Teaching the World to Think – 1979 to 2019

The New Idea of ‘Thinking Instructors’

As an innovator in the new field of cognitive neuroscience, my own original idea was ‘thinking instructors’. My specific idea was: ‘Anyone can learn to think if they have a thinking instructor.’ Today there are over 6 million thinking instructors worldwide.

This innovation all started at HBO studios in New York in 1977 when I produced a 3-part video training series called ‘Train the Trainer’ for Equitable Life. Copies were made and sent to all 185 branches. It was the first nationwide corporate video training product in America. The train-the-trainer techniques were based on my previous decade of experiences in and out of the military especially principles from the Australian Army’s clever ‘Scheyville Method’ for thinking way outside the box. Later, in 1979, I researched and adapted ‘Train the Trainer’ for training ‘thinking instructors’ and designed the ‘Learn-To-Think Project’: to train 300,000 thinking instructors in America for teaching lateral thinking skills in schools, in businesses and in communities.


In November 1979, I presented the Learn-to-Think Project to Cambridge Professor of Investigative Medicine, Edward de Bono, on one of his visits to NYC. Edward was very animated by the idea of ‘thinking instructors’. He said it was ‘brilliant because of the multiplier effect’ and offered to contribute his 60-lesson version of CoRT Thinking as content for the thinking lessons to be used by the thinking instructors. Although the CoRT content was indeed excellent to get us started the instructors soon found that 60 lessons were impractical – being far too many skills to train and disseminate widely – and so we worked to replace these 60 with 6. We then published our detailed plan for implementing the ambitious national project in a comprehensive train-the-trainer’s manual entitled ‘Learn-To-Think: Coursebook and Instructor’s Manual’ (Capra New 1982).

I got going in New York without government funding, grants or corporate sponsorship. The ‘teaching thinking’ idea was resisted for some time but I self-funded and persevered with training instructors in school districts in New York, Dallas and San Francisco and eventually the idea of ‘thinking instructors’ got real traction.

With the help of a small but talented and mission-devoted team of senior instructors whom I personally trained the big breakthrough came in April 1983 when we collaborated with the Readers Digest (#1 audited magazine in the world) in an initiative to publish our coursebook’s thinking lessons in a cover story across all international editions. Anticipating the internet, this media Big Bang went viral and totalled a distribution of nearly half a billion thinking lessons in a major international publishing event. It was a part of a cascading media phenomenon which was launched on January 9th, 1983 in our special 2-page supplement in the New York Times called Teaching Thinking: The new trend in education. The emphasis was on the importance of having thinking instructors in schools because “… without specific efforts there is no assurance that students will learn to think laterally”.

Dr Eric Bienstock was the first thinking instructor who I trained in New York in January 1980. Today there are more than 6.6 million thinking instructors in the world. Over 3 million in primary schools and over 3.5 million in secondary schools. Many are still teaching the ‘Six Thinking Hats Method’ originally developed by the School of Thinking in 1983.


So, on this day (17 November 1979) which is the 40th Anniversary of the School of Thinking, after 40 years of focus and energy and on this occasion of my retirement, I believe I can safely say: Mission accomplished!

But, the question is: do the efforts of thinking instructors really have a significant impact on schools, businesses and communities? Yes they do and the evidence is both positive and plentiful. Like the flap of a butterfly’s wings or a pebble in a pond the sudden intervention of the ‘teaching of thinking skills’ in schools and businesses can trigger a concatenation of consequences that go on and on over long sequels of time.

SFUSD

For example teaching thinking (metacognition) disrupted the standard curriculum in schools in the Bay Area in the mid-80s with very valuable consequences not only for graduate students but also for their employers. The sudden introduction of lateral thinking skills to the SFUSD (San Francisco Unified School District) in 1984 was signed off by Superintendent Robert Alioto. I was personally invited to train all the primary school principals. By 1985, all public primary schools began the special lessons for teaching metacognition (thinking about thinking) to students across the Bay Area. In the 90s and 2000s a significant explosion of cognitive surplus took off in the valley. The majority of all male and female paid thinkers on the Silicon Valley payrolls were products of the SFUSD system, and among the first in the US to be taught by thinking instructors. The return on payroll for Bay Area employers was exponential far outpacing both the state and the nation in patents issued. Many scholars have pointed out this overlap of education and economy in the Bay Area. Today, it is said that If the Bay Area was a country like Switzerland or Saudi Arabia its own GDP of $790+ billion (which outstrips them both) would be one of the highest GDPs in the world.

