I don’t use my tie every day

03. November, 2009

Foto: Mārtiņš Plūme

Looking up directly from the way the brain works, brain forms patterns and so on, then thinking is as we go along these patterns and creativity is how we change these patterns.

An interview with dr.Edward de Bono for the public policy portal POLICY.LV, by Reinis Āboltiņš

Not so long ago[1] there was a case when a suicide bomber swallowed explosives to get closer to the target and blew himself up, though not killing the intended target. Can destructiveness also be a serious driving force for creativity?

Let’s put it this way – when you intend to do anything, clearly, you may need creativity, whatever it is. But the point is a little bit different – the point is that suicide bombing is an absence of creativity. These are people who need purpose in life, they need a mission, they need a sense of achievement, all of which are understandable and so they use suicide bombing, which is not a very good way of doing all those things. That’s the problem. So, it’s a lack of creativity, when someone says – the only way I can achieve anything in this world is to blow someone up. That is a lack of creativity.

But can we talk about destructiveness as a driving force for creativity?

Anything you want to do – whether it’s destruction or whatever, you can be creative about it. Whether you’re cooking, whether you’re building a house, whatever – you can be creative about it. But it’s not because it’s destructive, it’s just because it’s something you want to do.

Creativity is to a large extent about method, but intention is of importance, isn’t it?

Yes, but the point is, or two points actually – anything you want to do you can be creative about how you do it. But I am saying suicide bombing itself is a lack of creativity in the sense of thinking in some other way in which you can get a sense of achievement. Well, supposing you found a way of painting a whole street green, instantly, that’s a sense of achievement. Now, if you could do that you would not need to blow yourself up, because you’ve had achieved something. So, in this sense suicide bombing itself is a lack of creativity, but like anything you tend to do you can be creative about how you do it, yes.

So it depends on where in the process you are?

Deciding to be a suicide bomber is a lack of creativity. Deciding how to do it can include creativity.

How do you see interaction between creativity and religion?

You see, interestingly, I’ve renounced to talk to many strong religious groups. They are not against creativity at all. And even in the days of the Soviet Union they used to invite me, they were not against creativity. They said we don’t want someone coming and telling us you’re wrong, you’re bad. But creativity and new ideas – yes. In fact one time I was invited to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the politburo and the chairman had in front of him my book on conflict resolution with lot of notes, underlining and notes on the margins. So we were looking at it. And he said this is not Gorbachev’s copy, he’s got his own. And later I was told by a senior politician in Kazakhstan, he said – in the days of perestroika your books were top reading at the Kremlin. There were lot of things and new ideas.

So, there’s no conflict between creativity and religion in terms of the way you do things and so on. Obviously if you say we want to challenge your beliefs and so on that’s not itself creativity. So, there is a very fundamental difference there. And interestingly, the Prophet Mohammad has said more about thinking than any religious leader. He says one hour of thinking is worth more than seventy[2] years of praying, he says the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr, he says one learned man is greater than a 1000 worshippers.[3] So, he was not against thinking.

So this interaction can be and it is positive?

Absolutely, there is no automatic antagonism.

Have you noticed that animals also have become more innovative, especially in an urbanised environment, and in a way creative? Crows demonstrate an amazing ability to deal with unusual situations.

I don’t have enough personal knowledge to say yes or no, but I see no reason to say why they shouldn’t be creative. It they find a different approach, a different starting point and take it from there – yes.

Laziness has been one of the driving forces of progress and development. What is the relationship between laziness and creative thinking in the context of progress?

It depends on what we mean by laziness. If by laziness we mean we can’t be bothered to do anything then clearly that does not help with creativity. If by laziness we mean we don’t want to do it in this complicated way and therefore find a simpler way then, yes, it is a driver for creativity. Save time, energy, worry – then yes. But if laziness means I am not going to be bothered by anything then obviously that does not encourage creativity. So, it depends on how you look at laziness.

You give a lot of lectures for businesses helping to increase the value of services or goods and thus raise profit. Do you see a need to help people be creative about socially important actions, for example improving governance processes?

The answer is yes, but – when I wrote my first book, which is not about business at all, the business community showed the most interest. And that has been my experience all along. Business sector has been more interested in thinking than any other sector. The reason being, and there’s a bottom line, there is a reality check – whether next week you make profit or you don’t. In other sectors in society it’s enough to talk and persuade people that you are correct. So business has showed more interest and has shown real need for thinking than other sectors in society.

