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Parallel Thinking

By Edward de Bono (includes links to many of his other books)


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About the Book

Western thinking is failing because it was not designed to deal with change.

In this provocative masterpiece of creative thinking, Edward de Bono argues for a game-changing new way to think.

For thousands of years we have followed the thinking system designed by the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, based on analysis and argument.

But if we are to flourish in today’s rapidly changing world we need to free our minds of these ‘Doxes’ and embrace a more flexible and nimble model.

This book is not about philosophy; it is about the practical (and parallel) thinking required to get things done in an ever-changing world.



Note the areas where judgement is mentioned ↓





19 The Tyranny Of Judgement

‘Does your grandmother like carrots?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Does your grandmother like marrows?’


‘Does your grandmother like peas?’


‘Does your grandmother like tomatoes?’ ‘No.’

‘Does your grandmother like lettuce?’ ‘Yes.’

So what vegetables does the grandmother like?

That is a well-known children’s game in which one person has to deduce the ‘principle’ on which the grandmother likes certain vegetables but not others.

Here there is a ‘true’ principle to be discovered precisely because it has been put there (a matter of ‘game truth’).

Who has put there the principle that the three angles of a triangle always add up to two right angles?

The answer is that the action of putting together three lines to make a triangle has the inevitable consequence that the angles add up to two right angles.

There are undoubtedly some ‘inner truths’.

Usually these are ‘organizing principles’.

It was the contribution of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to take the truth that there might be some inner truths in certain instances and to extend this to all matters.

This is a totally unjustified extrapolation and is simply a ‘belief truth’ itself.

It is as much a religion as any other religion that depends on belief truth.

The result is that clusterings of convenience come to be treated as ‘true definitions’ simply because no one around has the wit to refute them.

Induction may reveal ‘inner truths’ as in the grandmother example given above, where a number of instances can lead you to guess the principle being used.

But in most cases induction is no more than a shorthand summary of past experience.

There is a very close relationship between ‘truth’, ‘true definitions’ (boxes, categories, etc.) and judgement.

All three go tightly together to give us our traditional thinking system.

The Socratic method really refers to the discovery or setting up of the ‘true definitions’, but in practice we can extend it to the judgement of whether something fits a definition, because this is partly how Socrates set up the definitions in the first place.

Hunting for game birds is taken very seriously in the English countryside.

The novice who is taken shooting for the first time is hugely embarrassed to find that he has shot at a blackbird in the mistaken belief that it was a pheasant.

The humiliation is extreme.

Towards the end of the season the hunter is equally embarrassed at shooting down a high-flying hen pheasant when ‘cocks only’ has been ordained by the gamekeeper.

So with time and effort the hunters become very skilled at recognizing each bird.

If the recognition is exact then the action follows automatically.

Is that a pheasant?

Yes, it is a pheasant.


A doctor learns the disease ‘boxes’ in medical school.

He or she learns how to look for symptoms by direct examination or through tests (X-rays, blood tests, etc.) and learns how to come to a conclusion or make a judgement.

Once the judgement has been made then the treatment is quite easy, because it is more or less automatic or standardized.

So judgement and ‘boxes’ are the link between circumstance and appropriate action.

If something is poisonous you do not eat it.

If someone is dishonest you watch that person carefully.

If a government is not democratic you condemn it.

So the thinking operation is

1. Set up the boxes.

2. Regard them as ‘true’ or ‘absolute’.

3. Judge something into a box.

4. Take the action indicated by the box.

The method simplifies life and seems to work.

It has always been the basis of our education, the basis of our thinking, the basis of our behavior.

Judgement is used to validate the definition and to reject the ‘untrue’, as discussed in a previous section.

Judgement is then used in ‘recognition’ and to pop things into the established boxes.

It is this last aspect of judgement which concerns me here.

I am not impressed by the argument that in its purest form the system works because ‘inner truth’ is restricted to a very few areas and because the ‘boxes’ are designed very carefully to take the system into account.

I am sure that this is occasionally true.

But we have to look at the practical aspect of the method, where people make category judgements and dangerous generalizations.

The question is whether it is really feasible to hope that people can be thoroughly educated to use the system in its purest sense or whether the system itself is so open to poor use that we had better change the system.l can only say, from my experience, that some of those who claim to be the teachers of the best way to use the critical system are themselves every bit as guilty of its poor use as anyone else.

This suggests that the system is at fault.

In most cases induction is no more than a shorthand summary of past experience.

One of the major limitations of the judgement system is that it is reactive rather than proactive.

This means that you criticize ideas rather than create them.

The generative capacity is very low.

It is restricted to thesis/antithesis/synthesis, which is only a tiny fraction of the creative potential in any situation.

I shall deal with this aspect in a later section; what concerns me here is the ‘judgement’ that puts things into the waiting boxes.

The waiting boxes are standard, fixed and stereotyped.

This means that we see things in a somewhat rigid and fixed way.

While this may make for convenience, it does not make for the most appropriate action.

The element of exploration is very restricted.

It is restricted to which boxes are relevant and which of these is to be used.

Complex situations are oversimplified and forced into standard boxes which simply ignore certain factors.

We are forced to look at the world with the perceptions, concepts and language which were set down in previous times.

Our experience has been frozen, fixed and fossilized into existing boxes.

Yet there is an absolute mathematical need to change these boxes.

We cannot do this, because as soon as we step outside the established boxes then the traditionalists point out the error.

So the traditional thinking method is excellent at defending and preserving its inadequacies — because it claims to have set the rules of the game: use these standard boxes.

People are forced to use the judgement/ box system because education has not developed and has not taught the exploration/design system.

The classification habits of psychologists, especially in the USA, are a clear example of this traditional habit.

Suppose you ‘judge’ people into different categories or boxes.

What does that mean?

Does it mean that you are not going to employ her because she is ‘right-brain’?

Does it mean that you do not put him into research because he is an ‘adaptor’ rather than an ‘innovator’?

Very quickly this becomes a dangerous form of intellectual racism.l am sure that the original developers of the tests used did not see them as discriminating devices and did not feel that ‘action’ should follow the judgement.

I am sure they regarded them only as ‘another factor’ in carrying out an exploration of a person’s capabilities.

Even then - I am not too happy, because such tests are based on ‘what is’ rather than ‘what can be’.

Should we test a person’s thinking ability or should we design methods which will increase that ability considerably?

I am much afraid that we are still too hung up on that ‘inner-truth’ belief which is more interested in what is there than in what can be put there.

In school we are always asking students to judge, to categorize, to analyze and to dissect.

There is far less emphasis on exploration, possibility, generation, creativity and design.

There is more emphasis on what things are than on what you can make things be.

This false emphasis arises directly from the Socratic notion that knowledge is virtue.

If you have knowledge then action is easy.

We pay much attention to literacy and numeracy but not to ‘operacy’.

This is a word invented many years ago to indicate the ‘skills of action’.

Design is a key aspect of operacy.

‘How do we design a way forward?’

People are forced to use the judgement/ box system because education has not developed and has not taught the exploration/design system.




21 Exploration vs. Judgement

‘I think that house is Georgian.’

