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de Bono Thinking Systems Case Studies · LIFT Your Thinking Articles · Interviews


de Bono Thinking Systems Case Studies

Emerson Scroll Compressors Saves Over $400,000: Plant Managers Use Innovative de Bono Communication Tools to Tap Strengths of Straight-Shooting Workforce--Click here to read
3M Used Six Thinking Hats to Create Products for New Markets--Click here to read
Food Processing Announces 2010 R&D Team Winner: Hormel Foods--"All the responsibility and accountability is built on trust and encourages the freedom to explore and be creative. One of our team members, Dan Hirst, is a trained leader in Edward de Bono lateral thinking training, which makes remarkable use of several skills that encourage not only out-of-the-box thinking, but removing the box barriers entirely. Everyone in R&D and many in the corporate office have been trained in this program." To read the entire article click here.  July 6, 2010
J Walter Thompson Hits the Mark with Creative Campaign: Six Thinking Hats method used to develop a Ford Focus ad campaign Click to read
Pittsburg Plate Glass Company (PPG) used Six Thinking Hats to overcome competing interests and opinions in choosing an alternative business strategy and deciding whether to shut down a plant. Click to read
Motorola used Lateral Thinking and Six Thinking Hats to develop a high-tech, hand-held communications device. Click to read
Six Thinking Hats in action at Statoil--the drilling goes on and millions are saved Click to read
Well-Known Pharmaceutical Company Uses Lateral Thinking Tools to Power Idea Generation in Kaizen Initiative. Click to read
Boeing used Six Thinking Hats to erase partisan lines between union and management and to thoroughly analyze a challenge and come to a solution. Click to read
Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC) used Power of Perception Tools to bring up new questions and help them anticipate industry changes. Click to read
Collaborate or Evaporate: Focus on Facilitation/Six Thinking Hats Tools Help Advance Strategic Community Initiatives for Long-term Economic Impact. Click to read
Hewlett-Packard used Lateral Thinking & Six Thinking Hats to help organize a strategic planning meeting. Click to read

Lift Your Thinking Articles by Lynda Curtin

Innovation is Like Shooting a Hole-in-One: An article with three tips to strengthen your Innovation Instinct. Click to read


Thinking as One Key to Organization Health--An Interview with de Bono Master Trainer, Lynda Curtin--PDF July, 21, 2010
Shedding Light on Creative Thinking: An Interview with Edward de Bono--PDF  
Newsweek July 10, 2010: The Creativity Crisis--For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong--and how we can fix it. This article is a must read--A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No.1 "leadership competency" of the future. Click here to read.
The Revolutionary Nature of Six Thinking Hats & Parallel Thinking by Edward de Bono--PDF

Brand Building: The Nestlé Prepared Food Division Approach

“Six Hats® is a simple, yet powerful tool that can be learned rapidly and used immediately to achieve long-lasting results. Six Hats has helped our product development group to generate ideas quickly, evaluate them efficiently, and implement action plans effectively.” — Laura Donahue

Brand Building Challenge: Strengthen brand portfolios. The product development team presented 19 new concepts they had created to the marketing employees of two sub-groups of a well known frozen food brand. Each concept was quickly evaluated using the Six Hats process to look for benefits and disconnects with the different sub-brand strategies. When the panel concluded, both groups were pleased. Each had selected concepts that fit with their individual portfolios while strengthening the overall brand portfolio. Elapsed time: just one hour.

Increase Sales Challenge: A cross-function product development/ marketing/ sales team convened an idea session for the purpose of assisting a key retail customer to increase product sales. The retailer’s buying group joined the session led by a Six Hats® thinker. In less than two hours, the group generated several excellent ideas, evaluated them, selected the best ones, and created an action plan to implement them.

The Nestlé USA Food Division is home to such well-known brands as Stouffer’s® and Lean Cuisine® frozen entrees, Ortega® Mexican foods, Nestlé Toll House® morsels, baking products and cookie dough, and Libby’s® Pumpkin, among others.

The Six Thinking Hats® process was introduced to this Solon, Ohio-based division during a special application-based training session attended by employees from marketing, operations and product development groups. Participants in the session were impressed by the versatility of the Six Hats tool and the ease with which it can be used to quickly achieve outstanding results.

Now, many of these employees are successfully applying Six Hats thinking in a variety of situations within their own departments. Using the Green Hat, in particular, has helped those facing challenges to generate a larger array of options, often leading to more innovative solutions.

In fact, the human resources group was so impressed with the new thinking techniques that The Fundamentals of Creativity and Innovation: Six Thinking Hats® course will be offered to the division’s employees.

©1998. This client case study is shared by de Bono for Business; a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Customer Service Soars!

Reporter: Lynda Curtin, The Opportunity Thinker

Future by Design Conference Presenter: Simona Adelina Popovici, Associate Director, Organizational Development. MobiFon-Connex, Romania

MobiFon-Connex, the first mobile telecommunications company to win a GSM license in Romania, is the market leader. Their mission, "We make it easy for people in Romania to stay in touch and to connect to the world," has helped them focus on the needs of their customers, and to win the Best Management award from the Economist three years in a row.

