Bono chose the colour metaphor because he wanted people to be able to visualise the different hats, and colour was selected as the key to achieving this. However, another goal was for the Six Thinking Hats metaphor to seep into the public consciousness and lexicon in the way that the term “lateral thinking” has, and in this regard using a term such as the “neutral” or “objective” hat instead of the “white hat” and the “emotional” hat instead of the “red hat” etc may have been more effective as it would build on the lexicon people already had.

2. De Bono Obfuscates Reference To Prior Influences

A standard practice for respectable work in the academic and scholarly world is to clear identify and reference the prior work that took place before your own, so that the reader can refer back to that prior work and better understand your own unique contributions.

De Bono’s approach is the opposite. From Lateral Thinking in the 1970s onwards, De Bono systematically masks any references to previous work that he drew on in developing his own theories and frameworks, making it difficult for the reader to assess the level of originality in De Bono’s work unless the reader already has the benefit of being well acquainted with the historical development of thought and frameworks in the field of the psychology of creativity.

In other words, De Bono’s practice flies in the face of what scholars regard as not only good practice but also as ethical practice. De Bono has certainly made a contribution in repackaging ideas that had been previously developed and making them available to a wider audience, but De Bono’s approach to doing so makes it difficult to determine his real contribution, and encourages the reader to give De Bono more credit for originality than may be due.

These points are noted by even the strongest advocates of De Bono’s body of work. For example, Leo D’Angelo Fisher writes regularly in the Australian media promoting De Bono’s ideas, and his book Rethink: The Story of Edward De Bono in Australia is a highly partisan and pro- De Bono advocacy of De Bono’s ideas. Fisher notes:

. . . when de Bono first proposed his theories about thinking, and developed his tools and techniques based on those propositions, the academic establishment, which was his working base until 1983, roundly rejected his concepts. They complained that the concepts were not well conceived, developed, evaluated or reported according to scientific standards . . . Then and now . . . de Bono dismisses such attacks as dated thinking that simply reinforces his opinion about the need for new thinking in all walks of life.

But the criticisms are forceful – and not easily dismissed so blithely. Referencing your sources is not simply a premise of “scientific” thinking, it is at the heart of what constitutes good scholarly and academic practice. And when the “theories about thinking” put forward appear to really be Wertheimer’s, Osborne’s, Parnes’ and Koestler’s theories about thinking rebranded, there is a major cause for genuine scholarly and academic concern.

It is also clear that there is no inherent problem with developing these ideas within a respectable scholarly context. Parnes, Isaksen, and Treffinger maintained an active and respected scholarly profile, with much of the Creative Problem Solving scholarly discussion published through the Journal of Creative Behavior and other peer reviewed journals. De Bono choosing to obscure his references and develop his career in a manner that would inevitably conflict with the standards and approval scholarly world would seem to have been a matter of deliberate choice on his part.

3. De Bono’s Ideas Are Not Well Communicated

The third point to make is that De Bono’s works are not effectively communicated in a concise and accessible fashion. Indeed, De Bono’s works are often long (relative to the content they contain) and difficult to read in the sense that the overall themes and key points are ver often not clear.

Where De Bono could have said something in a paragraph, he tends to take a chapter; when he could have written a chapter he tends to write a book.

In comparison with the prior works that De Bono draws on (but does not acknowledge), the concept of creativity becomes relatively difficult to absorb, and De Bono’s work requires some effort to come to terms with.

4. De Bono’s Work Has Had A Significant Impact And Many People Have Found It Useful

The fourth point to make is that notwithstanding the first three points above, De Bono has undeniably reached a large audience and thereby had a significant impact.

Conclusions

De Bono is an interesting public figure to assess. On the one hand, De Bono has had, and continues to have, considerable success in bringing ideas regarding creativity to public attention. On the other hand, De Bono appears to have done so by largely rebranding and repackaging other people’s ideas as his own, and obscuring the links back into the historical development of thought in the field of creativity – denying his readers the pleasure of accessing the same rich ideas that De Bono drew on to develop his thinking.

If De Bono is to be understood as a commercial figure (author, seminar presenter) then perhaps his success at creating a De Bono “brand” while minimising people’s awareness of the alternatives that De Bono drew on in developing his models might be regarded as good commercial sense, and whether De Bono’s approach adds value might best be decided by the simple question of whether people continue to be happy after paying money for his seminars and books.