‘It cannot be Georgian the windows are all wrong.’

‘I also think it is Victorian.’

‘It cannot be both Georgian and Victorian those styles are completely opposite.

Make up your mind.’

That short conversation illustrates the difference between exploration and judgement.

The exploring person is putting forward possibilities.

The judging person is using judgement in two distinct ways.

The first way is to judge the suggestion immediately and to reject it probably on good grounds.

The second way is to insist that two more or less mutually exclusive styles cannot coexist: there has to be a choice between them.

There are two (at least) types of conversation.

In the first type the other person challenges you at every point and will not let you get away with anything.

Every point has to be argued and proved.

In the second type the other person listens and does not interrupt.

When you have come to a conclusion, the other person might then come back to a point you have made a point on which the conclusion rests and ask you to prove that point.

We are taught to use judgement as a ‘gatekeeper’.

This gatekeeper checks the credentials of everything that we allow into our minds.

Everything has to be checked as true or false.

It is like a modern office building with tight security at the entrance.

The security has to be tight because once you have entered you are free to move around and no one bothers you any more.

There is only the ‘entry’ check, so it has to be very good.

That is how we have been taught to use judgement.

Consider the difference between a chain and a rope.

With a chain each and every link has to be sound, otherwise the chain is useless and will break.

With a rope, however, each strand does not have to be sound.

Some can be weak and the other strands will take the strain.

The rope is a ‘parallel’ system.

The chain is a sequential system.

In exploration you allow in possibilities.

They remain as possibilities.

Even mutually exclusive possibilities are allowed to enter and are laid alongside each other.

In the analogy of the building security, there would be no entrance check but every entrant would be regarded as a possible risk all the time he or she was in the building.

There would be no one-step security clearance.

There would be no gatekeeper function, and no permanent acceptance either.

All ‘possibilities’ would be regarded with suspicion.

This security analogy makes another important point.

With the gatekeeper use of judgement, once there has been clearance and something has been accepted as ‘true’ then that something is never re-examined.

That is how Socrates could make his points.

He got his listeners to accept one point after another.

If the listeners had once said ‘maybe’ then the whole chain would have collapsed.

The gatekeeper use of judgement leads to two possible errors:

1. We permanently reject something that is actually correct but perhaps within a different paradigm.

2. We permanently accept something which seems right at this moment in time but not in other circumstances.

It was to avoid this error that the sophists, and their equivalent today, preferred the relative notion of truth except in ‘game truth’ (where we set up things).

With parallel thinking we enrich the field with ‘possibilities’ and then proceed to design the most appropriate action or decision.

A stinking fish can stink out the whole refrigerator.

Similarly the acceptance of a false assumption can eventually wreck all the thinking based on it.

In the gatekeeper system, once we have put the fish in the refrigerator then we forget all about it.

In the parallel system, we keep everything out in the open and acknowledge that the fish may stink.

In the parallel system, we are not going to keep the fish around for any length of time.

The gatekeeper use of judgement can be an offensive weapon.

The arguer sets up dichotomies usually false and then forces the listener to choose between them.

‘This man is either honest or dishonest.’ 

‘Either we go into Europe or we do not.’ 

‘We give in to the union demands or we stand our ground.’

The listener is immediately given an either/or choice and tends to choose the most acceptable.

The speaker then has the listener where he or she wants the listener.

The next step proceeds.

Socrates used this very method almost all the time.

His listeners were constantly offered choices in which the ‘reasonable’ choice was much stronger than the ‘unreasonable’ one.

In this way Socrates edged his listeners along.

It is usually difficult for a listener to say ‘I want both of those.’

‘I don’t accept those choices.’

‘I see no need to make that choice at this point.’

In the traditional thinking system we see the very early use of judgement.

This is characteristic of the system.

This early use of judgement may serve either of two functions:

1. The gatekeeper function, to accept or reject what is offered.

2. The identifying function, to find the right ‘box’.

In any classification system there is a great deal of attention at the edges.

Does this go into box A or box B?

ls this a fruit or a vegetable?

Do I treat this as a personal expense or as a business expense?

A great deal of education and a great deal of philosophy is focused on just such discriminations.

This is absolutely essential in the judgement/box system.

You have to be sure where you are putting things, because they will stay there.

In the parallel system you would be less concerned at the beginning.

You would say: ‘Let us treat it as both A and B. ‘ 

You might make a copy and put one copy in file

A and another in file B. 

When all the factors have been collected and it is time to make a decision or to take action, only then does a decision have to be made.

It may be that part of the expense is a legitimate business expense and part is a personal expense.

We are used to classification ‘boxes’.

Something has to be in one box or another.

This point is a ‘plus’ point or a ‘minus’ point.

How can it be both?

But it can depending on the circumstance and the perspective.

Instead of classification boxes which are based on the judgement system, we can have exploratory windows.

You look out of window A and you see what you see.

You look out of window B and you see what you see.

There may be a lot of overlap.

Someone may see through window A what you see through window B.

It does not matter.

What is seen does not belong to A or to B: you are interested in the total view.

The windows are merely aids to getting a fuller view.

So when students use the PMI attention-directing tool there is not the intention to classify observed points as ‘plus’, ‘minus’ or ‘interesting’: the intention is deliberately to look through these ‘windows’ and to see what you see.

There may be overlap.

The same point may be found under different headings.

It is all a matter of emphasis and of sequence.

I am not ‘against’ judgement.

Judgement is an important mental operation and is essential at some points.

It is a matter of sequence.

Do we judge first or do we explore first and then judge after we have explored and after we have designed the action or decision?

The Socratic system was very concerned with judging right away possibly because it was intended to deal with subjects, like ethics, where this was somewhat more appropriate.

The difference is suggested in Figure 6.


As regards emphasis, we put far too much emphasis on judgement and far too little on exploration.

To suggest that we have to reject judgement in order to embrace exploration is to fall exactly into the trap set by the traditional thinking system, which insists that you must attack something in order to suggest something else.

Judgement is fine in its right place.

Judgement is very useful, but it is totally insufficient without exploration and generation of ideas.

Then there is the matter of the ‘outcome’ of the judgement.

Should this be the absolute certainty that we normally seek?

Should things be put into their ‘truth’ boxes?

Or should the outcome of judgement also be a ‘possibility’, but a rather stronger possibility than the exploration ‘possibility’?

‘I judge this to be true.’

‘I judge this to be a strong possibility.’

Judgement does not have to imply the true/false dichotomy with which Plato and the Gang of Three endowed it in order to escape the relativism of the sophists.

As in the analogy of the chain, judgement insists that we have to be ‘right’ at each stage.

In Figure 7 a motorist is proceeding along a narrow road.

There is a turning to the left, but obviously it leads backwards and away from the direction in which the motorist is proceeding, so the motorist rejects it.

Yet, with a helicopter view, we can see that the side road leads to a much better road that leads in the desired direction.

Should the motorist have explored the side road?


Probably not, because we have to use practical frames of judgement.

The purpose of the illustration is to show that judgement is a matter of ‘practicality’, not truth.

In ‘truth’ the side road was valuable.