In 1999 they started training their employees to be better thinkers by using Six Thinking Hats® and Lateral Thinking™ tools. The results were so good; they decided to incorporate the Six Thinking Hats® tool into all phases of their Business Process Reengineering project. Impressive improvements in customer service were achieved.

Customer Service Soars:

  1. The average speed to answer a customer phone call went from 225 seconds to 40 seconds

  2. The average number of phone calls per customer, per month, dropped from 3 calls to 1.28 calls

  3. A new point of sales process was introduced which reduced activation time from 8 hours to less than 15 minutes

  4. Customer retention - customer churn was reduced by over 50%

  5. A bad debt process was introduced that reduced bad debt from 4% to 2.18%

The results speak for themselves. Employees shared these comments:

  • "During our first opportunity to practice and use the Six Thinking Hats training — it worked! This is a good sign that we can make efforts to concentrate on a specific matter and stick to that matter."

  • "We found a lot of solutions in a very short period of time."

  • "It created a common direction for all people involved."

  • "Brought discipline to the group."

This is a great example of a company that undertook a big project, and understood they needed to select and implement an appropriate process tool to help employees think through all of the possibilities, in order for the project to be successful. You can too.

©2002. de Bono for Business is a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Level the Cultural Playing Field in Business Interactions: Creativity Tool Use in a Multi-National Company

ABB Case Studies Featured at Global Creativity & Innovation Seminar

Presented by Alex D'Anci, ABB Finland.

*** Dieter Ettl, a consultant of the Finnish Process Technology Organization, represented ABB at a recent Creativity Seminar in London, chaired by Dr. Edward de Bono. Dieter presented two case studies of how the use of thinking and creativity tools has made a positive business impact within ABB.

The Finnish Process Technology Organization and Corporate Research Center have been learning and applying Dr. Edward de Bono's thinking tools Six Thinking Hats® and Lateral Thinking since 1995. The tools help users clarify, amplify and focus their thinking and creativity. When Dr. de Bono organized the seminar Advanced Thinking in a Changing World - How to Release Your Organizations Unused Brainpower last December, he invited Alps Electronics, ABB, British Telecom, and Siemens to present success stories of innovations directly attributable to thinking tool use.

ABB has been using Dr. de Bono's Six Thinking Hats® tool for meeting facilitation, and his Lateral Thinkingfor creativity. The first case Dieter presented was a powerful application of the Six Thinking Hats® tool; improving the effectiveness of international project workshops. The case described a High Impact Project (HIP) kickoff workshop as a problem in international communications and how the Six Thinking Hats® created a uniform culture for interaction. The principle HIP members came from several different cultures, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and USA. Communications styles can be very different, even for neighboring Scandinavian countries. The Six Thinking Hats® methodology served to break through these cultural communications barriers. Corporate Research Director Juhani Pylkkwho participated in the workshop, was pleased with the power of the tool and remarked, "With Six Thinking Hats® we gain results in two days, which with old methods would have taken at least a month." Effective communications was realized in minutes, and consensus reached quickly.

Dieter also presented his consultant team's results using Lateral Thinkingtools in process re-engineering in two European Transformer factories. "First we used traditional brainstorming to get ideas from the group. When they were out of ideas, we would use various Lateral Thinkingtools like Random Entry or Provocation to get more ideas from the group. The ideas from Lateral Thinkingwould often double the impact of the brainstormed ideas. In one case, the documented business impact from a single Lateral Thinkingidea exceeded 300kUSD."

The Six Thinking Hats® method is used frequently in the Finnish Process Technology Organization, both internally and with clients. In Finland, we felt that the Six Thinking Hats® was such a good tool; we took the initiative to translate the course material into Finnish. In ABB, we feel that thinking tool training is an excellent investment.

This client case study is shared by de Bono for Business; a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting / retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Six Sigma Black Belt Training Program Adopts de Bono Thinking Systems Methods to Equip Facilitators to Lead Effective Problem Solving Discussions

Reporter: Lynda Curtin, the Opportunity Thinker

Future by Design Conference Presenter: Master Trainer, Mike Sproul

Compaq Computer in Houston, Texas has a rigorous Six Sigma program. One shortfall was identified — trained black belt leaders had difficulty applying the tools with teams because they lacked facilitation skills and tools. Six Thinking Hats® and Lateral Thinking™ tools were selected and embedded in the Six Sigma Black Belt training program as follows:

  1. Employees in the Six Sigma Black Belt training program have to have a chartered project signed by a Vice President before they can attend the training. Results are expected and are delivered.

  2. The training is conducted at an off-site location to reduce job distractions.

  3. The program consists of 15 days of training. Three days of that training, 20% of their time investment, is spent learning the process tools - Six Thinking Hats® and Lateral Thinking™.

  4. The trained Black Belt employees’ report, the first tool they usually use when they get back to their job to work with their team, is Six Thinking Hats®.

  5. To prepare to attend the Six Thinking Hats® portion of the training, the attendees first must complete the de Bono online tutorial. This has enabled the training time to be really tightly focused on skill development to use the tool with teams during team meetings.

