Exploration, argument and creativity

Jan 09 2008 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

As a means of exploring a subject, argument is primitive, crude and inefficient and fails to put enough emphasis on creativity. The reasons for the inadequacy of argument as a technique are manifold.

Firstly, if it is deemed there is five per cent wrong with the opposing argument, all the effort is put into attacking that five per cent on the basis that error at some point means error throughout.

It might be that both sides of the argument are weak. In argument, no mechanism exists for designing better positions. It might be that a position is weak but it could be difficult to prove wrong. Therefore, that view prevails, despite it being very weak.

There is no design energy in argument. There is the assumption that both positions are opposed and will always be opposed. Argument has no constructive energy.

A lot of ego is invested in argument. Proving someone else wrong is often considered to be some sort of victory or an indication of superiority.

Argument is also very time-consuming, because relatively minor points are highlighted and attacked.

A much better way of exploring a subject is parallel thinking. To this end, I designed the Six Hats method in 1985.

According to this method, there are six hats, each representing a mode of thinking. The white hat, for instance, represents information. Under the white hat, the participants are concerned with looking at all the available information. They decide exactly what information is needed, asking questions and finding out how the necessary information can be obtained.

If information is contradictory, it needs to be put down without recourse to argument.

Creativity and new ideas are taken care of by the green hat. People under the green hat ask for alternatives, different possibilities and new thinking. Modification of ideas or perceptions is encouraged under the green hat.

Various different aspects of thinking are covered by the other four hats. The important thing is that, at every moment, all the people at the meeting are wearing the same hat and thinking in parallel.

This way, the Six Hats method challenges everyone to use their thinking skills to their full capacity. In a normal meeting, someone who is against the idea will use the whole session to look for ways of attacking it.

In a meeting using the Six Hats method, the person will have the opportunity, under the black hat, to attack and criticise the idea as much as they want.

However, when it comes to the yellow hat, that same person has to focus on the values in the idea. If they are then unable, or unwilling, to find and recognize the values while everyone else is, then they will be seen as stupid.

Formal training systems exist for the Six Hats method, and people can be trained to implement it within their own organisations.

I am astounded that it has taken us around 2,400 years to realise that argument is an unsatisfactory method for exploring a subject.

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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.