Why so stupid?

May 17 2006 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Mankind has failed to learn how to think. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle came up with our current thought software 2,400 years ago. In the meantime, while we have excelled in developing mathematics, we've done nothing over the past two-and-a-half millennia to improve our ordinary thinking.

Our achievements in science and technology mean that we are proud and complacent about the rectitude of our thinking. So we have made very little progress in human affairs.

The thought model we use most of the time is to analyse a situation, identify a standard element, then come up with 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 the church. They had no use for perceptual thought because the starting points were not matters of human perception but fixed dogmas. There was no use for creative thinking in religion and they did not need design thinking.

You can analyse the past but the future has to be designed
What they did need, however, was thinking that was concerned with truth, logic and argument. They needed this to prove heretics wrong. Therefore this kind of thinking became the standard software for Western thinking.

You can analyse the past but the future has to be designed. While there are people who do provide the 'design' element in society, design has never become as important or as central as analysis. Design is a matter of combining known ingredients to produce value.

In one sense, creativity is always involved in design. There is something new which delivers value. That is the essence of creativity. But the design can be logical at the same time.

For instance, applying current computer technology to home shopping might be a new design, but the combination of the elements may be completely logical. Architecture design is usually perfectly logical despite the overall idea being new. In some ways design is opposed to routine.

Creativity might feature in providing a new objective or overall concept. You might reach the objective in a logical way. Alternatively, the overall concept or objective might be logical, but require some new thinking and creativity to be achieved.

There isn't much point in separating logical and creative approaches. Logic and creativity are both parts of thinking and you need to exercise both. Also, in hindsight, any valuable creative idea will seem logical - that is the nature of asymmetric patterning systems. But because something is logical in hindsight, it doesn't mean that the idea could have been reached by logic to begin with.

There is always some risk with design. If a design is new, you can't be certain that it will work out and deliver the desired value. Judgment and routine behaviour is low risk so it is the preferred method of thought.

That's not a problem so long as the importance of design is acknowledged. It is even more important to recognise the situations where design is demanded because the routine approaches have failed.

The basic difference between judgment and design must be recognised, as must the importance of design. Design skill and creativity need to be developed, then the human race can increase the scope and power of its thinking.

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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.