Theory and method


Thinking is a skill that can be given direct attention. Thinking is a skill that can be improved by focused attention and the practice of some basic skills. The idea that skill in thinking is developed as the by-product of attention to specific subject areas such as Geography and History is not sufficient. Some thinking skills concerned with the sorting of information can be taught as a by-product of such subjects but these are only part of a wider range of thinking skills required in life. For example the thinking required for action must include consideration of priorities, objectives, other people's views. Descriptive thinking is not enough.

It is wrong to assume that a person with a high IQ is necessarily an effective thinker. Some people with high IQs turn out to be relatively ineffective thinkers and others with much more humble IQs are more effective. I have defined thinking as: The operating skill with which intelligence acts upon experience. If IQ is the innate horsepower of a car then thinking skill is equivalent to driving skill. There is an "intelligence trap" which occurs when a high IQ is not accompanied by effective thinking skills. For example when people use their intelligence only to prove that they are right and others are wrong, rather than using their intelligence to explore and develop the situation.

To be effective, thinking does require an information base. But it is absurd to suppose that if we have enough information it will do our thinking for us. Only in very rare instances can we ever have such complete information that thinking is superfluous. In most cases we have to supplement inadequate information by use of our thinking skills. 

I have given presentations to hundreds of thousands of industrialists, scientists, engineers, architects, teachers, public servants, and many other groups. Again and again there arises the complaint that nowhere in their education had they been taught how to think.

There need not be any complicated mystique about thinking. These lessons have been designed to be practical and usable. They have been used in a wide variety of situations ranging from the jungles of Venezuela to IBM. They have been used in elite schools and in schools in disadvantaged areas. On the whole they have been used by teachers who have not had any previous training in the use of the lessons. The basic format allows the lessons to be used over a wide range of ages (6 years+) and abilities (IQs of 75+). This is not as surprising as it may seem, for the lessons are concerned with the basic thinking processes. The lessons are designed to be simple and practical.

In using these lessons the idiom is simple, practical, clear, focused and serious. They can be taught by a teacher, parent or guardian. At all times avoid over-complication and confusion. The emphasis is on practicality not philosophizing. Examples and illustrations must be clear. The focus of the lesson is on the nature of the thinking, not the subject matter. The purpose is to learn a skill, not simply to have an interesting discussion. The metaphor of training for a sport is appropriate.

The initial lessons are designed to broaden perception so that in any thinking situation we can see beyond the obvious, immediate and egocentric.

Dr. Edward de Bono

These de Bono Thinking Lessons are free to use by parents, guardians and teachers. (This means on this website, or to print and use in home or in the classroom. Not for further distribution or commercial use).