As a practical strategy the side road could not be taken.

When driving along a motorway it is sometimes necessary to take a turning heading south when you really want to go north.

In this known context we accept the need to go in an apparently opposite direction.

The provocative techniques used in the deliberate creativity of lateral thinking seek to set up instabilities in order to get us out of the comfortable ruts of our usual patterns which have been formed by a particular sequence of experience.

There is the new word ‘po’ which invented many years ago to signal a provocative operation.

With provocation we are allowed to say things which we know to be incorrect in order to ‘move forward’ from the statement to a useful new idea.

The asymmetric nature of patterns in human perception makes something of the sort essential.

We might say:

‘Po cars have square wheels.’ 

‘Po the factory is downstream of itself.’

Having to be correct at every step makes creativity virtually impossible.

The first statement is totally contrary to our understanding of engineering principles.

The second statement is contrary to normal logic: how can something be in two places at the same time?

Judgement would have to throw out both statements as being total nonsense.

Yet from the first statement through the process of ‘movement’ (a formal mental operation) we move on to the concept of ‘intelligent suspension’ in cars.

Using ‘movement’ on the second provocation we move on to the idea that if a factory is built on the side of a river then the ‘input’ must be placed downstream of the ‘output’ so the factory is the first to get its own pollution and needs to take steps to clean it up.

Having to be correct at every step makes creativity virtually impossible.

The instant judgement of an emerging idea will almost always lead to rejection of that idea.

In the Six Hats system of exploration such rejection would not be permitted, because the ‘black’ hat would only come later.

It is not my intention here to go into the details of the techniques of lateral thinking, which have now been in use for many years with considerable success.

Those who are interested in that aspect should read the books indicated in the footnote fn 1

Having looked at the gatekeeper aspect of judgement, which is concerned with true/false and accept/reject, we come now to the identification role of judgement: into which ‘box’ does this go?

I have a fax machine with a little window which indicates what is going on.

When things are not going on, the window indicates ‘Error 003’.

I look this up and it says: ‘No recording paper.

Action: insert new recording paper.’ 

Or it might be ‘Error 127’.

I look this up and it says: ‘Facsimile terminal not compatible.

Action: contact the other operator.’ 

This is very sensible indeed.

How else is the operator going to know what is going on and how to take the right action?

The fax machine has itself identified the error.

Once the error has been identified then the action follows automatically from that identification.

The immediate use of judgement for box identification is exactly similar.

We make the diagnosis.

We make the judgement.

Once we have judged that something fits into a particular box or category then the subsequent action is preset, easy and automatic.

There are general boxes like ‘attractive’, ‘unpleasant’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’, with some general actions attached to them ‘seek out’, ‘take further’, ‘avoid’, ‘be careful’, etc.

In some cases animals react immediately, out of instinct, as soon as their senses have been given enough information to identify a situation.

The box/judgement system seeks to do the same for humans instant judgement to give identification and then instant action.

Life is this way simplified.

In a preceding section have dealt with the rigidities and dangers of the box system and its certainty.

It may be useful, however, to point out again that the action which follows from the box identification (‘He is an enemy’) is automatic and crude.

There is very little ‘design’ of action.

In fact the traditional thinking system believes that ‘knowledge’ is enough and that action is easy: you just move towards the good things and away from the bad ones.

That is why we have paid so little attention to ‘operacy’.

In contrast to the automaticity of the judgement/box method, with parallel thinking we enrich the field with ‘possibilities’ and then proceed to design the most appropriate action or decision.

When we have the proposed course of action, or decision, then we relate this to our needs, to the available information, to the situation.

This final stage is a sort of judgement or comparison process.

‘He has no experience running a hospital.

We should reject him.’

That would be the normal judgement approach.

‘His experience is in banking and in running a large hotel.’

‘He is good at getting things done.’

‘He gets on well with people.’

‘In a way a hospital is a sort of hotel.’

‘He can make decisions.’

‘The other applicants are very traditional.’

‘Having considered all the factors think we should try him out.’

The parallel exploration puts down many more factors.

This is in contrast to the judgement approach, which seeks, as soon as possible, for a basis for acceptance / rejection.

There is a fundamental difference between parallel thinking and the judgement-dominated traditional thinking system.

The latter arose directly from the concern for ‘truth’ which was so important to Plato and subsequently to the Church and to feudal societies.

It should also be remembered that the original purpose of education was that a small band of people in society (lawyers, scribes, thinkers) should ‘know’ things.

Such people would be called upon for their input when the people of action (kings, builders, merchants) needed a knowledge input.

This is very similar to a person today using a computer database to obtain information as required.

So it is not at all surprising that education has never been concerned with action, with design or with creativity.

Our admiration for a ‘classical education’ fossilizes that attitude.

Knowing has always been more important for education than exploring.

So judgement has been taught as the dominant feature in thinking.




23 Information vs. Ideas

Thinking is no substitute for information.

Information is essential.

Information has a high value.

Information is a ‘good thing’.

Since information is good, more information is even better.

There are people who believe that if you get enough information then the information will do your thinking for you.

Many people in business believe that.

Of course, if information really could make the decisions then we should not need people, because information in a computer would flow along to give the decision output.

This may happen in the future.

For the moment, the human being is a sort of junction who adds to the information, ideas, values and politics and then passes on to a decision.

In the past, information was the real bottleneck, so any improvement in information would lead to an improvement in thinking and in the quality of decisions.

Information access and handling (by computers) have widened that bottleneck.

So we move on to the next bottleneck.

This is ‘thinking’.

What do we do with the information?

Most people in business and government have not fully faced that change.

If information is good, more information is better.

This follows directly from the traditional thinking system.

In a different book (fn1) I have dealt with the problem of the ‘salt curve’.

Food with no salt tastes bad; some salt tastes good; too much salt tastes bad.

I indicated that traditional thinking has a very hard time with such situations.

In a previous section I mentioned how Socrates had trouble with the definition of bravery.

No knowledge meant that you were not brave, some knowledge meant you were brave, more knowledge might mean that you were not brave and so on.

There are times when too much information clutters up the system, obscures what is really important, and reduces flexibility.

If you have to go into the most minute details of every person you interview then the process is going to take so long that you are only able to interview a few people.

We love information because it is unquestionably valuable and it is easy to deal with — especially today.

Education loves information.

There was a time when it was possible for education to give a student virtually all the known scientific knowledge.

The attitude of accumulating all possible information has persisted even though it is, today, total nonsense to try to do so.

There is, however, a dilemma.

Everyone knows that a little bit more of information is very valuable.

So where do we draw the line and say that it is not practical to teach more information?

Where do we draw the line in order to say that we should spend time on teaching thinking skills rather than on teaching more information?

It is not at all easy — which is why it is not happening.

It is the concept through which we perceive the information that gives it any value.

Information is easy to handle.

There are books and libraries.

You can put a book before a student and keep the student busy that way.

The sheer mechanics of information are practical and attractive.

Ideas are a different matter.

How do we produce ideas on demand?

We can read about other people’s ideas, but that is information.

We may believe that ideas are a sort of divine inspiration over which we have no control.