On the other hand, if De Bono is to be understood and respected from a scholarly point of view, it is incumbent on anyone with an academic training (particularly anyone with an understand of the historical development of the creativity literature) to point out the rich tradition of development of thought in the field of creativity that De Bono’s work is clearly rooted in, yet rarely acknowledges – and to highlight that there are alternative models and frameworks for thought. From this point of view, there is no problem with De Bono as a populariser and an incremental developer of thought in this field – or with making a good living from his books and seminars – but from this point of view the honourable thing would be for De Bono to come clean and tell his readers and audiences the full story regarding the sources he drew on and what he regards as his own unique contributions. But then again, maybe he already has. De Bono has produced a lot of material, and reading it all was beyond the scope of this short review.

The key point to make from the point of view of Thinking Differently!! is that lateral thinking and six thinking hats are extremely useful tools for thinking differently. They are by no means the only tools however, and quite possibly not always the best. Explore, and see which tools work best for you!

My final point is this: whatever way one looks at it, De Bono has accomplished a great deal. De Bono has had his ideas spread globally, and has made a difference in numerous lives. There is a continuing and sustained audience for De Bono’s ideas. And that is certainly something for De Bono to be proud of.

6 Responses to Guru Review: Edward De Bono
  1. Claudio Perrone
    February 7, 2008 | 9:16 AM

    I would argue that your comparison of the hats with Roger Van Oech's work and his thinking modes is probably incorrect. I might be wrong, but "The 6 thinking hats" cover mainly a complementary situation (helping groups evaluating the merit of a particular idea, for example… perhaps a refinement to the Judge phase). To me, the De Bono's significant introduction with the hats is to provide an easy-to-swallow framework for getting people together and quickly reach decisions by evaluating issues from the same perspective (hence the name parallel thinking). A much closer comparison is definitely the TO/LO/PO/SO/GO framework (published in 1995 – "Teach yourself to think") and Roger’s phases (I love and use them both, by the way).
    Regarding the lack of references, I just opened a few creativity books in my shelf and I must say that most authors I read very don't seem to write any acknowledgments of basing their work on previous work (e.g. like random words, mind maps, etc).
    Finally, if De Bono's ideas weren't well communicated and accessible, he would not have the success and influence that he has, don't you agree? It would be some dry academic work that nobody reads. Yes, he writes a lot (and a lot of his books are annoyingly repetitive) but I find his frameworks surprisingly simple and effective, so I can't really complain.

  2. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    February 7, 2008 | 10:14 AM

    Hi Claudio,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I'll put forward my views; let me know what you think.

    On creativity authors and references, I can't speak regarding what's on your bookshelf, but I can grab some examples from mine. One example is the CPS body of work (a line of development from Osborne's work on Brainstorming) – which typically come with a detailed bibliography on not only their antecedents but other works of interest in the field of creativity. "How to get Ideas", "Cracking Creativity" and other works contain meticulous bibliographies and references. Classic works like Koestler's "The Act of Creation" contain extremely indicative and useful bibliographies. Academic works on creativity such as books and papers by Amabile, Csikszentmihalyi or Sternberg are meticulously referenced. It seems to me to be more the rule than the exception that reputable creativity authors reference very well in their works.

    With regards to van Oech in relation to Six thinking hats, van Oech suggested that "creative people . . . are able to shift in and out of different types of thinking depending on the needs of the situation at hand . . . are able to adopt four man roles . . . explorer, artist, judge, warrior."

    It's basically the same thing: it is important to be able to put on different "hats" or modes of thinking at different points in the process. Admittedly, van Oech was focusing on the individual process while de Bono was focusing on the grpup process, but the same principles apply in both contexts, as I suspect both authors would be amongst the first to tell us.

    On de Bono's communication, I don't find de Bono's work is terribly well communicated. After reading the relevant parts several times, it's not clear to me what exactly he really means by lateral thinking. For me, Wertheimer put forward the basic ideas of lateral thinking much more clearly and effectively in the 1940s (the same ideas were picked up and restated in the group context as "scientific revolutions" by Kuhn in the 1960s).

    On communication and success, one of the most widely read continental philosophers is Derrida. You could say he would not be as widely read and influential unless he had something very useful to say and communicated effectively. However, I remember a friend of mine, while completing her Ph.D in philosophy, went through a Derrida paper to break down what it really meant, and found the whole thing amounted pretty much to one sentence – a fairly unremarkable one at that.

    Don't get me wrong, I think De Bono presents a fine introduction to some basic ideas of creativity. And at the end of the day if you find de Bono useful, that's great! That's what's important at the end of the day, not where he got his ideas from. I just happen to hold the view that his ideas have by and large been communicated both previously and more effectively by other people in other works, and the question of why and how he achieved the success he did is an interesting one. Perhaps it's partly his timing, partly the way he packaged ideas, and partly an ability for promotion (I mean this in a positive way).

