by Charlie Notess, Loveland, CO

Last Updated: 8-26-2000

Copyright © 1999, 2000. All Rights Reserved by Charles Notess, Loveland, Colorado.
Please contact Charles Notess for comments on, or permission to use any parts of this paper. His e-mail address appears at the end of this paper.

Dr. Edward de Bono, in his book, "I Am Right You Are Wrong" has taken a new approach to improving our creativity by relating our language to how we think. De Bono has degrees in medicine and psychology. Dr. de Bono has been invited to lecture in over 50 countries including Russia, Brazil, Japan and the US. He has written over 60 books on applying how we think to creativity and lectured on how to improve creativity to employees at IBM, Ford, Ciba-Geigy, Du Pont, Shell, and others.

The dualistic way of thinking and perceiving events, which came from the ancient Greeks, leads to the types of polarized arguments that persist for years in government and elsewhere. Dualism is typified by good versus evil, republicans versus denocrats, right versus wrong, guilty or not guilty, and so on. This dualism is built into our language and works well in the physical sciences, math and the biological sciences. He calls this type of thinking, passive information systems. We are taught that 2 + 2 = 4 is right, and any other answer is wrong. We are taught that if we mix an acid and a base, we get a salt solution.

Several links to de Bono's extensive website are included at the end of this page.

NOTE: Direct quotes from his book are in italics and permission has been granted, by the author, to post this paper. These quotes are included here to whet your appetite for reading his book.

On page two of his introduction, de Bono writes that some "..are tired of arguments, polemics, confrontations, conflicts and problems that cannot be solved. They see serious threats to the environment; third-world debt and poverty; the spread of drugs and new diseases; and house prices that no young couple can afford. They are tired of the excuse that all these things arise from the rate of progress and from the innate defects of human nature, which will always be short-sighted, selfish, greedy and aggressive". He on page 4 writes: "We can come to see why the thinking and language systems we developed and now esteem so highly are good at logic, but poor at perception."

On p. 3 de Bono writes writes that we depend on "...ancient Greek (about 400 BC) thinking habits of logic, reason, argument, truth and the importance of man(kind). Before the last Renaissance the thinking habits of the Western world were derived from dogma and theology." ..." The search for truth - as distinct from dogma - was to be made through the exposure of falsity by means of argument, reason and logic. This reason, not dogma, was to decide what was right and what was wrong".

Speaking of our old, present, system of thinking and handling information, on page 5, Bono writes: "Here we find 'argument', which is the basis of our search for truth and the basis of our adversarial system in science, law and politics."

On page 7, de Bono writes: "The most powerful case for the value of argument as a thinking method is that it encourages the motivated exploration of a subject. Without the personal gratification or argument (win/lose, aggression, cleverness, point-scoring) there might be little motivation to explore the subject." Argument and discourse in the right context are two main features proposed by Habermas for building consensus.

These left-brain thinking habits have served us well in science and technology. In human affairs, our progress lags. "Our habits of conflict are as primitive as ever, .." de Bono's recommendation is to use new thinking habits "based directly on how the human brain works, and, in particular, the way the human brain creates perception."

If we were to approach thinking more in line with the way that the human brain creates networks, we would be much more successful at resolving these seemingly insolvable issues.

(p. 10) "Traditional computers are passive information systems. The information is stored on tapes or discs and then used..by a central processor. A schoolboy doing arithmetic in an exercise book is also an example of a passive information system. ... We use the stored pieces (of information) according to the rules of mathematics, grammar and logic".

This kind of thinking, and use of a passive information system, works like an automobile repair man relying on a manufacturers handbook to tell them how to diagnose a problem and what to replace to correct it. The handbook is a passive information system. The operator is like the schoolboy doing a homework problem from his class notes or the textbook.

de Bono recommends considering active rather than passive information systems. "Active systems are sometimes called 'self-organizing systems'..". The way the information is stored is influenced by what has gone on before. "There is no outside logical operator" such as the boy doing his math homework.

"A very simple example of an active (self-organizing) patterning system is given by rain falling onto a virgin landscape." We might consider a newly deposited large sand bar in the Mississippi River after a flood. "In time the rainwater forms itself into streams, rivulets and rivers (under the influence of gravity and the viscosity of the surface and subsurface soil)." This alters the landscape. There has been activity. Future rainwater will flow along the channels that have been established. In church, we have a similar example, the handbook is the bible. Only this handbook has much to many contradictions and is not as easily read as most repairman handbooks. Also there is not an obvious penalty such as an irate customer or supervisor if the handbook is misinterpretated.

de Bono goes on , at the bottom of page 10 and page 11; "In 1968 I wrote a book called "The Mechanism of Mind" (published in 1969 by Jonathan Cape in London and by Simon & Schuster in New York; it is currently still in print in Penguin Books). It was not much noticed at the time because the time was not ready for such ideas....As a matter of interest the model I proposed in 1969 was simulated on computer by M.H. Lee and colleagues (in a report published in 1982) and behaved as predicted."

