Think! Before It’s Too Late: A New Book by Dr. Edward de Bono, the Master of Human Thinking
A Review By: Dr. Yehia A. Ibrahim
Professor at Assiut University, Certified Trainer and Human Resources Developer
Before going any further with my review, I want to indicate that the 2009-published book by Dr. Edward de Bono and entitled "Think! Before It's Too Late" is among the best books I have read in my life. This book contains an evangelical overview of de Bono's system of thinking. Dr. de Bono has a convention in all his thinking books that I have honorably read; it is that the current system of human thinking needs to be urgently upgraded. We are certainly locked in the antiquated thinking system that was built by the Greek Gang of three, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (GG3) 2400 years ago. There was nothing wrong with the old system in itself; for it functions well and fulfills its thinking purpose, but it is not enough to adequately fulfill the human purpose in life. Exactly like a computer, the human brain needs software to operate. In the case of the human brain this software is in the form of self-created and self-recognizable patterns of neuronal networks. Being a university professor, a counselor, a certified trainer and a human resources developer, and considering that I read at least one book every month since I graduated from the university more than forty years ago, you will get my point of how important this book is, regardless of any betty and minor points that need to be reconsidered in future editions of this wonderful book. It is true that I read most of Dr. Edward de Bono’s books on thinking, but this one has many ramifications as well as new tools to aid thinking, e.g. the "Septines." I have been using similar technique, but with no restriction to only seven words, phrases or sentences, in my training and found it to be very effective not only in knowledge transfer but also in skill building and attitude change. I think that the Septines' technique is better than my technique, for a limited number of words, phrases, or sentences will have no difficulty in activating or firing different parts of the brain simultaneously. I am wondering why Dr. de Bono used "Seven" in the Septines' case and only "Six" in other cases.
Fortunately, there is nothing magic about any of Dr. de Bono's thinking strategies, tools, or frameworks; for you reach his ideas or similar ones if you know how the brain deals with sensory information. This is the beauty of de Bono's thinking theories, for they are logically understandable and operationally proven. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Edward de Bono more than 10 years ago and I told him that time that the Middle East is among a few parts of the world that critically need to adopt his thinking tools more than the rest of the world. Today I am happy to see many people in this boiling region who teach, train and use de Bono arsenal, deliberate thinking tools. I believe that this will impact the future of this region for the best of the whole world. I do not know when this will be, but days will certainly come. My strong belief in Dr. de Bono's system is not because of the impact of his tools in business, science, technology, politics, etc., but because I believe strongly as much as he does or even more that human thinking is not a natural process. Had it been a natural process, individuals would have not differed in their thinking, and people would have lost a great deal of their merited diversity. As a scientist, I had this belief before reading any of de Bono's books and I have been using some of my own tools to deliberately direct my mental strategies. Now that I have been fortunate to read de Bono's books, I clearly see the impact on my life and the lives of those who share my circles of influence and concern.
Even though Dr. de Bono’s new book contains 20 chapters, I personally consider it to be dealing with three major topics: first, the current thinking system (The GG3 System) and how the world came out to complacently use it despite that fact that it may be excellent, but certainly not enough or adequate; second, the reasons why the world thinking is so poor with suggestions and ideas on how to empower it using components of "The de Bono Thinking System"; third, the responsibility upon himself, individuals and the society on how to collectively learn, teach, and function according to a better thinking system, the de Bono' system. I agree fully with Dr. de Bono, that we need to shift our paradigm regarding the current thinking system that sweeps the majority of the world with complacency and "blindness-by-apparent-excellence" attitude. I am hoping that by the end of my review, readers will unhesitatingly read this book and consider it as a thinking doctrine. This book indicates that writing about thinking improves thinking of a good thinker. Dr. de Bono is not an exception, for I see a lot of progress in the way he addresses his thinking ideas and tools. I know he has verbal - probably auditory - thinking skills and uses the words marvelously to structure his sentences and design his concepts, but we need him to use illustrations, models, maps, quite often for those who are spatially-, or visually-oriented. I sometimes have problems with the way Dr. de Bono divides and sequences his text materials due to his snowing ideas and concepts, but "Think! Before It's Too Late" has caused me the least or no problem.