That is an old-fashioned view.

We can design and produce ideas as easily as we can produce information or even more easily.

The deliberate and formal techniques of lateral thinking can do this and are currently being taught in some schools and colleges.

There is no mystery about the processes.

Many people still believe that analysis of information will, itself, create new ideas.

This is not so, since the brain can only see what it is prepared to see.

The analysis of information will allow us to select an idea from our repertoire of standard ideas but not to find a new idea.

To ‘see’ a new idea we have first to imagine or speculate, so that the idea has a brief existence in our mind.

Then we may be able to see the idea in the information.

This is why hypothesis and ‘possibility’ have played so dominant a role in scientific development.

Even today, people teach science as if it is all about collecting data and doing experiments.

Yet the key driving force of science is the ability to create hypotheses.

In practice it is very rare in any science course for students to be given training in creativity and in the generation of hypotheses.

Designing experiments and analyzing data are an important part of science, but the hypothesis comes first.

Nor is it always enough to have simplistic hypotheses like the hypothesis that X affects Y in some way.

A correlation might be shown, but real progress comes about only when some model can be conceived.

A stack of correlations is not worth much.

Yet most of science today is done on that basis.

The real work lies in imagining and testing mechanisms and models.

The analysis of information will allow us to select an idea from our repertoire of standard ideas but not to find a new idea.

Analysis of the sales of life insurance might suggest that single people are not heavy buyers.

Why should they be?

They have no families that might be affected by their sudden death.

So the insurance company sees no market in single people.

The analysis of information has shown ‘what is’ in the usual way.

But if the concept of life insurance is changed to include the ‘living-needs benefits’ concept devised by Ron Barbaro in Canada (using lateral thinking) then, suddenly, life insurance is very attractive to single people because it also becomes catastrophic-illness insurance.

The new concept is that if the insured person gets a serious illness which might be fatal then the insurance company will immediately pay out 75 per cent of the benefits which would otherwise be payable only on death.

This money can be used for medical care.

The mathematical analysis of queues has been well worked out in operations research.

It is possible to work out the waiting time, the number of serving positions needed, etc.

But analysis of this sort is not going to lead to the new idea of having an extra serving position indicating that if you want to be served at that position then you pay a small fee.

If too many people use that position the fee is raised.

The money collected goes to open a further serving position, so benefiting everyone else as well.

In this way someone in a hurry can set a value on his or her waiting time.

Ideas are organizing structures which put values and information together in new ways.

Ideas need creative effort.

Just collecting more information or analyzing it more thoroughly will not produce ideas.

This seems so obvious, and yet the bulk of our activity is spent on those activities and not on the generation of ideas.

It could be that we do not see the value of ideas.

This is hard to believe.

It could be that we hope that analysis and more information will produce the needed ideas.

Both experience and a simple understanding of the nature of self-organizing information systems will tell us that this is unlikely to be sufficient.

We may believe that only chance and genius can produce ideas and there is nothing we can do about it.

I suspect that this last belief is responsible for our lack of attention to serious creativity.

In all fairness, it has to be said that many of the approaches to creativity are so ‘inspirational’ and insubstantial that the field has something of a bad name.

The belief that it is enough just to be liberated and to mess around with brainstorming does not build confidence in serious creativity.

Yet those who want to investigate the field more thoroughly have an ample opportunity to do so.fn 2

As in so many points in this book, it is not an either/or matter of either information or ideas.

Both are needed.

But, as with so many of the points have sought to make about our traditional thinking system, we have been obsessed with just one aspect that is valuable but insufficient.

This was the case with criticism, with judgement, with analysis and now with information.

Socrates was not obsessed with the search for information, although he did work by collecting as many examples as he could of what he sought to define.

Our obsession with information arises more directly from the ‘search-for-the-truth’ idiom.

We believe that information is ‘truth’ and therefore the more information we have the nearer we come to that ‘full truth’ which will tell us what to do.

We forget the very close relationship between ideas and information.

It is the hypothesis idea which directs our search for information.

It is the perceptual truth which helps us to interpret the information and give it credibility.

It is the concept through which we perceive the information that gives it any value.

There is a further point which needs mentioning.

Universities only really got going at about the time of the Renaissance, although many had existed before.

It was the Renaissance that opened up universities to new and secular thinking.

Before that they had been largely concerned with theology and scripture.

At the Renaissance it was obvious to everyone that the best ideas were going to be obtained by looking backwards at what had been done by the Greek thinkers and the Roman doers.

So it was a unique period in history when looking backwards was indeed more progressive than looking forwards.

This practice has continued to this day and is dignified by the name of ‘scholarship’.

Work is valued mainly in terms of how competently it looks backwards and rarely on how well it might affect the future.

We esteem the value of collection more than we esteem the value of concepts.

The nonsense of this will be shown in the future when computer programs will be able to look through the literature, pick out all relevant papers, and then extract from them (through theme search) all relevant paragraphs and put these together as a scholarly work.

The library function which is the basis of so much university work will then be taken over by computers.

People should then be freed to think.



24 Movement vs. Judgement

Judgement is a well-recognized thinking operation.

‘Movement’ is a different mental operation that is used from time to time but is rarely recognized as a deliberate and useful thinking operation.

Judgement is concerned with ‘what is’.

Judgement compares a situation or a suggestion to past experience and gives a verdict of ‘match’ or ‘mismatch’: this fits or this does not fit.

Judgement is static.

Movement is concerned with ‘what can be’ or ‘what may be’.

Movement opens up possibilities.

Movement looks at where the situation or suggestion leads.

What follows next?

The judgement system is what I call ‘rock logic’, fn1 because rock is static and has permanence.

The movement system is what I call ‘water logic’, because water is concerned with flow.

The key word in the judgement system becomes ‘is’.

The words ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘true’ and ‘false’, are really convenience versions of ‘is’.

The key word in the movement system becomes ‘to’.

‘Where does this lead to?’

Judgement is concerned with establishing the solidity of each step in terms of past experience.

Movement races ahead to open up possibilities that can come together as a new idea.

Judgement is about description.

Movement is about creation.

We can say that sugar is white (or brown), but can we say that sugar is sweet?

What we are really saying is that if we put the substance in our mouth it would give us the sensation of sweetness.

So, in a sense, sugar ‘leads to’ the sensation of sweetness.

Only sight and smell give instant appreciation; other qualities involve a ‘test situation’.

If you say that a suitcase is heavy, this is because you have lifted it already or you think that if you tried to lift it the case would be heavy.

You can say that shoes are black, or seem big, or are smelly.

But if you say that shoes are comfortable or expensive then you are putting the shoes into a special situation; wearing them or buying them.

These special situations or test situations occur in our mind.

It is in the inner world of perception that we run our thought experiments, which may look forward into the future or backwards into the past.

It is in the inner world of perception that the operation of ‘movement’ becomes important.

Quite often in the outer world of reality one thing may lead to another.

An insult may lead to a fight.

A puncture will lead to stopping the car.

A prize may lead to joy.

But in the inner world of the patterns of perception one thing almost always leads to another.