Six Thinking Hats® and Lateral Thinking™ are powerful process facilitation tools. They provide frameworks for the necessary thinking and discussion that need to take place when working with teams on business projects. Companies can now choose to develop expert de Bono Thinking Systems facilitators — Focus on Facilitation® was launched in 2004 to address this pressing business need.

©2002. de Bono for Business is a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Catastrophe Meeting at Bosch

Reporter: Lynda Curtin, The Opportunity Thinker

Future by Design Conference Presenter: Bernard Balle, Bosch, Germany

Background: Bosch, a global leader in automotive technology, headquartered in Germany, generated $43 billion in sales during 2000.Bernard Balle, internal coordinator for the process improvement process, in the thermo technology division, shared this experience using the Six Thinking Hats® tool with a cross culture group.

Four years ago Edward de Bono introduced the thermo technology group, an engineering based division within the company, to his thinking techniques. This sparked Bernard Balle to become a certified Six Thinking Hats® instructor to conduct this training. He also facilitates meetings using the Six Thinking Hats® tool.

Challenge: A catastrophe meeting was called with the mandate, "To develop a new appliance." Participants flew in from Germany, Great Britain, France, Turkey and Portugal. There was a wide variance in English proficiency among the group members, not to mention cultural assumptions about how the people from the different countries would contribute to the challenge.

The Six Hats was used during a meeting that lasted one and a half hours. The group concluded they did not have enough white hat—information, data, and facts, to be able to productively participate in a meeting to develop a new appliance. Typically, groups would go on and on and on to fill up the time allotment, wasting time, accomplishing nothing. The tool enabled the group to recognize they needed to break, collect information, and plan another meeting, which they did.

Bernard reported, use of the Six Hats structure enabled: the quiet people to contribute; feelings and emotions to be expressed; discovery that everyone had clever ideas, not just one nation; everyone had something valuable to contribute to the challenge.

Bernard also shared the following tips:

  • Hang a Six Thinking Hat® poster in every meeting room to remind teams to use the tool.

  • Provide a useful job aid. Bernard had a tent card designed as a Six Thinking Hats® reminder for everyone, which resulted from a marketing idea. Each month a different tent card is distributed to reinforce something important for employees. They discovered the only tent card that lasted longer than a month was the Six Thinking Hats® card.

©2002. de Bono for Business is a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Washoe Health System Tackles Tough Issues

Background: Washoe Health System (WHS), 1996 Winner of the George Land Award for Innovation is committed to search for new and innovative ways to improve care and services with the goal of exceeding customer’s expectations.

“We know health care is changing. We don’t have to sell the need for creativity. For us it’s the implementation piece; the next step. We see the Six Thinking Hats® as a method to go beyond generating ideas … a way to help teams effectively and efficiently evaluate the merits of the ideas they learned to generate during our “One Team, One Purpose” course.” — Jennifer Kirby

WHS services include a 500 bed acute care hospital, home health agencies, long term care facility, urgent care centers, family medical clinics, a full line of insurance services, and a community health resource center.

In 1995 WHS University was created to teach employees about the resources available and skills necessary to provide “platinum” level customer service. Every employee attends the premier three day course, “One Team, One Purpose” consisting of six modules: innovation, attitude, team building, quality, great service, and living for your customer. The Six Thinking Hats® is the follow-up course to train blue hat process control facilitators who are utilized throughout the organization to facilitate team meetings, and to tackle tough issues.

Challenge: Purchase new equipment for the Intensive Care Unit. Constraints—budget is limited, only one piece of equipment can be selected. A key group wanted a flashy new piece of equipment. A “blue hat” process facilitator led the team to a decision in 15 minutes. Unheard of! The team selected a much better piece of equipment and all were in agreement, thus, saving time, avoiding conflict, and a costly purchasing error.

Challenge: Maximize caregiver time at the bedside for 600 nurses. Currently nurses must complete 15 chart audits per year, taking one hour each. 55 Caregivers met for a one day Six hats session and decided to invent a “new tool” that takes much less time, requires less paper work, and enables more time with patients. Rolled-out February 1998.

©1998. This client case study is shared by de Bono for Business; a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

For Immediate Release: Edward de Bono Makes Top 50 Business Intellectual List in a Study Conducted by Accenture.

Accenture Study Yields Top 50 'Business Intellectuals'

Ranking of Top Thinkers and Writers on Management Topics CAMBRIDGE, MA., May 22, 2002

Who are our best-known, highest-profile business intellectuals? Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change has compiled an intriguing ranking of the top 50 living business gurus, most of whom are business school academics, consultants, journalists or business executives.

"For the purposes of this study, we define business intellectuals as influential thinkers and writers on business management topics," said Tom Davenport, an Accenture partner and director of the Institute, which conducts original research focused on providing insight and ideas into strategic business issues.

The list was compiled as part of a broader study on the circulation of new ideas in business. A team of Institute researchers headed by Davenport conducted the study, which took seven months to complete. "The list is sure to cause some discussion around the water coolers of the business world," said Davenport. "Yet it does give an objective, quantitative ranking of those individuals in the business arena whose ideas, writings, and teachings are forefront in the public consciousness."