The book has a major plot; that is excellent but not enough. Since the GG3 (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), people have learnt to be argumentative, analytical, critical, judgmental in their thinking and actions. These are all excellent modes of thinking that serve the purpose of seeking the truth, but they are not enough for they either lack the starting step (perceiving) or use this step rather sloppily. Besides, these thinking modes simply freeze any situation and make people live their present and future according to the concepts, values and frameworks of the past. The future of humanity requires that we pay much attention to, and invest extra energy in, perceptual thinking, exploratory thinking, creative thinking, design thinking, value thinking and operational, action thinking. If the absence of some of these thinking modes was tolerable in the artificial reality that were based on conceptual and religious doctrine, it will not be tolerable in the digital age of white water, wherein change in the reality is overly changing. It is amazing that while writing this review I could see the difference between the "GG3 Thinking System" and the "de Bono Thinking System" in the way the public and media discuss the possible, yet unlikely, appearance of Virgin Marry in a light form rotating above one the churches in Egypt. I cannot even believe that we invest our mental energy in such a discussion.
I do not recommend that you read this book only once, but I recommend that you read it more than once, apply it as you go on in your life and teach its thinking strategies and tools to others at work or at home. This will definitely sharpen your thinking and make you in control of your mind. This book underscores the huge potential in human resources should they be given a permission to freely use their mind, and provided simple instruction on how to think deliberately and fully up to their potential. Be aware of how much of your thinking time goes to analysis, criticism, argument, debate, judgment and attack as compared to how much of your thinking time goes to exploration, perception, creativity, design, movement and operation. If you do not find the balance to think in a fullest sense, then please read this book, understand its concepts and deliberately, consciously, formally, explicitly, and directly practice its tools daily in your life.
Readers of the book will find the word "perception" or its implications mentioned repeatedly for a great reason. If Dr. Edward de Bono did nothing but directed our attention to perception and its instrumental role and exceptional importance in our thinking, that would have been enough to recognize and reward him for his work. I personally reward him by accepting him as one of my spiritual mentors. If we expand Dr. David Perkins' finding that in ordinary life, 90% of the errors are errors of perception, not errors of logic, then we can easily conclude that most of people and nations’ conflict and disagreements are perceptually-related. It is, therefore, clear that Dr. de Bono’s exploratory, perceptual and creative tools will help people and nations resolve their disputes in a productive, positive and lasting way. It is sad that Dr. de Bono’s strategies and tools are not as familiar in politics, government, democracy, schools, universities, Media as they are in business. Thinking in these institutions is covered immensely in Chapters 6-9, and 13. Some expressed emotions by Dr. de Bono in Chapter 13 have caused me to color my review of this chapter as seen in the next paragraph.
Dr. Edward de Bono is certainly one of the best designers of thinking software. I decided to write this review on his 2009-published book entitled “Think! Before It’s Too Late” for at least four reasons. First, to indicate the importance of this book for anyone who wants to live his life productively and peacefully in this crazy world of limited, distorted, deficient, defected and infected perception. Second, to emphasize the importance of deliberately using de Bono’s perceptual and creative thinking tools in every dimension of our daily life, i.e., educational, professional, marital, and social. Third, to tell Dr. de Bono that as much as he is the best designer of new thinking software, I consider myself the best user of his “operational thinking tools” in training my own brain and in training others not only in thinking, but also in other apparently unrelated disciplines. Unknowingly and for a long time, I have been using mental models and maps in my teaching and training to help students and trainees broaden their perception of both the educational or training events and the subject matters. Fourth, I felt Dr. de Bono’s grief in Chapter 13 of his book as he thinks that recognition for his work has been excellent but not enough. I certainly agree with him and personally believe that he deserves a Nobel Prize for: (i) being the one who discovered that people have been intensively programmed to think in excellent but not enough modes for 2400 years; (ii) being the first one in history to provide a logical, yet indirect, explanation for idea creativity; (iii) being the one who have had the courage to claim that human mind is not spontaneously creative; to the contrary, it creates self-protected and self-recognizable patterns and then applied standard behaviors wired with these patterns; (iv) for being the one who has created methods of exploration (e.g. the six hats and the six value medals) and formal operational tools for perceptual and creative thinking.