  3. Anonymous
    March 30, 2008 | 8:42 AM

    I endore some views of the above mentioned article though ideas put forward are fine but two page aricles is so expanded into whole chapters and these very ideas become obscure.
    I think more research is required and day to day real life problems; case scenarios may be developed to scientifcally apply these ideas and success and failure ratio from those who have applied these principles must be mentioed.

    people need some practical text book on this subject not commec books.
    Haider

  4. Sanjay Singhaniya
    January 23, 2009 | 2:25 PM

    When I came across De Bono's book "Serious Creativity", I was little skeptical about it. But after finishing it, I couldn't stop myself and I bought other books of De Bono including-"Teach yourself to think","Lateral Thinking", "Six thinking hat", "Six value medals", "I am right you are wrong", "How to have a beautiful mind" & "How you can be more interesting". I differ from others when they say that De Bono fails to communicate with readers. Indeed, I think his each and every word needs attention. He is really an 'Original Thinker'. Bu yes sometimes he becomes repititious.

  5. R.N.M. Aboganda
    July 19, 2011 | 4:50 PM

    You are quite right, de Bono never “identify and reference the prior work” in his books and articles. For example, the 5-stage thinking structure for problem solving (To-Lo-Po-So-Go) is similar to the CPS of Osborne and Parnes. De Bono, however, should be credited for “inventing” new terms (or as you said “rebranded”) and popularising them.

  6. Adel
    October 16, 2012 | 7:08 PM

    You are quote wrong. You are like someone that is reviewing logic and arguing, it is nothing but mysticism for after all both are ‘thoughts’. However logic and mysticism – I am telling you – are quite different. I will prove below how you are incorrect.

    You are like a person telling Goodyear the inventor of rubber wheels that his invention is nothing new, because the concept of round wheels had already been invented.

    You are like someone telling Einstein that he works are nothing new because Galileo had already proposed ‘relativity’ [and he had].

    You are like someone telling J.K.Rowling that she has not written anything original because “Dungeons and Dragons” and fantasy of that sort had already been produced aeons ago.

    You are like someone telling Edison that his incandescent light bulb is not amazing because there was a lineage of various light bulbs beforehand; and besides there was the gas lamp too!
    __________________________________________________________

    You said: 1. De Bono’s Work on Creativity Lacks Originality

    I state: And who has “original” work, such that it is so original it is distinguished from de Bono? If you can name “1 person”, I hereby in contract agree to give you $1,000,000 [that is $1million U.S. dollars – so I am quite clear].

    Einstein himself did not even have original work. Einstein is famous for the quote “the secret to creativity is to hide your sources”.

    Main point: De Bono is quite original in the ‘same sense’ as the normal use of the word ‘original’ when applied to anyone else like Einstein. This line of logic will be applied throughout below [when the word ‘original’ is used below].

    – You said “De Bono’s conception of vertical and lateral thinking is essentially a direct restatement of the concepts of convergent and divergent thinking ”

    This is wholly incorrect.

    a] Divergent thinking is used to generate ideas to the point of nausea. The idiom is that the first set of ideas will be “as per usual”, i.e. in de Bono terminology, divergent ideas will be VERTICAL THINKING and Not, I repeat “and not” lateral thinking at all; and it is hoped that with exhaustion, finally radical ideas will come out.

    b]Further with divergent thinking: one is going for high quantity of ideas. With Lateral thinking: such as provocation, one is going for “O-N-E” idea – the COMPLETE OPPOSITE to “divergent” thinking ! You are completely wrong. Q.E.D.

    c] De Bono’s contention is the complete opposite: namely one can Not ordinarily generate radical ideas because the mind is stuck to existing patterns.

    One must use mathematical operation of mind such as a deliberate provocation before generation of ideas. This is completely different to Osborne-Parnes.

    d] Further, I repeat: notice how Osborne-Parnes “divergent” thinking can mean [in de Bono language] either/or/both vertical and *quasi-lateral thinking*; not exclusively lateral thinking. [By quasi-lateral, I mean one generates wild ideas for the sake of it being wild with divergent thinking;whereas with lateral thinking, it is only a half-way point after which one generates reasonable ideas. The complete opposite of Osborne-Parnes].

    e] Finally with divergent thinking, one exhausts oneself in order to generate radical ideas over time. With de Bono one is radical “before generating useful ideas” : there is the provocation operation (which is rapid and only 1 idea) followed by “movement’ operation. I repeat: the complete opposite of anything ever put forward by anyone.

