I’m often asked why I am known as “the father of x10 Thinking”. Although, today it might be more accurate to say ‘grandfather’. As an innovator in the new field of cognitive neuroscience my own original idea was ‘thinking instructors’. My specific idea was: ‘Anyone can learn x10 Thinking if they have a thinking instructor.’
In 1980 in New York I trained the first group of thinking instructors and started the Learn-To-Think Project with a goal to train 300,000 Thinking Instructors in the US. Today there are over 6 million thinking instructors worldwide, mostly primary and secondary school teachers teaching thinking lessons in schools every day.
My first big breakthrough came in April 1983 when I collaborated with the Readers Digest (#1 audited magazine in the world) in an initiative to publish my book on thinking lessons in a cover story across all international editions. Anticipating the internet, this media Big Bang went viral and totalled a distribution of over 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 a special 2-page supplement in the New York Times called Teaching Thinking: The new trend in education.
But, the BIG 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 and Silicon Valley
For example teaching x10 thinking 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 x10 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 these thinking skills 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 x10 goes Boundaryless
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’ (cvsx10=bvs: software for the brain) across the GE enterprise. Jack wrote, “I wish I had a management team that really understood Michael’s x10 Thinking because it’s the value-added part of 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.
With regard to the corporate sector it started in 1984 when IBM became the first of the Fortune 500 companies to introduce the x10 thinking skill to senior executives. Shortly after that Jack Welch made a corporate mission three-year commitment to training all GE senior executives in a program I designed called GE x10. The investment for this project was $50,000 and I was retained for top fees to create a 30 x projector multi-media training experience to teach x10 Thinking 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 x10 thinking skills.
Jack died earlier in 2020 so looking at his legacy 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 – an increase of more than 2,700% – 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 global 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 x10 Thinking: “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”.
GOOGLE x10 and MOONSHOT THINKING
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 three cases – Google, GE and SFUSD – show the compounding value and return on payroll of using thinking instructors for the direct teaching of x10 thinking skills.
Many other case studies, like The Clever Country in Australia, and thousands of other experiments in business and education are still going on around the world today.
Recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched Operation Moonshot using x10 Thinking to help solve the wicked problem of Covid19 in the UK.
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.
Michael Hewitt-Gleeson de Saint-Arnaud is recognised as the father of x10 Thinking. The Visiting Fellow in Innovation at Agriculture Research Victoria (AVR), Latrobe University, holds a PhD degree in Cognitive Science from the elite International College. It was the world’s first PhD in Lateral Thinking.
At that time, International College was an independent, private, licenced college, founded in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Licensed to grant degrees by the California State Department of Education, its degrees were recognized by Harvard, NYU and other Ivy League colleges. But, it had no classrooms, libraries or laboratories having a business model that was ahead of its time. As its motto, In Vestigiis Institutorum Antiquorum indicated, the college followed the methods of the first Greek and Roman universities, where gifted students were paired one student/one master with outstanding tutors. At International College the outstanding tutors were: Leonard Bernstein in Music and Conducting; Anaïs Nin in Novels and Writing; Buckminster Fuller in Innovation and Design Science; Lord Yehudi Menuhin in Violin and Music; Professor Edward de Bono in Education and Psychology.
In 1980, Hewitt-Gleeson was admitted to International College and paired with Edward de Bono for the world’s first PhD in lateral thinking in an x10 Thinking project he designed involving 26 New York hospitals and 40,000 healthcare employees.
Prior to his career in thinking, he had already 7 years of service in the ADF (Australian Defence Force). He had been educated and trained at Scheyville OTU and after a tour of duty in the Vietnam War he continued as a reserve officer and Chief Instructor in the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force).
Dr Hewitt-Gleeson is Australia’s best-selling author of Software For Your Brain (1990), The x10 Memeplex (2000) and The 4th Brain (2019). His current projects include advising leadership strategy and innovation in agricultural research for the Victorian state government where he has designed a new online pandemic education experience for teaching x10 Thinking to research scientists. He is also designing a pandemic recovery project called Australia x10.