Our brain works in a way so that the route we take to work, in our car, every morning becomes stored in our brain in a way similar to the rivulets on the sand bar. Thus after a while we get to work with very little attention whilke listening to the morning news on the car radio. In fact, when I drove elsewhere to a place on Sunday, in the same general direction as my place of work, I would sometimes get engrossed in the conversation with my family in the car and end up going to my place of work instead, until alerted by my wife.

Other examples of how our brain works as a self-organizing ststem include playing ball, dancing, and playing musical instruments. By practice, we develop the connections in our brain and strengthen their connectivity so that we perform many of the movements automatically by depending on what we have practiced until we could do them so well with our having to think about each movement ahead of time. A person doing therapy after a stroke is developing new 'rivulets' in her brain.

Creativity comes into the foregoing example when we have to detour around a large reconstruction project along our road to work. We seek a shorter detour through unfamiliar streets. If no maps are available and traffic congestion information is not available, we might try different side streets, and we might lose a lot of time by taking ones that dead end or are round about. By following several creative steps that de Bono describes in his books and at workshops, we can find the best detour much quicker than by trial and error.

De Bono goes further to describe how perception is influenced by ones past experience (like the flow of water in the rivulets). The effects of emotion are considered in an interesting way. I believe that de Bono is primarily concerned about changing the perceptions of people so that they can be more creative in solving the very complex problems created by rigid perceptions influenced by our past and preserved in language. To be creative we have to use de Bono's tools to help us get out of the ruts and canyons of narrow and outdated perceptions.

On page 283, de Bono writes: "Our understanding of perception helps us to see why there is such resistance to change. Our existing perceptions, concepts, models, and paradigms are a summary of our history. We can look at the world only through such a framework. If something new comes along we are unable to see it. Or, if we do see it, we see it as a mismatch with our older perception so we feel compelled to attack it. In any case we can judge it only through the old frame of reference. For example the judgements and absolutes of 'rock logic' (the old logic and passive thinking) make it very difficult for us to see how... (the new active thinking)'water logic' can work..."

I highly recommend this book, which now is available in paperback for $12. What I have presented above is to whet your appetite.

Chapters on Human Affairs, Perception, How Perception Works and others show the reader why for 2,400 years the conduct of human affairs, so much influenced by "perception, emotions, prejudices and beliefs" has failed to keep up with the impacts of technology. The result is that "we have developed beyond the capacity of our brains to cope." I believe that our individual and collective thinking systems (especially our learning, analyzing and creative systems) are outdated. "It was Einstein himself who said that everything had changed except our way of thinking." (quotes from pages 38-41)

On pages around 101-105, de Bono writes about "There is a ..poverty of definition in English. English is a richly expressive language and is a process description language. This means that we can adequately describe by means of a combination of words, phrases and adjectives....This is fine for literature and poetry but absolutely useless for perception. Description is one thing but perception is another. Description describes perception that has happened. Perception is when it is happening. We need rich and subtle patterns at that point, not ways of describing nuances of feeling later. ....English speakers are actually cursed by the rich expressiveness of their language...The key point here is that descriptive ability is not the same as the instant of perception."

After speaking with an English major who now works for Hewlett Packard in the area of Educational Technology. I believe that one of the key aims of education are to teach us first a workable set of generalized categories about any particular subjet. Then we have to become more specific as we delve further into a subject area. We need a balanced degree of specificity so that our perceptions, while they are occurring, can be identified by one word and do not need a long phrase to describe them. Some communication specialists feel that one can remember say the four different species of birds that he saw and name them later, but I feel that as we get older it helps to be able to identify them by name as we see them. In my case, by the time I get home from the hike, I forget the many details of coloring and shape.

De Bono's discussion of perception, context and circularity, readiness and attention helps the reader understand why conventional thinking includes so much bias, prejudice and strongly held, yet wrong beliefs.

NOTE 1: Dr. de Bono's web site has the address (URL): http://edwdebono.com

NOTE2: An index list of de Bono's weekly letters from whereever he is as he travels the world lecturing and training, can be found at:


From that index, you might start with the following dates. Please copy them down first, or click on them below.

Click on Go to the index now.

Some relevant pages can be seen for the following message dates.

8 November 1999

14 June 1999

25 January 1999

24 April 1999 (his response to Littleton)and

10 August 1997.

NOTE 3: A good description of de Bono's ideas is a web page "Adapted and updated from an article in the London Sunday Times by Nicholas Berry, 4 October 1992". It can be found on Dr de Bono's web site at: Berry's article

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Copyright © 1999, 2000. All Rights Reserved by Charles Notess, Loveland, Colorado.

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