GE

In New York in 1985 Jack Welch of GE introduced teaching thinking to all GE senior executives and middle managers. Jack read my book NewSell (Boardroom Books, NY 1984) and personally authorised the teaching of ‘x10 Thinking’ (cvs2bvs: software for the brain) across the GE enterprise. He wrote, “I wish I had a management team that really understood Michael’s x10 Thinking because it’s the value-creation skill in the management process”. In subsequent years GE executive have been sought out by Fortune 500 companies because they were considered the ‘creme de la creme’ of the US leadership crop. For over 30 years cvs2bvs has been used by princes, presidents and prime-ministers around the world. By Olympic champions, scientists, soldiers, salesmen, parents, teenagers and kids.

In particular with the under-25s, because of their PFC Deficit, the teaching of thinking skills adds a big and lasting benefit to lives of teenagers and young people (see my book The 4th Brain (2019).

Why? Because one of the biggest discoveries of cognitive neuroscience is the inchoate teenage brain. It is now a significant fact that the PFC, Pre-Frontal Cortex, does not mature in the human brain until the mid-twenties!

The PFC is the critical decider, it’s where the executive decisions are made. It’s where you game your life. Life choices. Career decisions. Lateral thinking. Those who get the training have a big advantage over those who do not.

With regard to the corporate sector it started in 1984 when IBM became the first of the Fortune 500 companies to introduce the cvs2bvs lateral thinking skill to senior executives. Then Jack Welch made a corporate mission three-year commitment to training all GE senior executives. The investment for this project was $50,000 and I was retained for top fees to design a 30 x slide projector multi-media training experience to teach – cvs2bvs – the universal brain software and we flew this unit around the GE world from New York to Crotonville to Acapulco training GE executives in ‘x10 Thinking’ from 1985-1987. At that time it was the biggest investment any US company had ever made in teaching lateral thinking skills. Looking back since then it’s worth noting the following facts:

• Jack Welch of GE was himself a master of x10 Thinking. He nicknamed it ‘boundaryless thinking” and also “boundarylessness’.

• By the time he left Jack had grown the world famous General Electric Company from a market value of $14 billion to a market value of $410 billion making it the most valuable company in the history of the world. Thinking way outside the box he had transformed it from not only a century-old manufacturer but also a national broadcaster and a bank!

• “Our dream for the 1990s,” Welch wrote in GE’s 1990 annual report, “is a boundaryless company where we knock down the walls that separate us from each other on the inside and from our key constituencies on the outside.”

• In his book about his time at GE Jack: Straight From the Gut (2001) he wrote about cvs2bvs: “It would make each of us wake up with the goal of “Finding a Better Way Every Day”. It was a phrase that became a slogan, put up on the walls of GE factories and offices around the world. It was the essence of boundaryless behaviour, and it defined our expectations”.

• Famous for the little handwritten notes he would send to people, Jack sent me several and the one I prized most said simply: “Michael, you are a friend of our company”.

• In 1999, Fortune magazine named him “Manager of the Century”. • Since then, thousands of companies in the US and around the world have used ideas from the GE Model. Scores of Fortune 500 companies emulated the leadership example and transformation model set by Jack Welch at GE.

• Many business volumes, Harvard Business Review articles and other media have been written about Jack’s value-driven transformation of his company.

• Using his cutting-edge strategies like Work Out, Boundarylessness and Six Sigma, Jack has developed more leaders than any other CEO in business history.