It is important to note that perception is, and will always be, the starting point in any system, and any lack or error in perception will not be cured or corrected by other modes of thinking, whether logical or illogical. It was, therefore, very important to develop a strategy and attention-directing tools to broaden our perception. Dr. de Bono saves us this effort and brilliantly developed this strategy in Chapter 10 that entitled “Perception”, which I considered it to be the most important of all other chapters. This perception-improving strategy has three major components: (1) Attitude; (2) Perceptual Tools (e.g., PMI, CAF, C&S, AGO, FIP, APC, OPV); (3) Perceptual Maps (e.g. Flowscapes). I have myself been using concept-flow maps, similar to the flowscapes in my studying, teaching and training for many years. I also use Conceptual Maps and Mind Maps for exactly the same reasons. They help me designing and presenting my teaching and training materials, and help my students and trainees improve their perception of both the whole event and the reference materials. I also have other reasons for including these maps. Dr. de Bono nicely focused on attitude and I think he has done a wonderful job in compiling several conceptual tips on how to change or shift our thinking attitude. I will here summarize these attitudinal tips from Chapter 10 and from other parts of the book in - more or less – his or my own words, but certainly with my own understanding:
(1) We need to know that excellent is not always enough for now or for the future, and being unjustifiably complacent with our traditional thinking system does not mean that it is adequate or enough;
(2) We need to realize that the best does not always mean good; it can only mean the least worst and this applies to many current systems including democratic thinking;
(3) We need to realize that every thinking mode (perceptual, exploratory, creative, design, analytical, critical, judgmental, logical, emotional, operational) is excellent for its own right, but not enough or adequate solely by itself;
(4) We need to realize that logic is not enough, and it can even be dangerous if it is based -consciously or unconsciously- on deficient perception;
(5) We need to realize that the perception is the critical source of “input” in the whole thinking process, and any deficiency in this input will negatively impact the output, regardless of the process - analytical or logical;
(6) We need to realize that logic can never be better than the perception on which it is based;
(7) We need to acknowledge the huge importance of perception, as well as its interpersonal differences;
(8) We need to realize that artificial concepts, e.g., some religious doctrine, concepts, or faith do not need perception as much as they need logic, argument and truth. To the contrary, any thinking without perception in the real world will not be enough even if it turns out to be excellent;
(9) We need to realize that all thinking modes including emotional thinking follow perception and action follows emotions;
(10) We need to realize that logic does not easily change emotions, but perception "easily and logically" does;
(11) We need to free ourselves from the "problem-thinking" attitude and get away from only perceiving failures, faults, shortcomings and negatives;
(12) We need to resist the temptation of complacency when something is seemingly working well;
(13) We need to be able to keep our possibilities and options active even if we get on with practicalities;
(14) We need to understand that alternatives, possibilities and choices (APC) can never be harmful if they are not beneficial;
(15) We need to realize that possibility is far more essential than our "personal" truth for perceptual, exploratory, creative and design thinking;
(16) We need to train our mind to open up and accepts new possibilities;
(17) We need to resist the temptation of jumping into a conclusion or addicting the status quo;
(18) We need to realize that judgment freezes movement, and we need to develop a willingness to use the movement value instead of the judgment value, especially if we seek APC's or aim for change;
(19) We need to realize that the “wrong-or-right” judgment stops our exploration and perception, locks us into existing frameworks and concepts, aborts possibilities and thereby blocks creativity;
(20) We need to realize that other people may have different perceptions based on their experience and values, and their perception improves our thinking;
(21) The stakeholders of any educational system and politicians need to understand that information and analysis may formulate the best road-map; but roadmaps are useless without movement and pertinent operational skills. Is it possible that having a roadmap is enough to reach where we want to be if we don’t know how to drive? I doubt it unless we hire someone else to drive us;
(22) We need to realize that we cannot survive this digital age with the antiquated thinking modes that dominated our lives for 24 centuries and deprived the world from four more important thinking modes, i.e., the perceptual, exploratory, creative and design thinking. Should we have had these four modes fully active, life would have been better, far better and with the least number of crises;
(23) We need to realize that new ideas for the future don’t just evolve; they can be deliberately and consciously -until unconsciously and skillfully- created;
(24) We need to realize that thinking in general is a life skill, and thinking creatively in particular is skill that every one can learn, should s/he have a deliberate instructive framework to follow;
(25) We need to realize that we have the right to think, but this right is meaningless if leaders, parents, teachers, employers and any other superiors permit, exhort and encourage others to think without providing them with some simple instruction on how to think deliberately and in a fully sense.
