Edward de Bono; TEACHING THE WORLD TO THINK
"It was late when I got back," recalls professional thinker Edward de Bono of an evening nearly 30 years ago when he had to scale the walls of his college at Oxford. The college traditionally locked its gates at 20 minutes past midnight. De Bono, a Rhodes scholar, was late coming home from a party in London, so he sneaked through Christ Church Meadows and began his ascent.Skip to next paragraph
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"The railings were easy. The first wall was rather more difficult. I got over it and went forward until I came to the second wall, which was about the same height as the first wall. I climbed this second wall, only to find myself outside again. My double effort had involved my climbing in and out across a corner.
"I started again and with more careful direction came up to the proper second wall. There was an iron gate in this second wall, and as the gate was lower than the rest of the wall and also offered better footholds, I climbed the gate. As I was sitting astride the top of the gate it swung open. It had never been closed."
De Bono recounts this tale in "The Mechanism of Mind," one of the 21 books he has written on creative thinking. The moral of his story: Think before you leap.
"The point is that no matter how good we are at wall- climbing, we must first determine if we're climbing the right wall," de Bono says over continental breakfast near Piccadilly Circus.
Inventor, polo player, former Cambridge don, and recognized world authority on the teaching of thinking, Edward de Bono has sworn off frontal assaults on college walls or any other impediments. He has pioneered a concept called "lateral thinking," which means avoiding the obvious head-on solutions and, instead, trying detours, thinking sideways, even backward, until you find the open gate that no one else knew was there.
Getting to de Bono presents at least as many obstacles as breaching a truly locked college at Oxford after midnight. Through A. Michael Gleeson, a former Royal Australian Air Force instructor who runs the Edward de Bono School of Thinking in New York, I arranged an interview with de Bono at "his chambers" at the Albany in London. De Bono, who is married and has two sons, lives in a Georgian country home in Norfolk, England. He works at his think tank CoRT, the Cognitive Research Trust in Cambridge, and in the course of teaching, spends much of his time circling the globe. He logs about 150,000 air miles a year.
De Bono was flying in from Spain on a Wednesday evening and leaving the next afternoon for a month of lecturing in Canada. I was told to meet him Thursday morning at 8 at the Albany, an exclusive 18th-century London residence just down the street from the Royal Academy of Arts.
The Albany was originally built for the first Lord Melbourne in 1770, and, according to a history written on one wall, was sold in 1802 "with the then novel idea of converting the house into residence chambers for gentleman unwilling to be encumbered with large town establishments." Lord Byron bached it there for a year and is said to have kenneled two bears in the basement. De bono's apartments were once occupied by Gladstone, the famous British prime minister. Today, Edward de Bono has among his distinguished neighbors Lord Kenneth Clark, J. B. Priestley, and Baron de Rothschild.
The Albany's head porter meets me at the front door and introduces himself simply as "Andrews." Andrews wears a brown morning coat with cadmium orange lapels, a chestful of brass buttons, and four decks of World War II bar decorations showing his service in Italy, North Africa, and elsewhere.
"Your name, sir?" he asks.
"McBride. I'm here to see Dr. de Bono at 8."
"I'm afraid, sir, you're seven minutes early," Andrews says, disappearing to deliver a pint bottle of milk somewhere down the corridor. The clatter of his heels on the scalloped tile floor ricochets off the high ceiling and finally fades at the end of the long hallway. At precisely 7:59 he returns to escort me to de Bono's apartment. "You're mighty lucky to see somebody this early," one of Andrew's assistants whispers. "Most of these guys don't get up before 10."