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Creative and Lateral Thinking: Edward de Bono

Chapter · January 2014

DOI: 10.4135/9781483346229.n86


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Gilbert Burgh
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Encyclopedia of Educational
Theory and Philosophy
Creative and Lateral Thinking: Edward de

Contributors: Gilbert Burgh

Edited by: D. C. Phillips
Book Title: Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy
Chapter Title: "Creative and Lateral Thinking: Edward de Bono"
Pub. Date: 2014
Access Date: June 18, 2016
Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc.
City: Thousand Oaks,
Print ISBN: 9781452230894
Online ISBN: 9781483346229
Print pages: 187-188
©2014 SAGE Publications, Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the
pagination of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.
SAGE SAGE Reference
[Page iv]

Edward de Bono is renowned for his criticism of logical, linear, and critical thinking and
for his range of thinking techniques to facilitate potential creative abilities that
emphasize thinking as a learnable skill and deliberate act. He originated the concepts
of lateral thinking (literally sideways thinking) and parallel thinking to distinguish the
many techniques for deliberative creative thinking that he has developed from what he
considers to be normal perceptions regarding creativity and innovation.

De Bono (1994) draws attention to traditional critical thinking as a judgmental and

adversarial process and compares it with parallel thinking, which he claims emphasizes
cooperative and coordinated thinking. Critical thinking, he says, has its foundations in a
method of philosophizing, known as the Socratic method, first used by the ancient
Greek philosopher Socrates and developed further by Plato and Aristotle (whom
together de Bono calls the “Gang of Three”). However, his contention is that the
Socratic method is focused on discovering the truth and uses adversarial techniques
such as refutation of opposition, which rests on is/is not, true/false, either/or
dichotomies—a form of argumentation in which contradictory claims are argued to
strengthen one side’s argument and diminish the opposing position. In practice, each
interlocutor takes a different position and points out contradictions to attack the other
position in order to prove the other side wrong and, consequently, force a judgment.

De Bono claims that this form of argumentation, which for him is synonymous with the
Socratic method, pervades Western thought and that it is “intrinsically fascist in nature”
due to its appeal to adversarial thinking. He does not deny a place for the Socratic
method but rather argues that it has deep-seated inadequacies no longer able to deal
with the kind of radical change that has become a feature of the modern world. It is not
so much the search for truth that is required for the increasing complexity of
contemporary societies but the development of creative and more effective approaches
to problem solving. Subsequently, he introduced the term parallel thinking to describe
what he considers to be a fundamentally different method of thinking; not only does it
reject the adversarial framework in favor of a cooperative model for thinking, but it
emphasizes possibility and “designing forward” from the “field of parallel possibilities”
by placing claims in parallel instead of in opposition to each other. To use de Bono’s
preferred terms, useful outcomes are obtained by “design” rather than by “judgment.”

De Bono has many formal techniques that can be deliberately applied to teach
structured, parallel thinking. His most notable technique, lateral thinking, aims at
restructuring thought patterns from which new combinations can arise. De Bono
assumes that lateral thinking is the basis of insight and creativity because it is for
changing concepts and perceptions and, therefore, is most effective prior to the use of
traditional methods of vertical or logical thinking. Its value lies especially in problem
solving since it generates alternatives, challenges previously held assumptions, and
develops innovative thinking. He argues that thinking can be more effective through
direct teaching of thinking as a skill rather than through resisting habitual thinking
patterns. In doing so, de Bono makes a distinction between thinking and intelligence
and places emphasis on the development of metacognitive thinking skills. Accordingly,
it is necessary to be conscious of how we think, for new thoughts “can be applied only if
one is aware of one’s own thinking or thought processes, and understands new thinking
techniques” (Burgh, 2005, p. 26).

De Bono has developed formal techniques for deliberate creative thinking, which can

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be contrasted to coping or reactive thinking strategies. The latter can function only when
there is something to react against; it does nothing to produce proposals. Deliberate
creative thinking, on the other hand, focuses attention on what he calls mapmaking—a
type of thinking that requires a certain detachment.