    Main point: you are completely incorrect. Q.E.D

    – You said “..De Bono’s work on perceptual frameworks generally and the concept of lateral thinking specifically is strongly rooted in the 1945 Gestalt approach to creativity in Wertheimer’s Productive Thinking model of creative activity”.

    There is, once again, complete and utter difference between de Bono’s work and the above in the sense that “with Gestalt” there is nothing that one can “practically do” to generate ideas (from lateral thinking).

    In contrast de Bono’s methodology is unique and practical. His theory of mind has some overlap with existing theory but the overlap is not sufficient to retrofit his unique theory to pre-existing theory. In other words, de Bono theory is completely original and distinguished. Q.E.D.

    – You said “..De Bono’s .. Six Thinking Hats…point to clear historical precedents … Roger Van Oech published a similar model in 1983 in his book A Whack On The Side of the Head…”

    You are once again completely wrong. You can argue that Van Oech copied it from S.W.O.T techniques or 2×2 matrix or more likely Jungian archetypes – or simple he was unique.

    Whatever the case may be, in regards to de Bono: he was original. 6 hats in *both theory and practice* is completely different to Van Oech’s model [I repeat: completely different].

    For example: let’s take the “artist”, presumably creativity. At no point does Van Oech have any [repeat: “a-n-y”] method that resembles de Bono’s Green hat/lateral thinking.

    You are wholly incorrect. Q.E.D.

    – You said “2. De Bono Obfuscates Reference To Prior Influences”

    Answer: completely and utter nonsense; and totally contradictory to everything else you are stating. De Bono does not reference any prior work: that is not the same as (deliberately) obfuscating prior work. Do you understand the difference? You are wrong. Q.E.D

    Furthermore, De Bono’s work is completely original.

    – You said “A standard practice for respectable work in the academic and scholarly world is to clear identify and reference the prior work”

    If I am Not writing for a comic book, there is No requirement for me to ‘draw pictures’ to satisfy you; and if you put up an argument that I am “un-scholarly’ because I did not play your game, then you would be quite wrong.

    In analog, De Bono was not writing “academic articles for the academic press” – and – if he had been doing that then indeed one must follow “academic rules of engagement”. Therefore de Bono has ‘absolute and totally zero’ need nor requirement to put forward “a-n-y” source whatsoever. Besides, as I prove above, his work is original [in the sense of original I challenged you with at the start].

    So you are once again incorrect. Q.E.D

    – You said “3. De Bono’s Ideas Are Not Well Communicated”

    Once again, you are completely incorrect. If you were remotely correct, he would be poor. As it so happens he is the most successful creativity person in all of human history , not merely talking it, but walking it, having amassed fortunes, enabling him to buy island”S”. You are completely wrong. Q.E.D.

    – You said “De Bono appears to have done so by largely rebranding and repackaging other people’s ideas as his own, and obscuring the links back into the historical development of thought in the field of creativity – denying his readers the pleasure of accessing the same rich ideas that De Bono drew on to develop his thinking.”

    I already proved above you were completely and utterly incorrect.

    – You said ” De Bono ..an incremental developer of thought in this field ” .

    You are completely incorrect. There is “nothing incremental” in his work: the entirety of it is “radical leaps and original insights in every way”. I proved that above. Q.E.D.

    If it were any other way , he would also be sued senseless. He has been untouchable.

Guru Review: Edward De Bono

As his website states, Edward De Bono is regarded by many as a “leading authority in the world in the field of creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill.” De Bono has “written 62 books with translations into 37 languages and has been invited to lecture in 54 countries.”

De Bono is a well known figure in the field of creative thinking, particularly with regard to his concepts of lateral thinking and six thinking hats.

In reviewing De Bono’s body of work in the field of creative thinking in a short article, it is pertinent to make 4 key points:

1. De Bono’s Work on Creativity Lacks Originality

While De Bono may certainly be credited with introducing – and popularising – terms such as “lateral thinking” and “6 thinking hats,” there appears to be a clear case, for those familiar with the historical development of thought in the field of creativity, that De Bono’s work to develop these concepts was not particularly original in terms of the substantive content.

For example, De Bono developed his concept of lateral thinking in his book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. De Bono’s key conceptual distinction is between concepts of vertical thinking and lateral thinking. In vertical thinking, one eliminates superfluous information and focuses on the essentials and proceeds to narrow down the options to arrive at a “best” solution. In lateral thinking, by contrast, one seeks to open up multiple alternatives, and to reconsider the problem itself and the cognitive frame in which the problem is understood.

