Should Soldiers Think? was the title of a lecture I was invited to give some years ago to the Veterans Corps of Artillery at the splendid Armory on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Apart from its prestige, as the oldest military unit in New York State (1790) and the Governor’s Own Guard, the VCA has a long history of training selected members in military thought leadership.

I was then invited to join the VCA as an Honorary Bombadier which was an honour better understood in New York than elsewhere. For example, the VCA was also on the Social Register in New York and so it was a handy social networking medium which was useful for SOT.

The title, Should soldiers think?, was deliberately provocative and amusing and the auditorium was filled with VCA officers and their teams of other ranks who work hard, make critical decisions under relentless pressure and use the same brain that we use. It is just as difficult for a soldier to think outside the box as it is for a doctor, for a salesman or for a CEO. The American audience also enjoyed hearing about non-American soldiers like Brudenell, the great Aussie thought leader.

Fortunately, the military understands the value of strategy and devotes many, many hours of training soldiers to practise algorithms on thought leadership and how to think.

When I was 20, I very much valued the foundational training I received in military thought leadership. It made me a much better scientist in my professional career and a more effective businessman. Especially in discerning the difference between theory and reality, knowledge and skill, talk and action and the willingness to have skin in the game.

Examples that worked well for me in Vietnam and later in Australia and America were SMEAC and also design-wired trigger commands like Ambush Left! and in the Royal Australian Air Force I well remember Eject! Eject! Eject!

In my own experience the 12 months of leadership, training and preparation for the Vietnam war service in the army was much more positive than the 12 months that followed on return to Australia in civilian life.

Both the Scheyville experience and the Canungra experience were life-changing military training investments for me about the theory. After that, the Vung Tau experience and Nui Dat experience taught me about the reality; the quantum difference of having skin in the game.

Years later, in this ABC clip, I discussed again, Should Soldiers Think?



Ten Thinking Emojis

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just click here and say “emojis please”.

___________________________________ Be forensic

Is it true? Fact check. Search more information. Facts and figures. True news or fake news? When you post this emoji you just give neutral information. You are not polarised or biased. You are a sort of wikipedia. Just get the facts out. Give all the information you can on the current situation. Be forensic. Be judgmental

Be Negative. Think inside the box. Use Black Hat thinking. Say why you think it’s wrong. Why it won’t work. Why it’s not true. Why you do not believe it or do not agree with it. Note that if you’re simply being emotional then that comes under another emoji. Be judgmental.

Image result for emoji comedy tragedy masks Be emotional

This is the emotional emoji. Feelings. The full range from comedy to tragedy. Emotions are important. It is better when they are informing your thinking not just controlling your thinking. Moods are part of life. Are you in an up mood or a down mood? Just say what you feel about the situation without bothering to explain. You hate it. You love it. Say, “I’m being emotional”. Feelings and personal values are part of every situation. Be emotional. generous

American thinker, Mark Twain, said, “Kindness is a language the blind can see and the deaf can hear”. Just because the generous emoji is a bag of cash doesn’t mean it has to be cash. It’s symbolic. It can be time. A ten minute visit to a friend. It can be energy. A good deed or a kind word. Be generous when you can. Offer kindness first. But, no need to be a sucker. Be generous. Be innovative

This emoji is for creative ideas. The ideas do not have to be sensible or logical. You can use provocations. You can try things out. You can use x10 thinking to escape from the box! The purpose is to have new ideas. Your career, business, investment and commercial success is directly related to the quality of your decisions. Every day you make decisions that will either increase your wealth or decrease your wealth. Every day you do things that either create value or drain value. Be innovative.

Image result for emojis Be cool

This is strategic and laid back. This is detached and objective. Here you are organising your thinking about the situation. Cool is for thinking about your thinking. For giving instructions to yourself and others. Cool is neutral. You can be exploring the subject through the use of the other thinking emojis: Be forensic. Be emotional. Be judgmental etc. The possibilities, options, strategies, tactics, pathways, trajectories, networks and proximities that are available for you to think about will either accelerate or inhibit your own personal productivity and results. Be strategic. Be cool.

Image result for whatsapp emoji umbrella Be wise

Use the crown emoji for The Wisdom of King Solomon or the Wisdom of Queen Elizabeth or any wise person you can find. WISDOM = KNOWLEDGE + EXPERIENCE. Where can we find wisdom? Who has the most knowledge? Who has the most experience? At least 50+ years. Who has seen it all before? Who was there in history? Consequences? Survival? Predictions? Be wise. Or, find someone who is!