De Bono’s largest curricular program is the Cognitive Research Trust (CoRT) Thinking
Program. It uses strategies, called attention-directing tools or devices for generating
ideas, to direct the attention of students to aspects of situations that might have
otherwise been neglected before they make decisions. Some of the techniques used in
CoRT are as follows: PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting); CAF (Considering All Factors);
C&S (Consequences and Sequel); AGO (Aims, Goals, Objectives); FIP (First Important
Priorities); APC (Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices); and OPV (Other Point of View).
The main aim of the CoRT thinking lessons is to improve planning and decision
making. By employing the attention-directing tools of CoRT, students apply the skill of
operacy, a term coined by de Bono to describe action thinking, which he maintains
ranks alongside literacy and numeracy.

Another use of attention-directing tools is the Six Thinking Hats that de Bono designed
for teaching structured parallel thinking with groups of participants. The Six Hats
supposedly represent every basic type of thinking. Each hat has a different color that
provides the name for the hat as well as its related function. The white hat suggests
neutrality and objectivity. The red hat deals with emotional views, feelings, hunches, and
intuitions. The black hat represents the devil’s advocate. The yellow hat covers hope
and positive thinking. The green hat expresses creativity and new ideas. The blue hat is
concerned with thinking about thinking, the organization of the thinking process, and the
use of the other hats. Throughout the discussion, hats are used and exchanged,
although it is not necessary that people always consciously use one hat or another.

The purpose of the Six Hats is to provide a tangible way of translating intention into
performance by simplifying and unscrambling thinking so that the thinker can deal with
one mode at a time. It was also designed to allow a switch in modes of thinking by
deliberately putting on a particular metaphorical hat depending on which mode of
thinking is required. De Bono contends that the artificiality of the thinking hats provides
a formality and a convenience for requesting a certain type of thinking either by oneself
or by others. Each thinker follows exclusively the mode of thinking indicated by the hat
that is being used. The metaphorical use of the thinking hats also establishes rules for
the game of thinking, and anyone involved in the game will be aware of these rules. The
Six Thinking Hats framework, therefore, provides a process that can be self-monitoring.

De Bono’s efforts as an advocate for lateral thinking and creative thinking as an

essential skill for creativity and innovation have not gone without criticism. Robert
Weisberg, a cognitive psychologist, argues that there is insufficient evidence for the
effectiveness of lateral thinking and that the creative process is better described as a
process of logical thinking, trial and error, feedback, and reflection. Another criticism is
that his description of traditional Western thinking overemphasizes the more extreme
forms of adversarial argument apparent in some traditional methods of classroom
practice, assuming that all Western philosophical thinking is necessarily adversarial.
An alternative view of Socrates is that the purpose of his method of philosophical
inquiry was to show people how to think for themselves rather than to destroy another
person’s argument for the sake of proving one’s own position. Indeed, other thinking
frameworks, such as Philosophy for Children, founded on nonadversarial conceptions

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of philosophy, also employ the deliberate teaching of skills to encourage creative and
divergent thinking. This raises a further criticism of de Bono that while he has been
highly successful in gaining the attention of a wide readership, his contributions are not
particularly original in substantive content but are restatements of the previously
developed concepts of “convergent thinking” and “divergent thinking” without historical
or scholarly attention given to key figures in the field of critical thinking and creativity in
which he is situated.

See alsoCritical Thinking; Metacognition; Socrates and Socratic Dialogue

Gilbert Burgh
Further Readings
de Bono, E. (1994). Parallel thinking: From Socratic thinking to de Bono thinking.
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Penguin Books.
Burgh, G. (2005). From Socrates to Lipman: Making philosophy relevant. In D.
Shepherd (Ed.), Creative engagements: Thinking with children (pp. 25–31). Oxford,
England: Inter-Disciplinary Press.
Moseley, D., Baumfield, V., Elliott, J., Gregson, M., Higgins, S., Miller, J., & Newton, D.
(2005). De Bono’s lateral and parallel thinking tools. In D. Moseley (Ed.), Frameworks
for thinking. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Weisberg, R. W. (1993). Creativity: Beyond the myth of genius (
2nd ed.
). New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

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