De Bono’s conception of vertical and lateral thinking is essentially a direct restatement of the concepts of convergent and divergent thinking developed by Osborne, Parnes, Isaksen and Treffinger in the 1950s and 1960s, and well articulated in the Creative Problem Solving model – well before De Bono published his Lateral Thinking book in 1970. Clearly, De Bono was well aware of this prior work, as Chapter 15 of Lateral Thinking is all about “brainstorming” – i.e. about Osborne’s technique.

On a more fundamental level, De Bono’s work on perceptual frameworks generally and the concept of lateral thinking specifically is strongly rooted in the 1945 Gestalt approach to creativity in Wertheimer’s Productive Thinking model of creative activity.

Similarly, one of De Bono’s most highly regarded conceptual thinking frameworks is his framework of Six Thinking Hats, in which an individual or a group can use the concept of putting on a different “hat” – representing a different approach to thinking and feeling – to allow a more balanced development of an idea and discussion. However, once again it is easy to point to clear historical precedents were the concept was well developed well before De Bono published his work. For example, while Six Thinking Hats was first published in 1985, Roger Van Oech published a similar model in 1983 in his book A Whack On The Side of the Head, containing four thinking modes of “explorer,” “artist,” “judge,” and “warrior.” By that time, Van Oech was a prominent creativity speaker and consultant in the United States, and it is difficult to imagine that De Bono would not have been aware of Van Oech’s work.

Incidentally, in passing, two points worth mentioning in relation to De Bono’s Six Think Hats are that firstly the model has been found very useful in practice. Secondly, De Bono chose the colour metaphor because he wanted people to be able to visualise the different hats, and colour was selected as the key to achieving this. However, another goal was for the Six Thinking Hats metaphor to seep into the public consciousness and lexicon in the way that the term “lateral thinking” has, and in this regard using a term such as the “neutral” or “objective” hat instead of the “white hat” and the “emotional” hat instead of the “red hat” etc may have been more effective as it would build on the lexicon people already had.

2. De Bono Obfuscates Reference To Prior Influences

A standard practice for respectable work in the academic and scholarly world is to clear identify and reference the prior work that took place before your own, so that the reader can refer back to that prior work and better understand your own unique contributions.

De Bono’s approach is the opposite. From Lateral Thinking in the 1970s onwards, De Bono systematically masks any references to previous work that he drew on in developing his own theories and frameworks, making it difficult for the reader to assess the level of originality in De Bono’s work unless the reader already has the benefit of being well acquainted with the historical development of thought and frameworks in the field of the psychology of creativity.

In other words, De Bono’s practice flies in the face of what scholars regard as not only good practice but also as ethical practice. De Bono has certainly made a contribution in repackaging ideas that had been previously developed and making them available to a wider audience, but De Bono’s approach to doing so makes it difficult to determine his real contribution, and encourages the reader to give De Bono more credit for originality than may be due.

These points are noted by even the strongest advocates of De Bono’s body of work. For example, Leo D’Angelo Fisher writes regularly in the Australian media promoting De Bono’s ideas, and his book Rethink: The Story of Edward De Bono in Australia is a highly partisan and pro- De Bono advocacy of De Bono’s ideas. Fisher notes:

. . . when de Bono first proposed his theories about thinking, and developed his tools and techniques based on those propositions, the academic establishment, which was his working base until 1983, roundly rejected his concepts. They complained that the concepts were not well conceived, developed, evaluated or reported according to scientific standards . . . Then and now . . . de Bono dismisses such attacks as dated thinking that simply reinforces his opinion about the need for new thinking in all walks of life.

But the criticisms are forceful – and not easily dismissed so blithely. Referencing your sources is not simply a premise of “scientific” thinking, it is at the heart of what constitutes good scholarly and academic practice. And when the “theories about thinking” put forward appear to really be Wertheimer’s, Osborne’s, Parnes’ and Koestler’s theories about thinking rebranded, there is a major cause for genuine scholarly and academic concern.

It is also clear that there is no inherent problem with developing these ideas within a respectable scholarly context. Parnes, Isaksen, and Treffinger maintained an active and respected scholarly profile, with much of the Creative Problem Solving scholarly discussion published through the Journal of Creative Behavior and other peer reviewed journals. De Bono choosing to obscure his references and develop his career in a manner that would inevitably conflict with the standards and approval scholarly world would seem to have been a matter of deliberate choice on his part.

3. De Bono’s Ideas Are Not Well Communicated

The third point to make is that De Bono’s works are not effectively communicated in a concise and accessible fashion. Indeed, De Bono’s works are often long (relative to the content they contain) and difficult to read in the sense that the overall themes and key points are ver often not clear.

Where De Bono could have said something in a paragraph, he tends to take a chapter; when he could have written a chapter he tends to write a book.