Topping the list is Michael E. Porter, who has been called the world's most influential business school academic. The Harvard Business School professor and strategy expert is the author of Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors, which is required reading for every Harvard MBA student. Finishing tied for second are Tom Peters and Robert Reich. Peters is the management consultant who 20 years ago wrote In Search of Excellence, the bestseller on what it takes to compete and win in the world of business. Reich is the former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, a social and economic policy professor at Brandeis University, author of several books, including The Future of Success, and Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts.

Completing the top 10 are: Peter Drucker, a business philosopher and consultant for 60 years who is widely recognized as the father of modern management; Peter Senge, MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization; Gary Becker, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on human capital, and an Economics and Sociology professor at the University of Chicago; Gary Hamel, Chairman of the boutique consulting firm Strategos, and author of Leading the Revolution; Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave; Hal Varian, dean of the School of Information Management & Systems at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy; Daniel Goleman, journalist and author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence. The list uses the same criteria followed by Richard A. Posner in his book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.

Overall ranking is based on the sum of ranks in three separate groupings for each candidate based on the following:

  1. Web hits using the Google search engine

  2. Media mentions using the three Lexis/Nexis databases (major newspapers, magazine stories and transcripts) from April 1997 – April 2002

  3. Scholarly citations found in the Science Citation and Social Sciences Citation indices during 1997-2002.

Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change began by compiling a list of approximately 300 names from various subjective guru rankings, and author lists of leading books and popular Harvard Business Review articles. The Business Intellectual rankings will also appear in a book written by Davenport and Laurence Prusak that is scheduled for publication by Harvard Business School Press in Spring 2003. The rankings will be expanded in the book.

The top-ranking business executive is Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and chairman (19). Gates finished with the highest ranking in the media mentions and Google hits categories.

"Peter Drucker is clearly a globally recognized business guru, but his ranking wasn't higher because he received fewer hits in non-business categories. On the other hand, I was surprised to see Reich's ranking, which I attribute to the fact that he scored high in both the business guru list and the public intellectuals list," said Davenport, who as a prolific author, magazine writer and business school professor, was ranked 24 on the list. "I was pleased to see few purveyors of real schlock in the high ranks, yet disappointed to see so few women on the list and virtually all Americans."

Here is the list:

  1. Michael E. Porter
  2. Tom Peters
  3. Robert Reich
  4. Peter Drucker
  5. Peter Senge
  6. Gary S. Becker
  7. Gary Hamel
  8. Alvin Toffler
  9. Hal Varian
  10. Daniel Goleman
  11. Rosabeth Moss Kanter
  12. Ronald Coase
  13. Lester Thurow
  14. Charles Handy
  15. Henry Mintzberg
  16. Michael Hammer
  17. Stephen Covey
  18. Warren Bennis
  19. Bill Gates
  20. Jeffrey Pfeffer
  21. Philip Kotler
  22. Robert C. Merton
  23. C. K. Prahalad
  24. Thomas H. Davenport
  25. Don Tapscott
  1. John Seely Brown
  2. George Gilder Reich
  3. Kevin Kelly
  4. Chris Argyris
  5. Robert Kaplan
  6. Esther Dyson
  7. Edward De Bono
  8. Jack Welch
  9. John Kotter
  10. Ken Blanchard
  11. Edward Tufte
  12. Kenichi Ohmae
  13. Alfred Chandler
  14. James MacGregor Burns
  15. Sumantra Ghoshal
  16. Edgar Schein
  17. Myron S. Scholes
  18. James March
  19. Richard Branson
  20. Anthony Robbins
  21. Clay(ton) Christensen
  22. Michael Dell
  23. John Naisbitt
  24. David Teece
  25. Don Peppers

Accenture is the world's leading management consulting and technology services organization. Through its network of businesses approach-in which the company enhances its consulting and outsourcing expertise through alliances, affiliated companies and other capabilities.

de Bono for Business is a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

Thursday September 7, 2000

How I Got There: An Interview with Dr. Edward de Bono

Written by Anthea Milnes

Best known as the "founder of lateral thinking," the Maltese-born millionaire Edward de Bono has held academic appointments at Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard universities. Now aged 67, he owns islands in three continents, has written more than 60 books, and has had a planet named after him. Dr. de Bono has applied his thinking skills to a variety of subjects from business and economics to foreign policy and education and has set up an international network of 950 accredited instructors to teach his theories to governments, companies and other institutions. His new book, $$The de Bono Code Book$$$, which was published by Viking on August 31, tackles the subject of language and how it limits our perceptions and communication.


My family had a strong medical orientation: my father was professor of medicine and my uncle was professor of surgery. My mother, on the other hand, was a journalist, and had a certain amount of cheek. So in my career these two things came together; the courage to do things and the academic side.

I was educated at St. Edward's College in Malta and jumped classes twice so I was always three or four years younger than anyone else in my class; I was treated as a rather special case and my nickname was "Genius." I was the only boy to have his own personal key to the chemistry laboratory. After school I went to the Royal University of Malta, where I qualified as a doctor. Then I came to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to study psychology, and after that I worked in medicine at Oxford, St. Thomas's hospital, London, Cambridge, and Harvard.