It is in the inner world of perception that we run our thought experiments, which may look forward into the future or backwards into the past.

Imagine a knife lying on a table.

HaIf an hour later that same knife is still lying on the table.

Nothing has happened.

But in the world of perception as soon as you see the knife several possible ‘movements’ occur.

You may wonder how it got there.

If it is a domestic type of knife you may think of food.

If it is an ugly knife you may think of violence.

The inner world of your mind moves on from the knife to something.

This movement may be passive, as in association, significance and meaning.

What we see triggers a train of associations.

What I am concerned with here is the ‘active’ use of movement as a deliberate mental operation.

Judgement can be instant and automatic or it can be deliberate.

The same applies to movement.

We use movement as a deliberate operation to open up possibilities for the exploration and creativity of parallel thinking?

‘What follows?

‘What does this lead to?’

“What does this open up?’

‘What are the possibilities?’

‘Where do we go from here?’ ‘Movement’ is a very valuable operation in creative thinking.

With the provocative techniques of lateral thinking, movement is essential.

In provocation we use the signal word ‘po’ to indicate a provocation, which is a statement we make purely for its ‘forward effect’ (to see what happens next).

In seeking to generate some new concepts for restaurants, we might put forward the provocation, ‘Po a restaurant without food.’

Judgement would immediately reject that idea on at least two grounds: 1.

There would be no reason for anyone to go.

2. Without food it would not be a restaurant at all.

Judgement might also add that even if people did go how would you get any payment from them?

It would be the correct role of judgement to relate this suggestion to our current experience.

It is not enough to judge.

You cannot grow a garden just by wielding the shears.

You do have to plant things from time to time.

Many traditional approaches to creativity, like brainstorming, would therefore insist on ‘suspension’ of judgement in order to avoid this instant rejection.

But that is very weak.

Suspending judgement is not itself an operation.

What we need is the active mental operation of ‘movement’.

If the restaurant does not provide food then that ‘leads us on’ to the idea that the customers bring their own food.

This leads us on to the idea that the restaurant is a conveniently placed, well-decorated, indoor picnic place.

Just as people might picnic on a riverbank in summer, so in winter they come to ‘picnic’ in the restaurant.

The restaurant charges them for admission and service.

The restaurant might provide the plates, etc., and possibly the drinks.

We can ‘move’ further.

Where are the people going to get the food from?

Perhaps they could buy the food from a whole range of takeaway vendors outside.

This would now resemble the hawker restaurants in Singapore.

Or they might buy frozen food from a nearby supermarket and each table in the restaurant would be equipped with a microwave oven.

There are various frames of ‘movement’ which go beyond simply association.

One frame is to seek to extract a ‘principle’ or ‘concept’ and then to work forward with this.

‘Po the restaurant has rude waiters.’

The extracted principle is that the waiters have a definite personality and are not polite and invisible.

From this we move forward to the waiters/waitresses being actors who perform a defined role.

This role is described on the menu, and you can order your waiter/waitress just as you order a dish.

You might choose a quarrelsome waiter in order to impress your guests with your macho style.

You might choose a comedienne waitress for amusement.

You might choose an eccentric waiter for the pleasure of surprise.

Another frame for ‘movement’ is to imagine the provocation being put into effect and watching what happens ‘moment to moment’ in order to move on to a new idea.

‘Po the restaurant has no plates.’

We could simply move on to the idea of eating off scrubbed wooden surfaces or banana leaves.

This is not particularly interesting.

We could imagine someone going to a restaurant that was known to have no plates.

So the customer brings the plates.

Now you would not want to be carrying plates around all the time, so you leave your plates in the restaurant and dine off them when you go to that restaurant.

From that we ‘move’ on to a restaurant for business entertaining.

A company has its plates embossed with its logo and special design.

These plates are stored in the restaurant.

Business entertaining takes place on your own plates.

From the restaurant’s point of view this also means that you would tend to do all your entertaining in that restaurant.

There are other frames for ‘movement’ such as: focus on the difference, special circumstances, positive aspects, etc.

These are covered in specific books on the techniques of lateral thinking.fn 2

In ‘movement’ we are really saying to ourselves: ‘In this frame, where do we move to from this starting-point?’

There does not have to be a specified frame, and some people become very good at movement without needing to specify a frame.

But movement is much more than just casual association.

While skill in movement is essential in lateral thinking and very valuable in any sort of creativity, it is also of a more general value.

The purpose of movement is to suggest things and to open up possibilities.

This is all part of the exploratory process of parallel thinking.

The possibilities generated exist in their own right in parallel.

Not all are valuable.

Not all are feasible.

Not all are probable.

Those that are not valuable, not feasible and not interesting will contribute little to the design of the final outcome.

A buffet table can hold a wide variety of food.

You put together your meal from a selection of the items.

In the same way the final design of the outcome in parallel thinking is under no obligation to use or attend to all the possibilities that have been generated.

You see the landscape and you choose your route.

Traditional thinking places the emphasis on judgement and the need to be right at every step.

With creativity, you do not need to be right at every step so long as the final idea has value.

We do not need to derive the value of the final idea from the validity of each step on the way there.

We can assess the final idea in its own right.

What does it offer?

What are the risks?

What are the costs?

On the way to the final idea we may use provocations which we know to be ‘wrong’, but these act as stepping stones not judgement points.

With the mental operation of movement we go forward from such points.

Movement has a generating function.

It is not enough to judge.

You cannot grow a garden just by wielding the shears.

You do have to plant things from time to time.

It is a fundamental weakness of the traditional thinking system that it is so poor at generating.

The attempted synthesis of thesis and antithesis is a very weak generating technique, both because its application is limited and because the process is not creative.




30 Designing a Way Forward

If thinking is going to serve its various purposes then we need to move forward from the field of ‘parallel possibilities’ to the desired outcome.

This is where ‘design’ comes in.

In a previous section I contrasted design with analysis.

I indicated that analysis is concerned with ‘what is’, whereas design is concerned with ‘what can be’.

I indicated that the traditional search for the ‘truth’ is like prospecting for gold.

Worthy as this may sometimes be, it is not the same as designing and constructing a house.

You are not going to ‘discover’ a house you have to make it happen.

In general, use of the term ‘design’ is sometimes restricted to graphic design, theatre design, dress design, industrial design, etc.

Very often these aspects of design deal with the visual aspect, though the functional aspect is also important. 

Design is often seen to be a cousin of ‘art’.

In this book I am using the word ‘design’ in the broad and strong sense in which believe it should be used.

For me, design is ‘bringing something into being to serve a purpose’.

While design may be creative, it does not have to be.

The emphasis is on making something happen.

It is not enough just to judge, criticize, refute and search.

You actually have to do something.

I have sought to show in this book that our traditional thinking system in its obsession with the ‘search for the truth’ has paid insufficient attention to developing the thinking skills needed for design.

Society cannot thrive on judgement alone. 

In times of rapid change like the present, the need for design is more important than ever.

Judgement may just be enough to resist change but not enough to benefit from change.

In this section shall be dealing with design in a narrower sense: how we design an outcome from the field of parallel possibilities.

