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Why so stupid?

By Dr. Edward de Bono

The human race has never really learned to think. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle designed the thinking methods that we use today 2,400 years ago.

We have done well with mathematics but what have we done with ordinary thinking? We have done nothing for 2,400 years.

We have done so very well in science and technology that we are proud and complacent about the excellence of our thinking. Why then have we made so little progress in human affairs?

The model for most of our thinking is to analyse a situation, identify a standard element, then provide a standard answer.

When Greek thinking came into Europe, at the time of the Renaissance (through the Arabs in Spain), the universities and schools were run by church people.

They did not need perceptual thinking because the starting points were not matters of human perception but were fixed as dogmas. They did not need creative thinking in religion. They did not need design thinking.

The thinking that was needed was to do with truth, logic and argument. This is what was needed to prove heretics wrong. So this type of thinking became the standard method for Western thinking.

You can analyse the past, but you need to design the future. Although there are individuals who do provide the ˜design” element in society, design has never become as important or as central as analysis. Design is a matter of putting together known ingredients to deliver value.

In one sense design always involves creativity. There is something new which provides value. That is the essence of creativity. At the same time the design may be logical. For example, applying existing computer technology to home shopping may be a new design, but the assembly of the elements may be totally logical. Architecture design is usually perfectly logical even though the overall idea is new. In a way design is the opposite of routine.

Creativity may be involved in providing a new objective or overall concept. The way that an objective is reached may indeed be logical. Alternatively, the overall concept or objective may be logical, but the way it is achieved may require some new thinking and some creativity.

There is little point in trying to separate logical and creative approaches. Logic and creativity are both parts of thinking and both need to be exercised. In addition, any valuable creative idea will always seem logical in hindsight. That is the nature of asymmetric patterning systems. That something is perfectly logical in hindsight does not mean, however, that the idea could have been reached by logic in the first place.

With creativity there is always some risk. You cannot be sure that the new design will work and deliver the intended value. It is safer to use judgment rather than creativity as the routine behaviour. That is not a problem so long as the importance of design is recognised as a necessary complement to judgement. The skill of deliberate creativity needs to be developed. In that way the human race can increase the scope and power of its thinking.

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