The Big Idea

Three things came together to kick off my work in the area of thinking: in medicine I was dealing with self-organizing systems such as the glands, kidneys, respiration, and circulation, and I started to ask myself what would happen if the same principles were applied to the brain. From psychology came an interest in thinking, and from computers an interest in the types of perceptual and creative thinking that computers couldn't do. The fusion of these elements led to my key book The Mechanism of Mind in 1969.

Originally there was no mention of business in my books, but business leaders came to me because they recognized the importance of what I was talking about. Of all sectors in society, business is the most interested in thinking. Others, such as political and academic, are only interested in proving themselves right. It upsets people when I say business is more interested in thinking than universities, but it's true.

For a long time my work in the thinking field ran in parallel with my work in medicine, but it grew and grew and eventually I took early retirement from medicine to work exclusively on thinking.

Worst Moment

There was no one worst moment for me, because I think if you were to change one part of the jigsaw of your life, you would get a completely different picture. There are a couple of frustrations, perhaps: When I wrote my first book, my father pointed out that I had a great career in medicine and discouraged me from making a living out of writing. That didn't upset me, but, looking back, perhaps I should have made the decision to concentrate entirely on thinking earlier.

My other frustration is with education, particularly in the UK, which is self-satisfied and change-resistant. Recently, the Holst Group has been teaching my work to unemployed youngsters as part of the Government's New Deal programme, and found that teaching just six hours of thinking increased employability by 500 percent. If six hours of thinking can do more for these youngsters than 10 years of education, then there's something lacking in education. Other countries have made thinking mandatory in their school curricula, but not the UK.

Most Proud of

In terms of how widely it has been adopted, I'm most proud of the concept of parallel thinking known as the Six Hats. This system moves people away from the traditional argument and debate style of thinking to a more efficient model. Recently, at a big innovation meeting, someone came up to me who runs all the fisheries and marine biology in Australia. He said, "We used to have terrible meetings, full of arguments and egos, but using the Six Hats we've had the best meetings we've ever had."

In the United States, a number of states are now running pilot projects in which juries are trained in the Six Hats, because it allows them to examine evidence more objectively.

In a different sense, I'm pleased that I have helped to take the mystique out of creativity; that is the creativity of ideas, perceptions and concepts rather than artistic creativity. I've show that it isn't just magic. In South Africa, one of my trainers set up 130 workshops for a steel company. That afternoon, using just one of my lateral thinking techniques, they generated 21,000 new ideas which took them nine months just to go through.

The Secrets of my Success

The other day I was talking to a journalist, and he asked why, when my ideas make so much sense, no one has proposed them before. I told him that you have to have the courage. The people whose judgment I respect are in favor of my work, so if other people who don't fully understand what I'm about get upset, that doesn't worry me. Willingness to think of possibilities and move forward is the other key. So much thinking in universities looks backwards, but as I said in one of my books, "You can analyze the past, but you have to design the future."

Need to Know

Education wastes two thirds of talent in society. Given the chance youngsters can be brilliant thinkers. My advice would be, "Don't think you're stupid just because the education system tells you you are."

I Wish I'd Known

It's taken me a while to realize that just because I'm interested in change, ideas, and improvement, it's misguided to assume that other people will be too.

Article taken from the Independent, No. 4,334(IR50p) 45p

For more information on how to strengthen your business results with Dr. de Bono’s thinking methodologies contact: de Bono for Business; a thriving member of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. global network, since 1994. Book Lynda Curtin to speak at your next event, facilitate your next meeting/retreat or train your teams to become effective thinkers and facilitators. or

An Interview with Edward de Bono

by Victoria Carver

After over 30 years of writing, lecturing, inventing, and consulting, Dr. De Bono does not stand still. He continues to travel the world to promote ways of thinking that empower people and institutions to design a better future.

He can be found a mile underground working with South African platinum miners to help them think constructively and collaboratively at work and at home. He carries his message and thinking techniques to school children in Malta and to business and government leaders in Hong Kong. He consults with US Navy admirals and with negotiators in political hot spots across the globe.

What drives him to pursue this daunting schedule when he could easily retire to one of his island retreats? How does he evaluate the current state of thinking in the world? Are schools teaching children to think better? What are the next steps in "changing the way the world thinks"? How did he find his way into this remarkable lifework?

De Bono Thinking Systems, Inc. editor Victoria Carver asked de Bono about all this at a meeting of Certified Master Trainers in April of 2000 in St. Charles, Illinois.

Victoria Carver: Your Six Thinking Hats method for individual and collaborative thinking has had a profound impact on the way meetings are held, decisions reached, products designed and evaluated, and crises resolved in large and small corporations, governments, and families around the world. It’s deceptively simple, yet powerful. How did you come up with the Six Thinking Hats?

Edward de Bono: Six Hats was actually just written up one afternoon. I had to write an article for something. I tried to imagine a situation for creative thinking, but if the environment was such that the greatest motivation of everyone around was to fuel their ego by saying, "That won’t work," and "That’s wrong," "That’s not going to happen," and so on and so on — until we could move them through that, it wasn’t going to happen. To move out of such an entrenched negative mode of thinking by saying, "Don’t do it," doesn’t make sense. But to say, "There is a time and place where that sort of critical thinking is perfectly correct, but other times where it’s not," might work.