Traditional Western thinking, in its pure form, does not have or need a design stage.

Each step follows the last step with a judgement as to whether the step is true/false, right/wrong.

It is like a mason making sure that each stone is squarely and truly based on the preceding stone: ‘If this is so then this is so.’

In practice, of course, the purity of the traditional thinking method is contaminated by various attempts to generate alternatives, etc.

This is regarded as ‘somehow happening’, often aided by a simplistic analysis which assumes that you can either do something or not do it.

Society cannot thrive on judgement alone.

Judgement may just be enough to resist change but not enough to benefit from change.

With parallel thinking the design stage is very important, because without it the parallel-possibility stage has only a small value.

Several things may happen in the design stage of parallel thinking:

1. The outcome becomes obvious.

2. The outcome organizes itself.

3. The outcome needs to be designed deliberately.

If you go to a store to buy some clothes you may look through a variety of styles and try on different sizes.

If you have to make a decision you will need to consider price, utility, color, style, practicality, size, etc.

This is the hard way of making a choice.

Occasionally, however, you find exactly what you want: right style, right color, right size and right price.

The same often applies to buying a house.

Usually you have to try to convince yourself to buy the most practical choice.

Once again you consider all the factors.

Occasionally you fall in love with a house at first sight.

There are those who claim that marriage can also happen in either of those two ways: careful assessment or instant love.

The same thing can happen with the parallel possibilities.

The desired outcome can spring directly, and without further consideration, from the field of parallel possibilities.

It may depend on one of the possibilities or on a simple combination of possibilities.

Your travel agent tells you of the different ways you could get from Malta to Mexico City.

One of them stands out as being obviously the best.

A good map of a holiday country helped by advice from the locals will lay out the ‘landscape’ of the tour you want to make.

Designing the best route may be easy.

Thinking is not always difficult.

Thinking does not have to be difficult.

Traditional thinking often makes things much more difficult than they need to be, because traditional thinking is so poor at generating options and possibilities.

It is far easier to select from a wide range of possibilities than to reason your way to a good choice.

In practice, it is surprising how often the structured parallel thinking of the Six Hats method leads directly to a decision or outcome without any conscious design effort.

The outcome seems obvious when the possibilities have been laid out.

The second way in which the field of parallel possibilities can proceed to a useful outcome is through the process of ‘self-organizing’.

This is an unusual concept for those who believe that nothing happens unless at every moment we are making it happen.

The more we know about the brain, the more we come to realize that in at least some of its behavior it is a self-organizing information system.

That means that information organizes itself into patterns, flows and outcomes.

Those interested in these particular aspects could read about them in my other books fn1 

Rain falling on to a virgin landscape eventually organizes itself into streams, tributaries and a river.

The river gets to the sea.

In exactly the same way, input laid out as parallel possibilities can sometimes organize itself into an outcome.

Sometimes two ‘rivers’ form and there is a double outcome.

We then have to choose between the two.

In life, designers and artists sometimes work this way.

They saturate their minds with the different ingredients, needs and possibilities and then wait for everything to organize itself into an outcome.

To help this process, we just read through the field of parallel possibilities over and over again and wait for some outcome to start forming.

The process is not as rapid or as complete as with the instant outcome mentioned previously.

There may be a stage in which a general concept forms and this gradually refines down into a practical outcome.

In the future we shall certainly have computer software which will allow a field of parallel possibilities to organize itself into a useful outcome.

Along with others, I am working on just such software.

In a sense, today’s neural-network computers do that by allowing experience over time to organize itself as a way of processing information.

There are some simple and easy-to-use techniques which we can apply in order to help possibilities to organize themselves.

One such technique is the ‘flowscape’ technique.’ Fn2

This is directly based on ‘water logic’ and how one perception flows to another.

A simple flowscape can be constructed around some of the notions put forward in this book.

A Judgement is not enough. B

B There has to be something to be judged. C

C The generation of ideas is important. I

D We are complacent about our judgement system. E

E The system is good at defending itself within its own rules. D

F Generation of ideas involves possibility. G

G Possibilities need to interact. H

H Design can only be judged as a whole. B

I Both idea-generation and design are needed. A

J ‘What is’ does not ensure ‘what can be’. E


Figure 17

Each possibility is simply connected to one other possibility.

The resulting flowscape is shown in Figure 17.

At once it becomes obvious that, in the thinking of the person constructing the flowscape, the judgement system is content to defend itself and disregards the need for ideas.

We can also see that what is to be judged depends on both idea-generation and the design process.

The flowscape makes visible a structure in the thinking.

Sometimes this is obvious; often it produces a new insight.

Is this flowscape ‘true’?

It may give a reasonable picture of the thinking of the person making the flowscape, but even that is not certain.

But the important question to ask is not ‘Is it true?’ but ‘What happens next?’

The answer to this question may be highly useful and practical.

There is no point in trying to attack a system that is valid and content within its own framework.

The best approach is to show how the system is excellent but inadequate on the generative and constructive side of thinking.

One of the functions of the flowscape is to suggest the key points and the sensitive points.

These are the points that contribute most.

We can then focus attention on these points.

For example, we would need to check out these points.

Are they valid?

This is much simpler than checking out all points when some of them contribute very little.

Design is concerned with the following types of consideration:

‘What does this contribute?’ 

‘Can these be “combined”?’

“What are the values and concepts?’ ‘Is this valid?’

‘What does the outcome lead to?’

Design may have more than one stage.

In one-stage design we go straight from the field of parallel possibilities to an outcome.

In two-stage design we may go from the field of parallel possibilities to some alternatives and then proceed to choose from the alternatives.

In three-stage design we may first establish some concepts, then form some alternatives and finally make a choice between the alternatives.

There is no need at all to categorize these different sequences: it is enough to realize that sometimes you cannot go straight to the outcome.

The first step in design is usually one of comparison.

We look across the parallel possibilities to see how they compare one with the other.

We look for similarities.

Some of the possibilities may be saying the same thing in a different way.

Some are complementary or supplementary to each other.

Some may focus on a broad concept, and others on a particular example of the same concept.

This consideration of similarities may lead to the emergence of a more general concept which covers many of the possibilities.

There is no pressure to achieve this the exercise is not one of ‘grouping’ possibilities but such a concept may emerge naturally and can then take its place in the field as a possibility.

In contrast to the great readiness of traditional thinking to throw out one side of the contradiction, in the design process we seek to extract maximum value from both sides of any contradiction.

After considering similarities we can focus on differences.

These may vary from a difference of emphasis to possibilities that are contradictory, mutually exclusive and totally incompatible.

We explore the basis for the difference.

Perhaps it is looking at a different part of the same picture.

Perhaps the circumstances or context might be different.

‘He is a smoker.’

‘He is not a smoker.’

It turns out that he smokes at home but never in the office.

The two mutually exclusive statements turn out to be perfectly compatible.

After examining and seeking to understand the differences, there is an attempt to see if they can coexist.

It is not a matter of choosing between them or establishing which one is true and which one is false.nThe key question is: What do they contribute to the possible outcome?’

An attempt is made to reconcile out-and-out contradictions.