• That I know of, the Jack Welch era at GE produced CEOs for Honeywell, 3M, Boeing, Intuit, Symantec, Home Depot, Chrysler, Siemans and Merck. According to USA Today the top three companies for producing CEOs of other Fortune 500 companies are GE (26), IBM (18) and McKinsey (16). Today, Larry Page of Google is the best proponent of x10 thinking and today Google is the most valuable company in the world. Page says he “lives by the gospel of x10″. (WIRED, Feb 2013, Cover). Like Jack Welch, Larry Page has also nicknamed x10 thinking. He calls it … ‘moonshot thinking’.

These two case studies – SFUSD and GE – show the compounding value and return on payroll of using thinking instructors for the direct teaching of metacognition – of lateral thinking and critical thinking skills.


There have been many other case studies like The Clever Country in Australia and thousands of other experiments in business and education still going on around the world today. Going forward and in a Darwinian world where human intelligence is now being seriously threatened by artificial intelligence (AI) we may need the idea of ‘thinking instructors’ more and more than ever before.

Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson

Emeritus Principal

School of Thinking

17 November 2019


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The x10 Book

WIRED Magazine, Cover Story February 2013 by Steven Levy:

“Larry Page lives by the gospel of 10x. Most companies would be happy to improve a product by 10 percent. Not the CEO and cofounder of Google. The way Page sees it, a 10 percent improvement means that you’re basically doing the same thing as everybody else. That’s why Page expects his employees to create products and services that are 10 times better than the competition.”


Multiply Your Business by 10!

In this exciting book, Michael Hewitt-Gleeson introduces a new way to think about business. He describes the x10 meme – the innovative idea of multiplying your business by 10.

Currently the business growth meme in most people’s brain is 10% per annum. Here the author stresses that the market is changing rapidly and businesses cannot stay the same. The 10% per annum meme is outdated and needs to be upgraded.

X10 is the focus for future thinking and for customer-driven businesses bent on profit share. Using three easy-to-follow tutorials, Hewitt-Gleeson guides you through The x10 Memeplex. Finally, a case study plan helps people to transfer these ideas into their own business practices.

This book will change the way everyone thinks about business. Go ahead. Read the x10 gospel. Infect your mind with the x10 meme. Be like Larry Page and multiply your business by ten!

 

START READING THE x10 BOOK & PASS IT ON:

Who is the one person you know who would most benefit from a copy of this x10 book? Pass it on.

Better Thinkers Avoid Stress

Without any doubt whatsoever, cvs2bvs combined with x10 is just about the most powerful concept I have ever come across. When I first read about this brain app, it was like a very bright light switching on in my mind. I intend to make this idea a permanent part of my everyday life.
- Secondary Teacher

For instructional purposes, the human brain is often called the triune brain because it has three layers that evolved over many thousands of generations.

  1. The reptile brain runs the automatic body systems.

  2. The mammal brain is the emotional brain.

  3. The human brain is the thinking brain.

(The ‘triune model’ is not literal but is metaphorically useful)

Reptile Brain

Your inner-most, smallest and most ancient reptilian brain may well be your most treasured possession. It controls everything you value most, your life systems. It runs your body temperature, blood sugar levels, heart rate and blood pressure, your respiration, releasing hormones for all the daily house-keeping and maintaining homeostasis or balance. Your reptile brain regulates deep evolutionary maintenance and self-healing. It’s hard-earned digital wisdom has been curated over the course of a million successful generations. It’s IP value in dollarized terms is simply priceless.

Mammal Brain

Your life systems reptilian brain is in constant conversation 24/7/365 with your emotional mammalian brain. Your wide repertoire of emotions ranging from fear, anxiety and anger to sexual longing to surprise, joy, sadness, trust and disgust. These are all triggered and/or switched in the mammalian brain. These mood changes and emotional switches are in sync with high speed parallel processing in the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain can stimulate the mammalian brain … and, of course, vice versa.

Human Brain

Enter your BIG human brain! This newest brain, the neocortex, is also in conversation 24/7/365 with both the older brains. As you would expect, their conversations can stimulate responses in the human cortical brain … and, again, vice versa. All three evolutionary brains are in constant digital engagement up and down the neuronal layers of the triune brain (reminder that this is not literally accurate but is practically so, metaphorically).

So what?

