Edward de Bono: 40 Years of Lateral Thinking

From The Guardian: The father of lateral thinking tells Angela Balakrishnan why, 40 years on, his theories are as relevant as ever …


For Edward de Bono, the man who 40 years ago coined the phrase “lateral thinking”, the ability to think is the most important human skill, but one he feels is often neglected.

“What happened was, 2,400 years ago, the Greek Gang of Three, by whom I mean Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, started to think based on analysis, judgment and knowledge. At the same time, church people, who ran the schools and universities, wanted logic to prove the heretics wrong. As a result, design and perceptual thinking was never developed. People assumed philosophers were doing it and so they blocked anyone else from doing it. But philosophers were not. Philosophers may look out at the world from a stained-glass window, but after a while they stop looking at the world and start looking at the stained glass.”


This is where de Bono believes he has changed things. Born in Malta into a family who had been doctors for seven generations, he gained a medical degree from the Royal University of Malta. But then, with a Rhodes scholarship, he found himself at Oxford, where he gained a degree in psychology and physiology and a DPhil in medicine. It was during this time, in the 1960s, that he realised his studies could be applied to the mind.”I was looking at the glands, kidneys, circulation and respiration and the idea of self-organising systems,” he says. “I realised that the same principles could be adapted to the neuron brain, which is when I wrote The Mechanism of the Mind.”

His principles were explored in a computer-generated experiment, which found that if the brain worked in the way De Bono said it did, then routine was not good for creativity. “For the first time in history, thinking was based on what was happening in the human brain and not the words of philosophers.”

He says that, with the help of more lateral thinking, many issues that dominate the political agenda could move beyond stalemate. “Look at Iraq. If the US said they were going to leave on a certain date, then for every week without any killings, the date would move forward, and for every week with a killing, the later and later the date would be delayed. This way those who killed would not be seen as heroes but those keeping the Americans in the country.”

It may not be the most conventional approach to international relations but it is, in de Bono’s words, a case of “thinking outside the box”.

3 thoughts on “Edward de Bono: 40 Years of Lateral Thinking

  1. I loved Edward de Bono when I read his books in the 90’s

    I still love him

    I read a quote once, that he may be the most intelligent person in the world

    After reading his books, I realise why people would think that

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