Thinking frameworks

Aug 16 2005 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Are intelligent people better thinkers? You might assume the answer to be 'yes', because that is part of our definition of intelligence. An intelligent person appears to be more capable of thinking than other people.

However, in my experience across a very wide range of people the obvious answer is not true.

Somebody might be very good at analysis and yet poor at design thinking or operational thinking. This is the thought process involved in making things happen.

With 'design' you assemble things to deliver a desired value. Excellence at analysis might not necessarily mean excellence in design.

Intelligent people understand and absorb information more easily. So they tend to have more information to work with. Often the correct information is a substitute for thinking. Intelligent people working in a field pick up the idiom of that field and become capable of working with information in that field. The result can be an effective new idea.

But take that same mind and apply it to a completely new field, and the generalised skill of thinking is not there.

Intelligence represents 'potential'. Thinking represents a skill
Intelligence represents 'potential'. Thinking represents a skill. Thinking and intelligence can overlap in the area of understanding, but can diverge in other areas. For instance, an intelligent person may take up a view on a subject. This view could be determined by personal experience, emotions and even prejudice. The intelligence is then used to defend this view.

This is not effective thinking. Effective thinking would involve exploration of the subject, the generation of alternative views, listening to the views of others, considering the context and purpose of the thinking - and then designing a way forward. Defence of a point of view, however brilliant, is not enough.

There are general habits and intentions which effective thinkers are supposed to have. These could include considering all factors, generating alternatives, listening to others, defining the objective. While these might exist as intentions, they are not necessarily used by thinkers.

I once asked a group of 250 top women executives whether it would be a good idea to pay women 15 per cent more than men for doing exactly the same job. As many as 86 per cent thought it an excellent idea (and about time too!). I then told the group to do a C&S.

This is one of the simple 'attention-directing' tools used in primary schools. It means directing attention to instant consequences and eventually long-term consequences. In small teams the executives 'did a C&S'. As a result those in favour of the idea fell from 86 per cent to 15 per cent. But each of those people would have claimed that as a senior executive she looked at consequences all the time.

Attitudes and intentions are not strong. Specific operating tools - even if they seem artificial - are much more powerful. A task is defined and then undertaken. The thinker performs the task and then reacts to the improved perception.

According to David Perkins of Harvard, 90 per cent of the errors of thinking are mistakes of perception. According to Goedel's theorem, you cannot ever logically prove the starting point of your logic. The starting point represents arbitrary perception. That is the reason perception is so important and why 'attention-directing tools' are so powerful.

There is a massive amount that can be done to improve human thinking. Intelligence, information and analysis are not sufficient.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono (1933-2021) was a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.