I am certainly interested in applying thinking to other sectors. For instance, democracy needs improving tremendously. I’ll give you one example of a huge defect in democracy, which no one dares to mention. Certain professions, say – architect, engineer, business executive, can’t really risk going into parliament, politics. Why? Because if you don’t get elected the next time you cannot go back to where you were. So, it’s a very high risk. So, they don’t go into politics. So, the people going into politics are journalists, lawyers, teachers, trade unionists none of whom have a habit of constructive thinking. That’s not their normal life. So, they are very good at talking, very good at attacking, even very good at inspiring, but not at constructive thinking. So, that’s a huge defect of democracy.

Isn’t this the reason why you are approaching educators so much?

Well, educators have shown interest, but if people at school learn thinking then they are able to go out into society. Even, for instance, in prison where people are teaching my work there is one teacher in New Zealand who is teaching my work to youngsters in prison and the rate of return to prison that is called recidivism dropped to one quarter. Another teacher in a special centre, which takes the youngsters too violent to be taught in ordinary schools, they stab the teachers, started teaching my work to these violent youngsters. Follow-up showed the rate of actual criminal conviction for those taught thinking is 1/10 compared to those not taught thinking. A huge reduction in violence. So, these are social affairs. Teaching thinking to unemployed youngsters increased the employment for 500%.

Crime is one very specific troubling social issue. Quite often it occurs because of lack of participation or lack of possibility to participate.

It’s also self-confidence. A lot of these youngsters had left school where they were labelled as being stupid because they could not pass exams. Once they realised they are not stupid, they can think, their confidence goes up, their self-esteem goes up and that changes everything.

I am asking you about the participation issue because I personally feel that participation in Latvia is stuck in the middle of nowhere – we have made our choice so many times, between elections we see that things are going awry, but when it comes to next elections most of us step on the same rake again.

I’ll give two ideas. Three ideas. One is – government should have a national council for new ideas to which everyone can put ideas and they get published. Another one is interesting – let’s say in the Parliament you have 60 seats for the government, 40 for opposition. Then we have another 30 seats with no one sitting in them. Now, these seats are voted by public opinion poll. So, if 70% of the public say we like it, the opposition can bring in laws. Now the public is always involved, you don’t have to wait till the next election. It’s only a factor, it’s not overriding. Then another idea is to have minister for thinking and the minister for thinking can try out ideas.

In the meeting with the Prime Minister I suggested this morning that in the Parliament one day a week they use the “six hats”. So, when the yellow hat is on the opposition is invited to be positive. And so on. That way you can get a much bigger contribution than if they’re against anything you say.

Do you see ways of tackling profit-oriented and not-for-profit dichotomy in decision-making? Maybe this is THE challenge of today?

I think yes – there should be much more input in the thinking and ideas from the public and much more input in choices and decisions. Yes, I think there is room for that. But we are very, very conservative with our politics. We still operate the way the ancient Greeks used to 2400 years ago and that’s ridiculous.

Creativity in business is used to raise the value of the product. Creative thinking is necessary to increase sales.

But there is a reality test. Now, supposing, for example, there was a way of rating politicians every three months, not waiting till the lection, maybe you ask the public what do you think of them – and if that was so, there would be more pressure on them to be positive and come up with ideas.

But the election cannot take place every three months.

Sure, but instead of waiting four years till the election, every three months there is some rating and if the politicians have gone down 20 percent they would have to better do something. Elections stay as they are.

I would be happy if this would work, but I’m afraid it won’t.

Well, supposing every three months randomly from the election register you pick out individuals and ask what do you think of the government and you’ve got output every three months.

Opinion polls would have influence that you describe, but the interconnection between what the polls say about a certain politician and the actual way he or she acts becomes stronger as the elections approach.

You can’t have elections every three months, but you can have some feedback rating every three months. And maybe it could affect their salaries.

Is it all right to use creativity to motivate more people to take part in the global marathon of consuming more and more regardless of obvious waste of resources, both human and natural?

Well, you see, there’s a need for creativity in all things. Let’s take California where the governor Schwarzenegger says we are going to put a tax on gasoline cars. A much better way to do it is not to do that, but to say, ok, if you have gasoline car you have to pay so much. That money will be used to subsidise smaller eco-friendly cars. So when you are driving your car next to a small car you say – I am paying for that car. That is a much bigger disincentive than just saying you’re paying a tax. Even with things like that creativity can be used.

“Thank you for not smoking” is another way how to say “no smoking”.