Are both positions valid but at different times, under different circumstances or for different people?

Can both be used?

Is it not possible to use both a carrot and a stick?

In contrast to the great readiness of traditional thinking to throw out one side of the contradiction, in the design process we seek to extract maximum value from both sides of any contradiction.

Sometimes we may need to create a third or further concept to embrace both the contradictory concepts.

For example, to embrace both ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ we might have the concept ‘inducements to change present behavior’.

Carrot and stick now become alternative ways of carrying through that concept.

A worker may leave a company and not leave a company.

The worker can retire but immediately come back as a consultant.

The creation of new concepts is very much part of the design process.

Sometimes the new concept can be expressed neatly.

At other times it may be expressed as a phrase, such as ‘some way of separating the strongly motivated from those who just go along’.

We then seek ways of bringing it about.

We can express a need as ‘something’ or ‘some way’.

“We need some way of giving benefit to those who park outside the city centre.’

“We need something to prevent cars heating up in the sun.’

“We need some way of communicating with the local leaders.’

If we cannot reconcile contradictions and cannot show one side to be invalid, then we proceed to design an outcome which covers both possibilities.

‘We cannot decide whether he is competent for this job or not.

We can give him a trial period, we can monitor his progress closely, we can give him a competent assistant, etc.’

In practice, once you reject the either/or choices of traditional thinking, contradictions are not as great a difficulty as they may seem.

After comparison, we may proceed to extract values and concepts.

Sometimes we may want to do this before the comparison stage.

Sometimes we may have the comparison stage, then extract concepts and values and then compare again.

Some possibilities may already have been expressed in concept form.

From almost anything that has been offered as a parallel it is possible to extract one or more concepts.

You can even go from a concept to a broader concept.

From the concept of ‘road metering’, in which an electronic device records how much road a car has used during a given period, we can go to the broader concept of charging cars by their use.

In the design process, concepts are much easier to deal with than detail.

You cannot change detail but you can change concepts.

You can make a concept broader, you can modify a concept, you can combine concepts.

For example, there is no need to list every single flight from London to Paris.

It is enough to talk of ‘a regular and convenient air service between London and Paris’.

Skill in working with concepts is essential for the design process.

Concepts are groupings and organizations of experience which allow us to see things in a certain way and to seek for certain types of action.

If you are looking for ‘food’, you are more likely to find something to eat than if you are looking only for ‘a bar of chocolate’.

And if you are looking only for ‘a bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate’ your chances will be even less.

Creativity can come in at any point in the design process.

There can also be defined creative needs: ‘We need a new idea to limit the mobility of teenagers in order to reduce crime.’

The creative need can be pinpointed and then the techniques of lateral thinking n3 can be used in a formal and deliberate way to generate new concepts and new ideas.

During the design process it is worth pinpointing areas of creative need: ‘We need some way of reducing street begging.’

That becomes a creative focus.

The outcome of the creative effort is added into the design process.

To be useful, a designed outcome must have a ‘value’.

From where does this value come?

It comes from the values involved in the situation and these include the different values of the different parties involved and from the values of the group or person doing the thinking.

In the case of an agreed problem then the value of the solution rests on its ability to solve the problem.

Has the problem been removed?

This sense of ‘value’ is constantly present during the design process, but it is not used as an accept/reject criterion for every suggestion.

It is part of the design process.

A fundamental aspect of the design process is to extract the values of the parties involved.

In the case of a conflict, there are the values of those involved directly, the values of those caught up in the conflict, the values of third parties, etc.

In negotiation, the values of those involved are central to the whole process.

The different parties have different values. 

Successful negotiation means designing an outcome which satisfies the different values.

Occasionally it may be useful to design and insert a ‘new value’.

Values such as ‘gain’, ‘security’, ‘flexibility’, ‘status’, ‘recognition’, ‘dignity’ are all important.

How do these contribute to the design?

How are these taken care of in the design?

It is not only in negotiation or in conflict that values matter.

With any change whatsoever the values of those who are going to carry out the change and the values of those affected by the change are important.

Then there are the values of the organization: time, cost, disruption, image, etc.

Excellent abstract designs which do not take values into account remain unusable.

Values are not fixed absolutes.

Values can be added to.

Values can be changed.

There can be a trade-off in values where one value is given up in favor of another.

Values can be enhanced.

Values are not always obvious.

Sometimes even the person for whom a value applies is not aware of that value, because it is hidden or taken for granted.

‘Freedom from fear’ is seen as a value only when it is threatened.

In the end, concepts are only ways of delivering ‘value’.

So value is at the heart of the design process.

But, just as the enjoyment of a meal is the ultimate test of the value of the ‘meal outcome’, So the effectiveness of the thinking process depends on the values provided at the end.

The meal requires a lot of preparation, including assembling and preparing the ingredients and then cooking them.

In the same way the design process may be complicated in order to deliver simple values at the end.

There are several broad strategies of design. 

1. Look to the desired or ideal outcome and work backwards.

2. Design around the dominant theme or value and fit the others in.

3. Try to combine the different needs and values and see what the result looks like.

Improve and modify as required.

4. Move ahead with a tentative design and allow the pressures of evolution to improve it.

5. Produce alternative designs and then compare them to each other and to the needs.

6. Select and borrow a standard design.

Modify as required.

7. Identify the key point, design to fit that and then build the rest of the design around this point.

8. Simplify and strip the requirements to the bare essentials and deal only with these.

Elaborate later.

9. Play around and try out different arrangements in an almost arbitrary fashion.

Wait for some design to emerge.

10. Produce any design and then respond to criticism of this design by changing it as required.

There are many more strategies.

There is no one right strategy.

Different situations and different styles will make one or other seem more appropriate on any one occasion.

I have left until this point the business of checking the validity of a possibility.

This is because the role of that possibility in the final design will determine how thoroughly it needs to be checked.

If the possibility is central to the design then the checking has to be thorough.

This is the same as for checking a hypothesis or any other type of possibility.

We devise a way of checking it just as we might design an experiment.

So at this point we do make a strong effort to see whether some possibility is valid.

If we are unable to complete this checking process then our design has to incorporate the two possibilities: that the point is valid; that the point is not valid.

The design should not depend on the validity of a point which has not been checked unless we need to take action and are prepared to take a known risk about this.

Let us consider some parallels in the area of employment?:

Big companies and governments are shedding people in the search for efficiency.

Modern technology means that fewer people are needed in production.

Many items can be made in countries with lower costs and lower social welfare and then be imported.

Competition seeks out the lowest-cost production.

Some people registered as unemployed are working in the black economy.

There are not enough jobs to go round.

Some people are not qualified for today’s jobs.

Some people have got used to not working.

The change from unemployment to work may be too small to act as a motivator.

Income transfer through tax and welfare is inefficient.

As for values, we can find:

The value of work to the worker.

The value of work to society in providing goods or services.

The value of goods and services to the consumer.

The value of lower taxes if welfare costs are lower.

The value of lower unemployment to the government in terms of costs and votes.

There are other values involved.

As for concepts, we can find: 

Fewer jobs available, due to the search for efficiency, competitive pressures, technology and low-cost imports.