Be happy

Modern song lyrics like Pharrell Williams “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth” and Bobby McFerrins’ “Don’t worry Be Happy” are not new ways of thinking and go back at least 2500 years as far as the Epicureans of Ancient Greece. But humans haven’t changed much since then so it’s still very good advice. Don’t worry. Be happy.

Be healthy

R&R. Rest & Recuperation. Recharge the batteries. Take-it-easy. Your brain is the biggest engine in your body. It consumes more fuel and generates more energy. Give it a rest and a time to recover. Give it a holiday from your screens and your gadgets. Your physical, mental and emotional health cannot be separated from the pattern of choices you make. Every hour of every day you are designing your future. If your designs are tired or weak your future cannot be strong. Be healthy.

Image result for whatsapp emoji umbrella rain Be careful

In today’s world there are BIG issues of privacy and security. Your own privacy. Your own security is at constant risk in the crackling chaos of the internet–the 24/7/365 whirling, howling, cacophonous wilderness of the greedy grasping global marketplace with its siren songs, ferocious fads and hoaxes, toxic wastes and vicious moods, its callous explosions, its viral plagues and epidemics and cruel and sudden extinctions. Your own survival and growth, in a Darwinian sense, cannot be separated from the pattern of how you make your decisions over time. If you don’t do your own better thinking others will do it for you. These other people, institutions or authorities may not do it well at all or even in your best interests. Do be careful.


Easy instructions on how to use the Ten Thinking Emojis:

• Thinking emojis are always put at the beginning of the text message, not the end.

• Thinking emojis signify a deliberate thinking algorithm for the brain. For example, the looking glass thinking emoji “BE FORENSIC” is an algorithm for the deliberate use of forensic thinking.

• Thinking emojis can be sent to yourself, to others or to groups.
Copyright © School of Thinking. 2017. All rights reserved.

Dear Lateral Thinkers,

I am often asked, “Can you really teach people to think outside their own box?”

What we are up against, as lateral thinkers, is the very wicked problem of ESCAPE. Edward de Bono used to often say, “The most difficult feat of human thinking is to escape from our own point-of-view”.

Today we call this thought leadership. Thought leadership is not easy and it is not natural. It’s not supernatural, either. It is an acquired skill that can be taught and practised.

This is because the main Darwinian purpose of the triune human brain is to quickly lock-in a point-of-view, as situations arise, so we can react and survive.

If we add our strong judgmental bias, our cultural thinking habit of RIGHT/WRONG then it becomes not just difficult to escape from our set point-of-view but almost impossible, especially if we believe we are RIGHT!

Furthermore, if we are highly intelligent and articulate then we may be so able to defend the rightness of our point-of-view that we see little need to abandon it for something better. So we get trapped into argument and conflict. This can be very dangerous and costly.

A further problem in the Western education system is the ideological (liberal humanism) goal often stated as: we teach students to think for themselves. This is not enough. Students can be taught to think much better than that.

For example, in a ballet school they don’t say: we teach students to dance for themselves. In the air force they don’t say: we teach pilots to fly for themselves. In medical schools they don’t say: we teach doctors to heal for themselves. No. We can do much better than that!

The human brain is not designed to innovate so it has to be trained. The good news is that it CAN be trained to be much better at thinking than when it just thinks for itself. This training is called: metacognition skills.

This is what we specialise in at SOT. For those who are fortunate enough to be SOT students this is what we teach: not just to think for themselves but to think ten times better than that.

These days there are many people who are interested in lateral thinking. They have read books on the subject and may even understand this unique cognitive phenomenon. However, I have found in my work over the years that understanding is good, but not nearly good enough. People tell me they know they should think laterally but they just can’t do it very well.

Lateral thinking is not natural. It is an acquired skill. Like flying a plane. It even goes against our natural way of thinking and it is very often quite hard to escape from the box of our own personal point-of-view. Even if we have read and learned, in theory, how to do it.

Leadership is about action and so it is with thought leadership. The difference between thought and thought leadership is the difference between ideas and deeds.

Over the years I have written about this big gap between KNOWING and DOING. We know people who can sing at the top of their voice but we just can’t do it ourselves. In a group, we might sing a little more quietly so as not to be heard. We know people who can bake a luscious ‘death by chocolate’ cake but we can’t quite do it ourselves. We might cheat and buy a cake-mix box and throw a rather poor substitute together.

This gap between KNOWING and DOING, between knowledge and performance, is everything in business.