I’ve had a better idea. Once I was in a meeting with nine Nobel Prize economists and myself talking about pensions. And I said we should encourage people to smoke because they pay heir pension contribution and choose to live eight years less than other people. So, they are subsidizing everyone’s pension. So we could say “thank you for paying my pension”.

What really is thinking? Is it just a biochemical process or is it a set of conscious actions letting us give a shape to “things” in our mind?

This is a point, indeed. What is thinking? My background is in medicine. And in medicine I was dealing with self-organising systems and I also did psychology. I applied these principles to the neural networks in the brain. I wrote a book “The Mechanism of Mind” about how the brain forms patterns. That book was read by the leading physicists in the World. One of them got his Nobel Prize or discovering the quark, professor Murray Gell-Mann. He became very enthusiastic, he commissioned a team of computer experts to simulate what I say in the book and he said it’s exactly what you predict. He’s been a really great support.

Looking up directly from the way the brain works, brain forms patterns and so on, then thinking is as we go along these patterns and creativity is how we change these patterns. So, it’s directly related for the first time in history to how the brain works. It’s not just playing with words like philosophers do, that’s the difference. Conscious actions can put the brain in a position that it’s easier for it to make the creative jump.

Brain is good at forming patterns and we largely live in a “pattern thinking” way.

When you get up in the morning you have 11 pieces of clothes to put on. There are 39960800 ways to get dressed. If you try one every minute of your life you would have to live to be 76 years old and do nothing else. A bit inconvenient. Fortunately the brain forms patterns and this is the way we get dressed.

Does creative thinking have any limitations and if yes then what are they?

There are different sorts of limitations. Clearly, in certain fields, if you don’t have information you can’t really be creative. Well, you can in a general sense, but you are unlikely to be successful. Then, clearly, if there are things, which you don’t know about at all, then you can’t bring them into your creativity. By definition. I mean, you can make a speculation. Like, for instance, in past centuries people would say it would have been nice if we could fly – they had no evidence at all that this was possible, but eventually it became possible. You can make those sorts of jumps, but until they showed to be possible you can’t call them creative.

The notion of imagination is often used to stimulate creation of something “new”, something that is “not usual”. Can we draw a line between imagination and creativity? How strongly are these two related?

Imagine you are a child and you have a table and you are playing with your Lego or something, and you are making different shapes and so on. Now – imagination is like the table under Lego. In our mind we are playing around with our concepts, values, possibilities. Imagination is our workspace; it’s the laboratory in which we are creative. Without imagination it is impossible to be creative, you cannot move things around, you cannot see the effect or the result.

Creativity is perceived as thinking and acting outside the existing rules, existing normative environment, even “breaking the discipline”. Or does creative thinking also require discipline?

A fair point is that it is acting outside the existing routines more than rules, if you like. Does creative thinking require discipline? The answer is “yes”. In other words – if you quite formally, deliberately use one of the tools of “six hats” you’re going to get many more ideas than if you just sit down and say – well, I am free, maybe I’ll get inspired.

What about lateral thinking and discipline?

You still need to say – I am going to set up a provocation, these are ways of using provocation, let me do it. It is formality, if you like, discipline, deliberateness. The end result is not deliberate, but the processes to get there are.

What is the best motivation to be or become creative?

The answer is – confidence. Confidence means if you try something and if you are successful, you build your confidence to be creative. That’s the biggest motivator. Try small things, be successful, and then say – O.K., I am going to find the solution. I’ll give you an example: once I was on a live television show in Australia and the interviewer said to me – you’re creative, we have a real problem in the audience – there is an old lady sitting in her chair with a wooden arm and she’s got her finger in a hole in the wood and she cannot get it out. There was a carpenter there with a hammer and a chisel and everything. The interviewer says – you are creative, go and solve it! I had no idea what this was about. All I did was I put my fist behind her finger so that she could not pull it the wrong way and it came out. I had confidence that I will solve it.

How do you fulfil yourself creatively outside your lectures?

Sometimes I like cooking, inventing new dishes and so on.

Do you feel tied to being creative wherever you go and whatever you do?

No, no, I’m not tied. It is a motivation, it is interesting.

So, you give yourself a holiday?

Yes, I get dressed in a normal way. I have other ways of tying my tie, but I don’t use it every day.


[1] August 28, 2009. Refers to the attack on Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of the anti-terrorist service of Saudi Arabia.

[2] Some sources mention of “60 hours” rather than 70.

[3] In other sources De Bono refers to “100 worshippers” rather than 1000.

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