So what does this mean to you on a daily basis? It means that real fear and imagined fear both work the same way in stimulating stress responses in the triune brain.

When you are walking alone through Hyde Park at night and you suddenly hear a sinister sound behind you, your heart will suddenly pump faster, you will be flooded with adrenalin and other stress hormones, your blood pressure will spike and your skin will crawl. You will have a stress response whether Jack the serial killer is actually there … or not.

The Human Stress Response

Daily Stress

The problem on a daily basis is this: what if you are turning on the stress response too often and too long for imagined or psychological reasons and doing this on a daily basis?

In other words, chronic stress.

The answer is: Imagining Jack every day will kill you just as surely as the real Jack will, only it will take a little longer.

The stress response doesn’t have to be fear of Jack, of course. It can be other stress inducing causes like fear of mistakes or failure in career, business or job-related situations, fear of family crises, relationship conflicts, social media, fear of political or global issues etc etc etc.

The take away is that the reptile brain’s stress response is there to save your life from the real, but rare, life-threatening crisis like a sudden ambush from a Jack or a charging elephant. But, continuous imagined or psychological crises in the mammal brain, on a daily basis, will cause cascading stress responses that can give you depression, alcohol dependence, ulcers and heart disease.

Lateral thinking avoids stress

The greatest opportunity on Earth, for cognitive fitness, is lateral thinking. The numerical synonym for lateral thinking is x10 thinking. Although it is not natural for humans it can be taught and learned.

Lateral thinking (x10 thinking) is our best tool for creating value, our best hope for solving wicked problems, our best defense against imagined fears, fear of mistakes, fear of failure in career, business or job-related situations, fear of family crises, relationship conflicts, social media, fear of political or global issues etc etc etc.

 

Better Thinkers Solve Problems

A wicked problem is one which cannot be solved using human logic, our current and dominant way of thinking.

The rapid acceleration of global climate change, the unprecedented scale of the nuclear threat and the rising hegemony of artificial intelligence are all examples of wicked problems that cannot be solved with logic.

At the level of human2human relationships, many causes of daily conflict are not solved but even exacerbated by binary I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong logic-style thinking.

Logic is natural to the human brain’s limbic system because it is driven by the emotion of fear. In particular, the fear of ‘mistakes’.

In contrast, lateral thinking is not natural to the human brain. It is counter-intuitive. It requires re-wiring. Rather like driving a car, It must be acquired as a skill with deliberate practise and repetition over time.

Lateral thinking is a skill that we should be teaching our children … because they are going to need it!

In this recent DEAKIN University Talk Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson draws attention to “the greatest problem on Earth”.

It’s a wicked problem that’s a hundred times bigger than the problem of global warming and many orders of magnitude greater than the problems of health, water or population. It’s also the greatest opportunity on earth!

If you have 2 minutes you can eavesdrop in on the greatest problem on Earth

Free Expression and the Rights of Lateral thinkers

A lateral thinker is a sovereign individual who has acquired skills and who consciously values the rights of independent thinkers. The School of Thinking supports free expression and the universal rights of lateral thinkers. Here are ten lateral thinkers rights which are supported by the School of Thinking.

A Universal Declaration of the

Rights of Lateral Thinkers

1. As lateral thinkers, we have the right to use thinking in a quiet and confident manner simply for its own sake because our unique thoughts and thinking are the cognitive property and product of our own proprietary brain and are intrinsically valuable as our own unique Intellectual Property (IP).

2. As lateral thinkers, we have the right to have pride of virtuosity in our lateral thinking skills because lateral thinking is not natural thinking but is an acquired skill. Logical thinking is natural thinking.

3. As lateral thinkers, we have the right to use that skill and to consider a “lateral thinking reaction” rather than a reaction based on emotion or past experience alone. The thinking might make use of experience and emotion, but these would be part of the lateral thinking instead of controlling it.

4. A lateral thinker has the right to free expression and the right to escape from current views of situations and to search for much better views of situations because we can and because it pleases us to do so.

5. A lateral thinker has the universal right to be wrong.

6. A lateral thinker does not have to defend a point of view at all costs. There is the right to see other points of view and the right to design a much better decision.

