Saturday, April 16, 2011
This book is a great read. My review was published in the March, 2011, edition of the Journal brought out by the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society and is reproduced below. Happy Reading and thinking!
I have read many books written by Edward De Bono, so when this revised edition was up for sale at a recent book fair, I grabbed it. Edward De Bono is regarded as the father of ‘lateral thinking’. He first invented this term ‘lateral thinking’ way back in 1967. Today this term finds a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.
What exactly is lateral thinking? On his official website the author states: “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper”. This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed.
As we age, we become more rigid in our thinking process. We develop certain preconceived notions; we set our own boundaries when confronted with a problem or even with a situation.
Edward De Bono further explains: "Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions". With logic you start out with certain ingredients, just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then 'process'.
If I were to sum up, lateral thinking, I would call it: Breaking set patterns of thinking to arrive at an optimal solution or solutions.
In his book: “De Bono’s Thinking Course”, the author brings out the difference between ‘creativity’ which he states is a value judgement and ‘lateral thinking’. Lateral thinking is both an attitude of mind (willingness to try and look at things in different ways) and also encompasses a number of defined methods. Thinking (ie: Lateral Thinking), he says, is a skill that can be developed by everyone.
I thought I was a ‘thinker’ and there was no need to do anything more about it. But, after reading this book, I’ve realized that there was much more to learn about thinking. This book will definitely help me to break out of my existing though-pattern and think differently and more efficiently.
A sprinkling of various ‘thinking-tools’ are found in this book, which are all part of the CoRT thinking process. The basic tenets of this process are: Thinking is a skill and can be developed; Most practical thinking takes place in the perception stage; and lastly the tools-method is used to teach thinking.
Let me briefly touch upon a few thinking-tools, which I found very useful. My favourite thinking-tool, today is PMI. Of course, the thinking-tools which you will find useful may differ from those below. Further, different thinking-tools are suited for different problems, situations and scenarios.
Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI): Everyone thinks they use PMI, but in reality they don’t. Think again, when confronted with a situation, what do you look at? Of course, the plus and the minus associated with a particular choice. Do you look at the ‘interesting’ aspects of it? At least, I didn’t, now going forward I will!
The book deals with a scenario: What if all cars were to be painted yellow. However, let us alter this slightly. Let us take a news-clipping about a suggestion for a new colour for Mumbai’s traditional black and yellow taxi-cabs. Let us assume these were to be painted ‘white and blue’. Now let us analyse this situation in the context of PMI.
• A fresh coat of paint to all taxi-cabs, would lend vibrancy to the city roads
• Paint-manufacturers would do well – time to buy shares of listed paint companies
• White and blue are my favourite colours
• It is easier to notice white colour when the light is dim, there will be fewer accidents at night
• Taxi strikes may be around the corner. The taxi owners would not want to spend on a fresh coat of paint and would resist the change
• Taxi-cab owners would want to offload the extra cost of a new coat of paint on to the commuters by hiking rates
• White would get dirty very easily. In the monsoons, all taxi-cabs would look particularly dirty
• Would this bill (let us assume it were a bill pending at the municipal level) pass? Who would support it? Would the political party supporting it/not supporting it get any mileage and from whom?
• Will we see more advertisements on taxi-cabs? After all, with a new white coat of paint, the time will be right for also painting advertisements. Would advertisements be allowed on taxi-cabs? Will this lead to better maintained taxi-cabs and more comfortable rides?
• Will banks give loans to taxi-cab owners? Will these loans be at a lower rate of interest? Will the community have to bear any additional cost if these loans are subsidized by the government?
The above PMI exercise can be adopted to suit any situation. I think it can be applied much beyond mere ideas to even routine decision making at the workplace. For example, it can be implemented in an interview process.
During an interview, jot down all the pluses of choosing a particular candidate, then jot down all the minus of choosing that candidate, then all the interesting aspects of choosing that candidate. Repeat this exercise for each candidate. Perhaps, jotting down the interesting aspects may help your organization hire a candidate for a role which was not envisaged before or even think of starting that service line which was on the back burner for want of relevant skill-sets.
It is essential in this methodology that you do these one at a time, concentrate on the plus factors and plus factors alone before moving on to other aspects. In other words concentrate on the ‘P’, ‘M’ and ‘I’ aspects in turn. Further, it is also essential to jot down as many ‘Ps’, ‘Ms’ and ‘Is’ that we can think of.
What is the advantage of the PMI methodology? As Edward De Bono states in his book: “Our prejudices have already decided for us, what we should feel about an idea…The PMI exercise ensures that instead of intelligence being used to support a particular prejudice it is now used to explore the subject matter. Emotions are now applied after the exploration instead of being applied before and hence preventing that exploration.”
Considering All Factors (CAF): In doing a CAF exercise the emphasis is on: What has been left out? What ought to be considered as well? For instance, when buying a new house in a distant suburb in a gated community, the long commute time to the workplace and its impact on one’s free time should also be considered and not just the cost of this house or the amenities available in this gated community.
Consequence and Sequel (C&S): Thinking is almost always short term, because we are concerned with what will be the immediate cause of our particular choice. The C&S thinking strategy is a tool to deliberately consider the consequences of a choice/decision over a period of time. Four time zones are suggested in this tool, which may vary depending on the situation at hand. It is essential to focus on each time zone in turns.
For instance, for a graduate the decision to pursue a CA course may have the following time zones and thought process:
• Immediate up to one year: I will be forced to be a student for a few more years. This will mean a loss of income and also loss of peer standing as peers would be gainfully employed
• Short-term from one to five years: The few extra years spent in studying will reap a good dividend in terms of a well paying job with high levels of job satisfaction. However, the CA course is difficult
• Medium term from five to twenty years: If I qualify as a CA a good job and great career opportunities are assured
• Long term over twenty years: I can retire comfortably on savings made during my career.
Agreement, Disagreement and Irrelevance (ADI): Having a difference in point of view at the workplace with your superior? Try the ADI tool. Here, each party to the disagreement maps out: areas of agreement, followed by areas of disagreement and lastly irrelevant issues.
The mapping exercise can be done jointly or independently followed by comparing the mapping done individually. In fact, if the other party doesn’t agree, even one party to the disagreement can conduct this exercise.
The author points out that it often turns out that the areas of disagreement may be quite small but appear much larger because neither party to the disagreement wishes to concede a point for fear that this will be used against them. At the end of an ADI exercise both parties would be able to precisely point out the area of disagreement and this can be used as a base for designing a way around the disagreement, negotiating on a stronger footing and finding a path of resolution.
Other People’s Views (OPV): There are two parts to this exercise. The first comprises of identifying the other people who are really part of the situation. The second part involves getting into the shoes of these people and seeing things from their point of view.
There are many more thinking-tools, each of which are beautifully illustrated in the book and can be applied in our daily lives.
Edward De Bono states: “The skilled thinker can do two things: He or she can think about the subject – i.e. perform the thinking task; and second: He or she can think about the thinking used to performing the thinking task.”
It is time to put on your thinking cap and read books on Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono.