Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of explains why most leaders do not like to talk about thinking.

Leadership and Thinking

It is virtually impossible for a leader to talk about the importance of thinking. There is always an assumption that a leader's thinking is near perfect. What's more, talking about thinking makes the leader very vulnerable as any policy or action can be attacked on the grounds that it shows poor thinking. So leaders prefer not talk about thinking.

If you yourself have done very well with the existing modes of thinking, why should you encourage others to learn other modes? If you are innocently ignorant of the other modes of thinking, how can you be anything other than complacent about thinking?

Rather than actually encouraging further developments in human thinking, the leadership in education is more often minded to block such developments. Even in cases where practical evidence shows the powerful effect of teaching perceptual thinking and creative thinking, the comfort of complacency, helped by traditional advisers, is more appealing.

We might come to develop a new language for thinking. There is certainly a need for a new language for perception, which might be softer and less hard-edged than our existing language – rather like the contours of a landscape rather than the solidity of a building.

Instead of the need to see someone as a ‘friend’ or an ‘enemy’, we might see the person as a combination of different factors. It might be appropriate to treat that person as an ‘enemy’ for a specific point in time, but that does not mean that the person actually is an enemy.

Although we have to make decisions and take practical action, judgments do not have to be permanent and irreversible. In politics there might be two people who dislike each other intensely, but they are aware that they need each other and so have to work together.

There is a long way to go in the design of better thinking. The first steps have been taken, but there is still much to do.

When I wrote my first book (called The Use of Lateral Thinking in the UK and New Think in the USA), the business community was the section of society that showed the most interest in thinking, even though that book had nothing directly to do with business.

This has remained true ever since. I think this is because there is a reality test in business. You have a bottom line. You have sales figures and profit figures. You have results. It is usually easy to tell how you are doing. You want to do better if you are doing well. You need to better if you are doing badly. Business really needs to use creative thinking to achieve success. Better and more creative thinking will produce more profits or market share.

In business the need for new thinking is obvious. In most other sectors of society you don't have a bottom line. In all other sectors of society, such as politics, the media and the academic world, it is sufficient to argue and seem to prove verbally that you are right. So better thinking or creativity are not needed. In business you can argue ad infinitum that you are right – and still go bankrupt a month later.

About the author
Edward de Bono is the world's leading authority in the field of creative thinking and the teaching of thinking as a skill.

  Edward de Bono