In comparison with the prior works that De Bono draws on (but does not acknowledge), the concept of creativity becomes relatively difficult to absorb, and De Bono’s work requires some effort to come to terms with.

4. De Bono’s Work Has Had A Significant Impact And Many People Have Found It Useful

The fourth point to make is that notwithstanding the first three points above, De Bono has undeniably reached a large audience and thereby had a significant impact.

Conclusions

De Bono is an interesting public figure to assess. On the one hand, De Bono has had, and continues to have, considerable success in bringing ideas regarding creativity to public attention. On the other hand, De Bono appears to have done so by largely rebranding and repackaging other people’s ideas as his own, and obscuring the links back into the historical development of thought in the field of creativity – denying his readers the pleasure of accessing the same rich ideas that De Bono drew on to develop his thinking.

If De Bono is to be understood as a commercial figure (author, seminar presenter) then perhaps his success at creating a De Bono “brand” while minimising people’s awareness of the alternatives that De Bono drew on in developing his models might be regarded as good commercial sense, and whether De Bono’s approach adds value might best be decided by the simple question of whether people continue to be happy after paying money for his seminars and books.

On the other hand, if De Bono is to be understood and respected from a scholarly point of view, it is incumbent on anyone with an academic training (particularly anyone with an understand of the historical development of the creativity literature) to point out the rich tradition of development of thought in the field of creativity that De Bono’s work is clearly rooted in, yet rarely acknowledges – and to highlight that there are alternative models and frameworks for thought. From this point of view, there is no problem with De Bono as a populariser and an incremental developer of thought in this field – or with making a good living from his books and seminars – but from this point of view the honourable thing would be for De Bono to come clean and tell his readers and audiences the full story regarding the sources he drew on and what he regards as his own unique contributions. But then again, maybe he already has. De Bono has produced a lot of material, and reading it all was beyond the scope of this short review.

The key point to make from the point of view of Thinking Differently!! is that lateral thinking and six thinking hats are extremely useful tools for thinking differently. They are by no means the only tools however, and quite possibly not always the best. Explore, and see which tools work best for you!

My final point is this: whatever way one looks at it, De Bono has accomplished a great deal. De Bono has had his ideas spread globally, and has made a difference in numerous lives. There is a continuing and sustained audience for De Bono’s ideas. And that is certainly something for De Bono to be proud of.

6 Responses to Guru Review: Edward De Bono
  1. Claudio Perrone
    February 7, 2008 | 9:16 AM

    I would argue that your comparison of the hats with Roger Van Oech's work and his thinking modes is probably incorrect. I might be wrong, but "The 6 thinking hats" cover mainly a complementary situation (helping groups evaluating the merit of a particular idea, for example… perhaps a refinement to the Judge phase). To me, the De Bono's significant introduction with the hats is to provide an easy-to-swallow framework for getting people together and quickly reach decisions by evaluating issues from the same perspective (hence the name parallel thinking). A much closer comparison is definitely the TO/LO/PO/SO/GO framework (published in 1995 – "Teach yourself to think") and Roger’s phases (I love and use them both, by the way).
    Regarding the lack of references, I just opened a few creativity books in my shelf and I must say that most authors I read very don't seem to write any acknowledgments of basing their work on previous work (e.g. like random words, mind maps, etc).
    Finally, if De Bono's ideas weren't well communicated and accessible, he would not have the success and influence that he has, don't you agree? It would be some dry academic work that nobody reads. Yes, he writes a lot (and a lot of his books are annoyingly repetitive) but I find his frameworks surprisingly simple and effective, so I can't really complain.

  2. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    February 7, 2008 | 10:14 AM

    Hi Claudio,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I'll put forward my views; let me know what you think.

    On creativity authors and references, I can't speak regarding what's on your bookshelf, but I can grab some examples from mine. One example is the CPS body of work (a line of development from Osborne's work on Brainstorming) – which typically come with a detailed bibliography on not only their antecedents but other works of interest in the field of creativity. "How to get Ideas", "Cracking Creativity" and other works contain meticulous bibliographies and references. Classic works like Koestler's "The Act of Creation" contain extremely indicative and useful bibliographies. Academic works on creativity such as books and papers by Amabile, Csikszentmihalyi or Sternberg are meticulously referenced. It seems to me to be more the rule than the exception that reputable creativity authors reference very well in their works.

    With regards to van Oech in relation to Six thinking hats, van Oech suggested that "creative people . . . are able to shift in and out of different types of thinking depending on the needs of the situation at hand . . . are able to adopt four man roles . . . explorer, artist, judge, warrior."