So it started out as a reaction to the negativity. That’s why, in fact, in my first Six Hats edition, I was probably a little too harsh on the Black Hat — because it was so overused. And then I changed that in the more recent edition to explain that it’s a very valuable Hat, but it’s just overused.

VC: So in writing the article you had to come up with a way to corral the critical thinking into one space — under the Black Hat. But how did you come up with the other hats?

EdB:  Well, you see, if you say there is a time and place for the Black Hat, but not all the time, then what happens at the other times? If, for example, you then mix up the feelings, which I labeled the Red Hat, with other kinds of thinking, then you never know when you’re getting feelings and when you’re getting something else. So you separate the Red Hat and express the feelings intentionally in their own time and place. Following the same procedure with the remaining kinds of thinking, you end up getting everyone’s best thinking from every angle on the topic and removing the ego-driven argument.

VC: Were you always, even as a child, looking for different ways of doing things?

EdB:  Different ways of doing things? Yes — inventions and so on — in that sense, yes. In fact, in school I was the only boy who had his personal key to the chemistry laboratory; I could go in any time I liked. So, in terms of exploring things, yes.

And then in medicine I was working on more complicated things — circulatory systems, respiration, and so on — and had to develop ideas on self-organizing systems. That led to the idea of how the brain makes patterns — asymmetric patterns. And if that was so, what did creativity really mean? From that came the idea of interventions. Then later on came the notion that it is very difficult to be creative if everyone around is in the judgment mode. And from that came parallel thinking and the Six Hats.

VC: So, when you went into medicine, did you have some vision of what you were going to pursue, and then it got changed by what you discovered in your research?

EdB:  No. When I went into medicine, I continued a family tradition. My father’s in medicine, my grandfather’s in medicine, my three uncles are in medicine. Also, in Malta, where I first started, it was one of the few international subjects. In other words, you could learn medicine in Malta and use it in many other countries, whereas if you studied law it was not international. So, there were a number of reasons. But the advantage of having studied medicine is that I’m dealing with biological systems, and if you come to creativity from, for instance, psychology, which many people do, it offers very little help. Psychology is all description. There’s no underlying system from which you can derive mechanisms and interventions, only descriptions. Then if you come to creativity from the artistic side, you may have some of the right attitudes, but there’s not much you can do except to say, "I feel inspired," and "That’s the way it happens with me, and you’ve got to be as talented as me to make it happen."

VC: As a matter of fact, the term you so often use in describing innovation — the concept of "design" — is looked down upon in many art circles, as an aspect of applied or mundane art.

EdB: Exactly — quite right. And if you come to creativity from philosophy, you’re essentially playing word games. So the medical background was, in fact, very useful. That’s why it’s been possible to create a more systematic approach, a more formal and deliberate approach.

VC: I imagine, for your readers or listeners, your strong background in medicine tends to jar, right from the start, their standard notions and expectations about creativity. It’s hard to predict where you might be coming from in considering the subject or where you’re headed.

EdB:  That’s right. The idea is still very prevalent that creativity is just being very free and messing around and then if some idea turns up you’ll recognize it and so on, and one wonders what that has to do with the study of medicine and self-organizing systems.

So that’s the background.

VC: What are your priorities today? Where are you currently focusing your energy?

EdB: There are always two levels: one is in seeing things I’ve designed that are in use — where they’re being disseminated, put to effective use, being used more widely. This applies to schools, corporations, communities I encounter as I travel. In other words, seeing what’s already there being used The second level, of course, is the designing of the new, and I’m working on some new things about which I’ll be able to say more later on.

VC: On the first level — the applications you see and hear about as you travel — what’s especially satisfying to you?

EdB:  Well, for example, where school systems say "We want to put this into our schools, because it works really well" — for instance, in Ireland. In Cork, there’s been a program going on where mentors are set up for really difficult children — young criminals and so on — teaching them to think. The first phase is over, and the person from the European Union who is looking at it is saying he’s very satisfied with it. It’s working so well that it’s now being spread across Ireland. There will be 300 trainers doing that.

So that’s the kind of thing that’s extremely satisfying — seeing things happen, where people are teaching thinking, even at a very basic level, and it’s making a difference. Seeing this change people’s lives, where they feel a greater control over themselves, where it changes what they think they can do and what they think about themselves.

Then on the corporate level, there’s the notion that innovation has become so necessary and that organizations and their members are more effective for doing it. Recently, for example, I spoke at an Innovation Summit attended by about 900 people in Australia. I was sitting at the Prime Minister’s table, and this fellow came up to me and told me he’s in charge of marine biology for the whole country, with responsibility for all the fisheries and so on — a huge job. He said, "We used to have all these long meetings, and it was awful — lots of bickering and egos and so on. Well, we introduced the Six Hats and it’s the best meeting we’ve ever had."

I hear this over and over again. And when you think that argument has been around for 2,400 years, and no one’s ever challenged it as a way of getting anywhere, it’s totally astonishing. So the more people try these other methods, the more they come back and report that it’s all so much better. And I hear the same kinds of things from people about the DATT program, the CoRT program, and so on, as this fellow reported about the Six Hats.