7. A lateral thinker has the right to acquire wisdom or to seek it out wherever it may be found. Wisdom is quite distinct from the sort of cleverness that is taught in school. Cleverness may be useful for dealing with set puzzles or defending local truths but wisdom is required for designing a better future.

8. A lateral thinker has the right to get on with his or her own work and to get along with other thinkers and if things go wrong a lateral thinker has the right to think things through and to fix them without creating a fuss.

9. A lateral thinker has the right to spell out the factors involved in a situation and also the reasons behind a decision.

10. Above all, a lateral thinker has the right to be asked to think about something, to focus thinking in a deliberate manner upon any subject. Lateral thinking can be used as a tool by the thinker at will. The use of this tool can be enjoyable whatever the outcome. This applied thinking can also be practical—the sort of thinking that is required to create value and get things done.

– Adapted from the Learn-To-Think Coursebook and Instructors Manual © 1982 Michael Hewitt-Gleeson and Edward de Bono, Capra New USA.

MOONSHOT THINKING: And she Invented Software Itself

Wired-logo-largeMargaret Hamilton wasn’t supposed to invent the modern concept of software and land men on the moon. It was 1960, not a time when women were encouraged to seek out high-powered technical work. Hamilton, a 24-year-old with an undergrad degree in mathematics, had gotten a job as a programmer at MIT, and the plan was for her to support her husband through his three-year stint at Harvard Law. After that, it would be her turn–she wanted a graduate degree in math.

But the Apollo space program came along. And Hamilton stayed in the lab to lead an epic feat of engineering that would help change the future of what was humanly–and digitally–possible.

Click to read the original article in WIRED …

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Van Gogh on fear of mistakes and ‘having a go’ …

‘Self-Portrait as a painter’ by Vincent van Gogh

In a letter to his younger brother Theo on October 2, 1884, Vincent Van Gogh wrote about the fear of mistakes:

If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, “violates”…

Speed of Thought and the problem of mistake-phobia, fear and aggression.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to change your mind.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to escape from your current viewpoint.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to stop defending your current viewpoint.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to switch to a much better viewpoint.

The biggest roadbump to speed of thought is your fear of being wrong.

The most common cause of cognitive inertia is mistake-phobia, the morbid fear of making a mistake. Excessive use of logic makes us fearful thinkers.

Logic is a natural thinking style for humans because it is driven by the strong emotion of fear. The fear of mistakes.

Western education has put too great an emphasis on logic, the kind of binary thinking focused on judgement of right/wrong or good/bad or black/white.

At the level of human2human relationships, many causes of daily conflict often are exacerbated by binary I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong logic-style thinking.

Our obsession with logic is bad philosophy.

Our over-use of logic has made us very slow thinkers. Very fearful thinkers. Very aggressive thinkers.

The most wicked problem in the world …

What is the most wicked problem in the world?

It’s a wicked problem that’s a hundred times bigger than the problem of global warming and many orders of magnitude greater than the problems of global health, water or population. It’s also the greatest opportunity on earth!

The problem is: human thinking.


A wicked problem is one which cannot be solved using human logic, our current and dominant way of thinking.

The rapid acceleration of global climate change, the unprecedented scale of the nuclear threat and the rising hegemony of artificial intelligence are all examples of wicked problems that cannot be solved with human logic.

At the level of human2human relationships, many causes of daily conflict are not solved but even exacerbated by binary I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong logic-style thinking.

Logic is natural to the human brain’s limbic system because it is driven by the emotion of fear. In particular, the fear of ‘mistakes’ and the fear of ‘surprise’.

In contrast, lateral thinking is not natural to the human brain. It is counter-intuitive. It requires re-wiring. Rather like driving a car, It must be acquired as a skill with at least ten hours of deliberate practise and repetition over time.

Since artificial intelligence can now do logic much faster than human intelligence, lateral thinking is a skill that we should be teaching our children … because they are going to need it!

In this recent DEAKIN University Talk Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson draws attention to “the greatest problem on Earth”.