    It's basically the same thing: it is important to be able to put on different "hats" or modes of thinking at different points in the process. Admittedly, van Oech was focusing on the individual process while de Bono was focusing on the grpup process, but the same principles apply in both contexts, as I suspect both authors would be amongst the first to tell us.

    On de Bono's communication, I don't find de Bono's work is terribly well communicated. After reading the relevant parts several times, it's not clear to me what exactly he really means by lateral thinking. For me, Wertheimer put forward the basic ideas of lateral thinking much more clearly and effectively in the 1940s (the same ideas were picked up and restated in the group context as "scientific revolutions" by Kuhn in the 1960s).

    On communication and success, one of the most widely read continental philosophers is Derrida. You could say he would not be as widely read and influential unless he had something very useful to say and communicated effectively. However, I remember a friend of mine, while completing her Ph.D in philosophy, went through a Derrida paper to break down what it really meant, and found the whole thing amounted pretty much to one sentence – a fairly unremarkable one at that.

    Don't get me wrong, I think De Bono presents a fine introduction to some basic ideas of creativity. And at the end of the day if you find de Bono useful, that's great! That's what's important at the end of the day, not where he got his ideas from. I just happen to hold the view that his ideas have by and large been communicated both previously and more effectively by other people in other works, and the question of why and how he achieved the success he did is an interesting one. Perhaps it's partly his timing, partly the way he packaged ideas, and partly an ability for promotion (I mean this in a positive way).

  3. Anonymous
    March 30, 2008 | 8:42 AM

    I endore some views of the above mentioned article though ideas put forward are fine but two page aricles is so expanded into whole chapters and these very ideas become obscure.
    I think more research is required and day to day real life problems; case scenarios may be developed to scientifcally apply these ideas and success and failure ratio from those who have applied these principles must be mentioed.

    people need some practical text book on this subject not commec books.
    Haider

  4. Sanjay Singhaniya
    January 23, 2009 | 2:25 PM

    When I came across De Bono's book "Serious Creativity", I was little skeptical about it. But after finishing it, I couldn't stop myself and I bought other books of De Bono including-"Teach yourself to think","Lateral Thinking", "Six thinking hat", "Six value medals", "I am right you are wrong", "How to have a beautiful mind" & "How you can be more interesting". I differ from others when they say that De Bono fails to communicate with readers. Indeed, I think his each and every word needs attention. He is really an 'Original Thinker'. Bu yes sometimes he becomes repititious.

  5. R.N.M. Aboganda
    July 19, 2011 | 4:50 PM

    You are quite right, de Bono never “identify and reference the prior work” in his books and articles. For example, the 5-stage thinking structure for problem solving (To-Lo-Po-So-Go) is similar to the CPS of Osborne and Parnes. De Bono, however, should be credited for “inventing” new terms (or as you said “rebranded”) and popularising them.

  6. Adel
    October 16, 2012 | 7:08 PM

    You are quote wrong. You are like someone that is reviewing logic and arguing, it is nothing but mysticism for after all both are ‘thoughts’. However logic and mysticism – I am telling you – are quite different. I will prove below how you are incorrect.

    You are like a person telling Goodyear the inventor of rubber wheels that his invention is nothing new, because the concept of round wheels had already been invented.

    You are like someone telling Einstein that he works are nothing new because Galileo had already proposed ‘relativity’ [and he had].

    You are like someone telling J.K.Rowling that she has not written anything original because “Dungeons and Dragons” and fantasy of that sort had already been produced aeons ago.

    You are like someone telling Edison that his incandescent light bulb is not amazing because there was a lineage of various light bulbs beforehand; and besides there was the gas lamp too!
    __________________________________________________________

    You said: 1. De Bono’s Work on Creativity Lacks Originality

    I state: And who has “original” work, such that it is so original it is distinguished from de Bono? If you can name “1 person”, I hereby in contract agree to give you $1,000,000 [that is $1million U.S. dollars – so I am quite clear].

    Einstein himself did not even have original work. Einstein is famous for the quote “the secret to creativity is to hide your sources”.

    Main point: De Bono is quite original in the ‘same sense’ as the normal use of the word ‘original’ when applied to anyone else like Einstein. This line of logic will be applied throughout below [when the word ‘original’ is used below].