You see, we have this notion that if you’re generally intelligent, then whatever you do is going to be good thinking, which is simply not true. And then, our notion of thinking is recognizing standard situations and knowing the standard way of dealing with them, and then, if there is some disagreement, arguing whether it was this situation or that situation and what it should be. That sort of thinking is like the left front wheel of a motorcar: there’s nothing wrong with the left front wheel unless you believe that all you need is the left front wheel. There’s something wrong with that — not with the car, but with your belief. So, again, even with the most intelligent people, their thinking is very limited.

VC: What’s been most exciting to you among all the things you’ve seen done with your work?

EdB: Well, satisfying and exciting are not the same thing. One truly satisfying experience I had was in Heathrow Airport near London. I was in the traveler’s lounge, returning at about five in the morning from a long trip, and they have this arrangement where you can take a shower there. There’s a shower attendant who takes your name and cleans the showers and so on. And this shower attendant noticed my name and said, "de Bono — are you the gentleman who writes the books about thinking?" I said, "Yes," and he said, "Oh, I read all of them!" Now that’s satisfying. This is not a person who was reading them because of his profession or because he was directed to do so — they just made sense to him. That’s refreshing and very satisfying.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the experience I had with the United States Navy. I was asked to meet with 20 admirals in Newport, Rhode Island, where we used my creative thinking methods to consider the possible effects of Y2K. We decided not much would happen, and as it turned out, not much did. But the top Navy leadership recognized the value of these methods enough to seek my assistance, and I was the only civilian and the only foreigner involved in the meeting.

VC: I notice, from your comments in recent presentations, that you’re focusing much time and energy on children and schools. Is that a shift?

EdB: Well no, actually, I’ve always been there. I’ve put a lot of energy and interest on schools and children since 1972. And, obviously, kids grow up.

But society is moving more toward putting my work in the hands of children. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, every school child is issued a copy of my book Handbook for The Positive Revolution — by the government! Because they say that if kids go through their education with a positive, constructive attitude, it’s going to be better for society. UNESCO, and the World Health Organization are working with our methods, and a one-year curriculum is being developed for dissemination over the radio to teach thinking to children in remote areas of Nigeria. Starting in September, all schools in the United Arab Emirate will be required to teach thinking using these tools.

VC: Do you think schools will fundamentally change? How do you envision schools being, say, twenty years from now?

EdB: Well, if you look back 100 years and ask what had changed the least, I think it would have to be schools. Same subjects, same way they’re taught, same sense of importance — it’s absurd, totally absurd. I’m sure some have computers and such, but nothing much has actually changed. The problem with education is that it’s so self-protective; it’s a locked-in system.

VC: Some educational theorists believe that with access to computers, the internet, all that information and the powerful tools in many children’s hands today, they won’t tolerate schools continuing as they are — that children themselves will force change. What do you think?

EdB: Much as don’t want to think so, I believe most of those children will and do look at it and say, "Well, it’s a game and we don’t like it, but we have to play it, so we’ll play it the best we can and move on." And then there are the ones who are rebellious, and they don’t want to play the game and won’t. But they’ll just be treated as though, oh well they’re rebels, and will be dismissed.

It’s a bit like in my book Handbook for The Positive Revolution, where I say that the people who really have the power to change the world are the 17-year-old girls. Because all young men up to the age of about 28 want to impress them. Now, if they said, "All that macho, strutting around stuff doesn’t impress us," then the values would change. But the weakness in my theory is all the 16-year-old girls, because they want to join that adult gang. Therefore, they will endorse the existing values in order to be accepted. So they’re in the position to change, but they’re very unlikely to change, because it serves their purpose to endorse existing values. The same is true in schools. Those who could change it say, "Well, yes, seeking to change the system is very noble, but it’s not likely to benefit us, so we’ll just play the game the way it’s written".

VC: As you travel the world, do you see geographic areas or particular populations, which, because of their particular circumstances, present good opportunities for changing schools and thinking methods?

EdB: Somewhere like Singapore, for instance, you find considerable good will and intention. They say, "We’ve got to teach thinking, we’ve got to teach creativity." But when it comes right down to implementation, they tend to fall back on the very old-fashioned ideas: teaching children to play the drum and to dance and saying, "Now, this is creative. Isn’t it great?" So, the will is there — the will is great at a very senior level. But when it gets filtered down, it loses all its impetus.

VC: Let’s shift focus to APTT and the other structures in place for disseminating your work — the various institutes and foundations and so on. Where do you see gaps in coverage or a need to increase energy and other resources?

EdB:  I think the awareness of what is being done — the awareness of how powerful some of the effects are — is quite low. Particularly in the United States, many people don’t know what can be done, what is being done, with what’s already out there.

VC: Yes. In pursuing stories for the Global Exchange, over the years, we’ve run into a number of remarkable applications of the tools in a surprising variety of venues — and sometimes by people who have just read one of your books or heard you speak and have gone out and used your methods in world-changing work. One story that comes to mind is the water engineer from the UK who did the work in remote Cambodian villages using the Six Hats in a Freirean context.