Business is all about creating value. On any given day in any given business there are value fountains and value drains. That day the value fountains created value for the shareholders. The value drains depleted shareholder value on that day. Our economy has serious productivity issues today because there are too many value drains and not enough value fountains. I tell my CEO clients that their job, as CEO, is to multiply the number of value fountains on the payroll … by ten!

Knowing all this is one thing. Creating actual measurable value is another. Especially in discerning the difference between theory and reality, knowledge and skill, talk and action and the willingness to have skin in the game

I have written about this many times and have called this talk and action gap, The Impossible Barrier, because so few people are ever able to cross over from one side to the other … from KNOWING to DOING.

What is The Impossible Barrier? It is the barrier that separates an individual from actually doing what s/he already knows how to do. KNOWING is one thing. DOING is another. If I were asked to guess, based on my many years experience of teaching skills to thousands of people of four continents, “What is the ratio of KNOWERS to DOERS?” I would say not better than 250:1.

– from LEARN-TO-THINK: Coursebook and Instructors Manual by Michael Hewitt-Gleeson and Edward de Bono (1982), New York, ISBN 0-88496-199-0

Watching the Australian Open is great but we are only spectators by the many thousands. Only the very few are actually slamming an ace on the line!

I suppose my own original idea in the 80s was software for the brain. At that time I was invited to give the keynote address at a series of IBM conferences in Monte Carlo. The purpose of the conference was the launch of the new “desktop computers” that IBM had recently invented. If we could now have personal desktop computers, I suggested that we could also recognise the fact that we already possessed our own “necktop computers”.

This joke created quite a chuckle amongst the IBM audiences of technocrats and IT executives. So, I continued to develop the metaphor and later wrote it all up in my best-seller, Software For The Brain in Australia in 1989.

When I first coined the meme it caused some controversy. For example, my co-founder, Edward de Bono did not like the idea at all and wrote against it in one of his books. More recently he is in agreement and has said so.

Many cognitive scientists agree that the brain is less like a magic box and more like a digital computing network with algorithms doing information-processing. If this is true then we need better software.

If you google the meme of software for the brain you currently get 300 – 400 million entries and you will likely see my book at the top of google’s list and it has now become common currency around the world. The meme is replicating!

In SOT we also talk about apps for intelligence and emojis for thinking and no-one has a problem with these ideas. They are very powerful cognitive algorithms.

Today, 30 years later, my necktop computer joke is supported by most of the current research in the life sciences which demonstrates the fact that the brain really is a meta-network of digital algorithms doing information-processing with nothing essentially mysterious going on.

However, in a practical way, I first was taught algorithms for perceptual manipulation in the Australian army in the late 60s although they didn’t call it brain software they called it aide memoire.

The method was used to train soldiers new skills like how to react in the event of an ambush or how to teach pilots to eject from a plane. These are both highly counter-intuitive skills that the brain would not normally allow you to do. So it requires PRR – Practice, Repetition and Rehearsal. At that time I was surprised to see how different military training was to what I had experienced at school.


This is partly because the Western education strategy is so focused on knowing. In academic education, where the bottom-line is to pass an exam, lessons are often designed using SLOs (Student Learning Objectives). The evaluating question is asked: What will the student know?

In military education, where the bottom-line is life or death, lessons are often designed using SPOs (Student Performance Objectives). The question is asked: What will the student do?

There is a BIG difference in outcomes between these two methods of instruction. It is all about developing a thorough understanding and conviction of the difference between merely having knowledge on a matter and owning a skill of performance in it. The virtue of virtuosity. Understanding the strategy of practice x10 and repetition x10.

The School of Thinking was founded in New York in 1979 by an Australian soldier and a Maltese doctor who were both interested in promoting and teaching the idea of lateral thinking. The doctor, a Cambridge University Professor of Medicine, had specialized knowledge about cognitive neuroscience and the soldier, a Vietnam War veteran, had specialized knowledge about military train-the-trainer pedagogy.

For five foundational years, from 1979 to 1984. it was the juxtaposition of these two careers that led to the unique design of the School of Thinking. In 1995, it became the first school on the internet. SOT has now given out over half a billion lessons worldwide on lateral thinking.

Edward de Bono and Michael Hewitt-Gleeson in New York in 1980

The two co-founders of the School of Thinking share May birthdays. I turned 71 last month and Edward turned 85. We are able to reflect that lateral thinking is now here to stay.

It can’t unhappen. It’s a unique story.

In 2018, lateral thinking is no longer just an interesting, trendy idea for people to know about, but millions of practitioners are now using either de Bono Global training or SOT lessons so that they are actually able to perform lateral thinking … with skill … at will!



dr michael hewitt-gleeson | co-founder


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