    – You said “De Bono’s conception of vertical and lateral thinking is essentially a direct restatement of the concepts of convergent and divergent thinking ”

    This is wholly incorrect.

    a] Divergent thinking is used to generate ideas to the point of nausea. The idiom is that the first set of ideas will be “as per usual”, i.e. in de Bono terminology, divergent ideas will be VERTICAL THINKING and Not, I repeat “and not” lateral thinking at all; and it is hoped that with exhaustion, finally radical ideas will come out.

    b]Further with divergent thinking: one is going for high quantity of ideas. With Lateral thinking: such as provocation, one is going for “O-N-E” idea – the COMPLETE OPPOSITE to “divergent” thinking ! You are completely wrong. Q.E.D.

    c] De Bono’s contention is the complete opposite: namely one can Not ordinarily generate radical ideas because the mind is stuck to existing patterns.

    One must use mathematical operation of mind such as a deliberate provocation before generation of ideas. This is completely different to Osborne-Parnes.

    d] Further, I repeat: notice how Osborne-Parnes “divergent” thinking can mean [in de Bono language] either/or/both vertical and *quasi-lateral thinking*; not exclusively lateral thinking. [By quasi-lateral, I mean one generates wild ideas for the sake of it being wild with divergent thinking;whereas with lateral thinking, it is only a half-way point after which one generates reasonable ideas. The complete opposite of Osborne-Parnes].

    e] Finally with divergent thinking, one exhausts oneself in order to generate radical ideas over time. With de Bono one is radical “before generating useful ideas” : there is the provocation operation (which is rapid and only 1 idea) followed by “movement’ operation. I repeat: the complete opposite of anything ever put forward by anyone.

    Main point: you are completely incorrect. Q.E.D

    – You said “..De Bono’s work on perceptual frameworks generally and the concept of lateral thinking specifically is strongly rooted in the 1945 Gestalt approach to creativity in Wertheimer’s Productive Thinking model of creative activity”.

    There is, once again, complete and utter difference between de Bono’s work and the above in the sense that “with Gestalt” there is nothing that one can “practically do” to generate ideas (from lateral thinking).

    In contrast de Bono’s methodology is unique and practical. His theory of mind has some overlap with existing theory but the overlap is not sufficient to retrofit his unique theory to pre-existing theory. In other words, de Bono theory is completely original and distinguished. Q.E.D.

    – You said “..De Bono’s .. Six Thinking Hats…point to clear historical precedents … Roger Van Oech published a similar model in 1983 in his book A Whack On The Side of the Head…”

    You are once again completely wrong. You can argue that Van Oech copied it from S.W.O.T techniques or 2×2 matrix or more likely Jungian archetypes – or simple he was unique.

    Whatever the case may be, in regards to de Bono: he was original. 6 hats in *both theory and practice* is completely different to Van Oech’s model [I repeat: completely different].

    For example: let’s take the “artist”, presumably creativity. At no point does Van Oech have any [repeat: “a-n-y”] method that resembles de Bono’s Green hat/lateral thinking.

    You are wholly incorrect. Q.E.D.

    – You said “2. De Bono Obfuscates Reference To Prior Influences”

    Answer: completely and utter nonsense; and totally contradictory to everything else you are stating. De Bono does not reference any prior work: that is not the same as (deliberately) obfuscating prior work. Do you understand the difference? You are wrong. Q.E.D

    Furthermore, De Bono’s work is completely original.

    – You said “A standard practice for respectable work in the academic and scholarly world is to clear identify and reference the prior work”

    If I am Not writing for a comic book, there is No requirement for me to ‘draw pictures’ to satisfy you; and if you put up an argument that I am “un-scholarly’ because I did not play your game, then you would be quite wrong.

    In analog, De Bono was not writing “academic articles for the academic press” – and – if he had been doing that then indeed one must follow “academic rules of engagement”. Therefore de Bono has ‘absolute and totally zero’ need nor requirement to put forward “a-n-y” source whatsoever. Besides, as I prove above, his work is original [in the sense of original I challenged you with at the start].

    So you are once again incorrect. Q.E.D

    – You said “3. De Bono’s Ideas Are Not Well Communicated”

    Once again, you are completely incorrect. If you were remotely correct, he would be poor. As it so happens he is the most successful creativity person in all of human history , not merely talking it, but walking it, having amassed fortunes, enabling him to buy island”S”. You are completely wrong. Q.E.D.

    – You said “De Bono appears to have done so by largely rebranding and repackaging other people’s ideas as his own, and obscuring the links back into the historical development of thought in the field of creativity – denying his readers the pleasure of accessing the same rich ideas that De Bono drew on to develop his thinking.”

    I already proved above you were completely and utterly incorrect.

    – You said ” De Bono ..an incremental developer of thought in this field ” .

    You are completely incorrect. There is “nothing incremental” in his work: the entirety of it is “radical leaps and original insights in every way”. I proved that above. Q.E.D.

    If it were any other way , he would also be sued senseless. He has been untouchable.