Overcoming the limitations of language

Apr 24 2009 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Language is OK at inventing and accepting new words for new things: helicopter, television, computer, etc. But language isn't so good at inventing words for mental behaviour. There is a big need for new words to describe certain types of mental activity.

There is complacency regarding the adequacy of language. Because we believe we can express what we want to express we do not realise that creative thinking is limited by the language available to us. If we are limited to thinking in available language then what we want to express can indeed be expressed in the same language.

We have thesis and antithesis and the argument or fight between them. If you want to change something then you have to prove that thing is wrong, inadequate or deficient in some way. Otherwise you should not request change.

But sometimes, what needs changing is excellent. It is not wrong or faulty at all. It is just insufficient.

With ordinary language, we cannot criticise something and at the same time admit that it is excellent. We are able do this with a whole phrase or sentence, but there is no simple way of doing it. That is why it is necessary to create a simple new word that carries out this function of saying: 'That is excellent - but insufficient'.

The new word I have invented is 'ebne' (pronounced 'ebbneh') - Excellent But Not Enough.

Creative thinking has always been thought of as an inborn talent which some people had and others could only envy. The formal and deliberate tools of lateral thinking can be learned, practised and used in the same way that you might learn mathematics. As with any skill, some will be more adept than others, but it is always possible to acquire a usable level of competence.

We use argument in parliament, in the law courts, in discussions and in negotiations. We appear to be very happy with it. But argument is primitive, crude and an inefficient way of exploring a situation.

Another failing of traditional thinking is that we rush to judgment. In a conflict situation we rush to judge who is at fault and then look to put pressure on that party. Instead we should look to 'design a way forward'. That requires different thinking.

In order to make decisions we look for more and more information. We do require all the information we can get. But it is insufficient. We also require different ways of looking at the information and acting on it. Information is ebne.

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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.