EdB: Right. Well, you see, stories like that are double-edged. The benefit is in saying that these are very simple people, and these methods have made a huge difference in their lives. The negative is that many people look at a story like that and say, "That’s great, but those people are so different from us. It worked for them, but it won’t work for us." And, you know, you can always say that about any story that comes out.

For instance, if I say that Siemans, which is the biggest company in Europe by far, has a division in which the unit chiefs are using my stuff, people say, "OK, that’s the senior people, but not the ordinary worker. It won’t work with the ordinary worker." And if I am working with the ordinary worker, they’ll say, "Yes, they need it, but not the senior people." So that’s the danger of any particular example — it allows someone to say, "It’s fine for them, but not me — they need it, I don’t."

It isn’t unusual at all for me to give a talk to a diverse group of executives, and perhaps I’ll offer an example to the great success some utility company has had in using these tools, and afterward all the executives from utility companies come forward and want to know about it and are very enthused. But, the others sort of stand back as if they can’t translate that example into their own industry. In fact, it makes little difference whether you make motor cars or chocolates, when it comes down to the thinking process involved and that it takes to improve that process. But many extremely intelligent and accomplished people seem to have a hard time seeing that.

VC: What would be an effective way to get a variety of these impressive stories out?

EdB: I think what we need is a range of really crisp paragraphs — three or four lines each — about these various examples where the methods are being put to effective use by individuals and groups, in schools, communities, homes, and so on. Then some examples of organizations, which have had experience getting results with our tools.

VC: A collection of success stories?

EdB: They’d be more than success stories. I’d call them illustrative stories.

For example, there’s [UK based Master Trainer] Russell Chalmers’ story about ABB, the large Finnish company. They used to spend 30 days each year on multi-national product planning discussions. Now, using the Six Hats, they spend two days. That’s illustrative.

Siemans reported that they cut product development time by 30% using our methods.

Then there’s the story, which Diane McQuaig at [APTT North American distributor] MICA can fill you in on, in which Boeing averted a strike by bringing in a trainer to help them use the Six Hats in negotiations. Then a second time a strike was averted in the same way. The third time, the Union said to management, "We won’t negotiate unless you use the Six Hats."

There’s a fellow in Argentina who will be coming to my creative seminar in Malta. He owns a textile factory, and on his own he took things from my book and started teaching his workers thinking. He’s been immensely successful. He’s had a 20% increase in productivity every year. He’s buying up other textile companies. And when I was having lunch with him he said to me, "I really owe you $5 million. That would be your share of my increased worth due to using your thinking."

There are a number of these stories, and in some cases they happened some time ago and the people from the companies who shared them have moved on. But the trainers will remember them. We really need to encourage trainers to seek out these stories and get them to you when they’re fresh and the people are still there to be interviewed.

Then follow these stories up with some more general points about why this is no longer a luxury — why these ways of thinking are so necessary throughout the world. This could be on the web, could appear in magazines, books and so on.

The basic story is that the human race has been going along until now on recognition, not thinking. Now, people can say, "We’ve done pretty well that way so far," and you could say, "Yes, you have done pretty well in certain areas, particularly technical areas. But in human behavior areas, I really don’t think you’ve done very well at all."

The Renaissance was a disaster. It turned our attention backward, and ever since then we’ve been looking backward.

VC: Recently, I’ve noticed that in the area of cognitive studies, growing out of artificial intelligence work, much is coming out about the physical nature of our thinking — that mathematics, for instance, is body-based, not a dissociated abstract system as it’s long been portrayed. That seems to be moving at last away from the Greek model of the separation of mind from body, which some religious thought has latched onto, and toward your approach of understanding thinking as growing out of the body’s self-organizing systems.

EdB: That’s true, and it’s interesting, but it misses the key thing. That sort of research and the context in which it’s done still has as its aim description. If you can provide a more precise or more accurate description, then you’ve done what you set out to do. So you have people arguing on about their descriptions, but then what do you do with that? What does it mean in terms of changing things? It’s like taking a walking stick, and someone examines it and says, "There’s a top and a bottom." And someone else says, "No, no. There’s a handle, and there’s a metal tip at one end, and there’s a middle thing." And yet another person says, "No, no. You’ve got the handle, and you’ve got the middle of it, and you’ve got the bottom, and then there are the two linking things." So you can just go on forever describing things as you like, and it doesn’t actually help.

But when you say, "If that is so, let me design something — a process that will improve that thing I’m describing or will employ it in a different way." Now, if that thing turns out to be effective, two things can happen: the effective practice may justify the theoretical basis, or it might turn out that the basis was erroneous. But either way, if the practice you designed is useful, it doesn’t matter whether or not your theoretical basis was accurate. You’ve got something useful, and your erroneous basis has served as the launching point, and that’s what matters.

VC: What values drive you in your work?

EdB: Teaching the world to think. It has to be done! You see the same aspect of thinking being used and overused for over 2,000 years, and you wonder why. It limits so many people who could greatly enrich their own lives and society if they had the tools to think creatively and constructively. And in so many cases, as with the shower attendant at Heathrow, they recognize right away that it all makes sense.
This article is posted on this website with the permission of de Bono Thinking Systems, Inc., the international distributor of Edward de Bono’s training materials, a de Bono organization.

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