I think that teaching the above attitudinal concepts or tips is far better than teaching 97% of the mathematics that we learn in schools and most of us never use in life after school exams. We need to imprint a new attitude of thinking if we want to preserve this world from the ever-increasing conflicts and disagreements. Dr. de Bono’s tools and frameworks should be taught in schools and universities explicitly and remotely from any other subject. They are more important in themselves and in aiding the academic achievements in many apparently-unrelated school or university subjects.
Chapter 13 entitled “Leadership and Thinking” does not have much to say about leadership in relation to thinking, and it could have been included in other chapters.
Chapter 15 contains many reasons for why the world thinking is so poor. However, Dr. de Bono has made a mistake regarding Myers-Briggs test. The judgment function in the MBTI does not mean judgmental and the other end of intuitive function is sensing, not judgmental as he said. As an expert in MBTI, I urge Dr. de Bono to read carefully the theory of Carl Jung and the developments of Myers and Briggs and others. He will find many connections to his work. He may also change his mind regarding psychometrics.
In Chapters 16-18, Dr. de Bono identified the shared responsibility upon himself, the individual, and the society to ingrain a new and better thinking system that can make the world a better place to live. I could feel how and understand why Dr. de Bono is desperate not having the proper response from those who are able but unwilling. The idea of establishing a “Palace of Thinking” is great. I here recommend that Dr. de Bono contact President Obama to help, for he seems to be a creative leader who is capable, able and willing. I myself will help in this Palace through sharing my ideas and through training others on de Bono’s perceptual, exploratory, creative and design thinking.
Chapter 19 is a nice and concise chapter about how to link thinking to purposeful values and truth. The idea of value scans according to Dr. de Bono Six Value Medals is a great one and this framework, in my opinion, should follow the six hats in problem solving, strategy design, etc. I do not agree with the justification made by Dr. de Bono in this chapter regarding the use of the "Six" number in his work (Six Hats, Six Medals, Six Shoes, etc.), for seven is not the maximum bits of information that the brain perceives at any moment, but the medium number of bits (7 +/- 2) that the brain can handle from the two million bits or more that the senses can gather at any attentive moment. Therefore, he still has three more items (hats, or medals) to add should experience indicate their need. I personally like him to add another pink hat - that is the operational hat that may introduce us to the value medals. I also suggest that he adds a new medal; a medal that scans ethnic and religious values. The conflicting values in the world of today are not exclusive of those values whether negative or positive, and we cannot include them in the Golden or the Brass Medal.
Chapter 20 entitled "The Right to Think" is a good closing chapter. Despite all the deserved praises I gave Dr. Edward de Bono for his work that lasted more than 40 years and for his new book that seems to compile most of this work, I share others the irritating feature due to Dr. de Bono's failure to acknowledge or properly refer to the work of others in the field of human thinking. There is a passage in the book where he was challenged on this point and answered that he did not need to provide references because all the ideas in his books were his own. I suggest that he reads carefully other people's work in the field of human thinking using his OPV tool. I particularly recommend that he reads the work of Dr. Tony Buzan on Mind Mapping, as mind maps are better that his Followscapes in directing our attention and complementing our hemispheric brain functions. I also recommend him to read Dr. Richard Bandler's work on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Dr. Albert Ellis' work on Rational-Emotive-Behavior Therapy (REBT). Should Dr. Edward de Bono take my suggestion seriously, I would expect him to publish a new book in the very near future with a breakthrough in his and others' work. Last, but far from least, I honorably consider the above-mentioned four thinkers (Ellis, de Bono, Buzan, and Bandler) to be my mentors in life at this moment. This mentorship, along with other reasons, has driven me to find links in these gurus' works and I always do. My explanation is as simple as that we all have identical hardware (the human brain), but different software (patterns and skills), and any functioning software should never conflict one another. This does not mean that all forms of our thinking software are equally good.
My Final Remark
I want to make a point here. I believe that our thinking is an asymmetric circular system that contains many functional elements rolling in our brain through neuron connections. This system is preferably, personally and variably programmed as a pattern or software in our subconscious mind. The software is working excellently, skillfully and routinely to serve its functions. Our thinking system is not the same; and based on our uprising we allow some elements of our thinking system to dominate and undermine other elements. We can never be able to upgrade our programmed thinking system without consciously, deliberately and repeatedly using some tools that enforce a timely and balanced inclusion of other thinking elements. This is basically my rationale to fully accept de Bono' theory and techniques of human thinking.
Dr. Yehia A. Ibrahim (firstname.lastname@example.org).