Weakness of income transfer mechanisms through taxes and unemployment benefits.

Again, many other concepts could be extracted.

The designed outcome could include a range of options:

1. Methods for sharing existing jobs, with more leisure, etc. (early retirement, shared jobs, part-time, cafeteria-style, etc.).

2. Methods for creating new jobs that provide real value for society, and new ways of paying for these non-commercial jobs.

3. Limiting job loss through protectionism.

4. Job creation through support of small businesses.

5. Accepting some unemployment as a fact of life and a way of life.

The most interesting option of creating new jobs and finding non-commercial ways of paying for them sets another thinking task.

The whole process of parallel thinking would then start again.

Creativity would now play a large part both in contributing possibilities and then in designing forward from the field of possibilities.

In the course of such a creative exercise we might put forward such concepts as ‘work design’ as a new profession and ‘separate economic loops with their own currency’.

The point is that the way forward does not have to be contained within the present situation.

We need not proceed only from analysis to problem-solving.

The whole generative part of thinking should be allowed to make its contribution.

We are not simply ‘searching for the truth’ but designing possible ways forward.

The design process does not only include the design of outcomes from the field of parallel possibilities.

As indicated, we may design alternatives as possible outcomes.

We may need to design priorities and ways of choosing between the alternatives.

We may need to design ways of testing our choices.

The final step of the design process is to ask: 

‘What does this lead to?’

We look to see what the outcome of the whole parallel-thinking process leads towards.

It may be a better understanding of the situation.

It may be a solution to a problem.

It may be a way of achieving an objective.

It may be a ‘design’ for something.

It may be the resolution of a conflict or an agreement in a negotiation.

Or the thinking process may have defined new areas for further thinking.

Sometimes we may be unable to offer a satisfactory designed outcome.

At other times an outcome may be offered but is known to be far from perfect.

What I want to emphasize is that in parallel thinking the focus is on the design process and not on the power politics of adversarial argument or on the analysis/ judgement search for the truth.

It is not a matter of ‘finding’ the solution but of ‘designing the way forward’.




31 Wisdom vs. Cleverness

Do you have to be ancient with a long white beard before you can be wise?

Can wisdom be taught, or does it arise from the accumulated experience of many years?

What do we mean by wisdom?

Traditionally, Western thinking has concentrated on cleverness rather than wisdom.

What irritated the Athenians (some of them) about Socrates was that he was a ‘clever’ fellow.

Whatever you said, Socrates would find a way to challenge and to refute it.

Some of this refutation was clever wordplay and some was based on fallacious reasoning.

Some was sound.

There was no doubt, however, that Socrates was a clever fellow.

He was trained as a sophist, which had something to do with this, because the sophists prided themselves on cleverness and taught cleverness in argument as a way of exerting power.

Socrates thought of himself as ‘wise’ because the oracle at Delphi had told him ‘that no man was wiser than Socrates’.

He reckoned that this wisdom lay in recognizing his own ignorance.

He then proceeded to reduce this ignorance through a method of ‘cleverness’.

Cleverness is like a sharp-focus lens.

Wisdom is like a wide-angle lens.

Western thinking has been much concerned with puzzles, problem-solving and the search for the truth.

The puzzles may range from complex self-generated philosophical conundrums to scientific investigation.

In other areas there are ‘problems to be solved’.

In North American psychology all thinking is termed ‘problem-solving’, which reflects the action orientation of a pioneer country.

There has to be an ‘answer’.

We have to get to the ‘answer’.

It could be claimed, with some justification, that this concern with cleverness has produced the scientific and technological progress of the West (even though this did not arise directly from the traditional thinking system).

Puzzles are there to be ‘solved’.

A picture is there to be enjoyed.

Because of this cleverness/puzzle focus of Western thinking, we always want a definite outcome from our thinking.

‘What is the solution?’ ‘What is the decision?’ ‘What is the truth?’

In the preceding section I described how the design process would work on a field of parallel possibilities in order to design a finite outcome.

The intention would, indeed, be to get as finite an outcome as possible.

This is fully in line with the normal intention of Western thinking.

That is as it should be, because if parallel thinking is being put forward as an alternative to the Socratic method then parallel thinking must also be able to produce a finite outcome.


The advantage of parallel thinking, however, is that it is not restricted to ‘cleverness’.

Parallel thinking also works towards ‘wisdom’.

Wisdom is a way of thinking, not just an accumulation of experience.

Most people suppose that if you set out with the formal techniques of lateral thinking to generate a needed new idea then the value of your thinking is determined by the values of the ideas generated in such a creative thinking session.

In fact, the value of the creative thinking session goes far beyond this.

In addition to the specific new ideas generated there is a range of new concepts, new possibilities, new approaches and new beginnings of ideas that have been brought into being in your mind during that creative session.

Even if these are not immediately useful, they greatly expand your ‘creative experience’ around that subject.

Your ‘local wisdom’ is greatly increased.

Whenever you come to consider that subject again there is a greater repertoire of concepts and possibilities.

Your ‘mental garden’ is better stocked with plants.

Part of wisdom is having a richer mental stock of possibilities, models, metaphors, concepts and ways of looking at things.

Because of this richer stock of ‘patterns’, you can see the world in different ways.

It is true that the normal way of acquiring such mental ‘richness’ is through living a long time.

But such richness can be acquired much more quickly through deliberate creative effort.

Just as creative thinking develops a ‘local wisdom’ around some subject, so the field of parallel possibilities helps directly to develop wisdom.

Instead of proceeding step by step, as in traditional thinking, there is, from the beginning, a broad view of the whole situation.

Because there is no gatekeeper judgement of true/false, the field of possibilities can be large.

Every possibility provides a ‘hypothesis’ through which to look at the world.

As with science, that hypothesis may eventually be found to be useful or less useful, but the value of the hypothesis is as a way of ‘seeing’.

So parallel thinking can also have the valuable output of a broader vision of the subject even when no finite outcome is intended or reached.

Many of the Socratic dialogues ended in failure because Socrates could refute all suggested ‘definitions’ that were offered to him.

It was claimed that the discussion was nevertheless useful because a lot of ground had been covered in intelligent discussion.

But a succession of refutations merely destroys ‘weeds’ but does not grow anything.

In parallel thinking, the growing of possibilities does enrich the field of consideration.

Similarly the Socratic method of a series of guiding questions to lead the listener to the hoped-for answer is said to be a good teaching method.

I am not sure that it is.

The listener has simply done what he or she has been told, subtly, to do.

Frameworks for genuine exploration of the subject by the student are possibly much more effective.

Can wisdom be taught?

I believe that it can.

The perception-broadening tools of the CoRT Thinking Lessons fn1 work towards this.

If you always consider the purpose of your thinking, the factors involved, the people involved, your priorities and a range of alternatives, then you are going to be a great deal wiser than if you do not.

If the thinking tools of the CoRT method become attention-directing habits then there is the ‘operation’ of wisdom which will itself accumulate experience and make good use of it.

In practice the wisdom of even young children using the CoRT method is astonishing to observe.

The concepts produced are not only fresh but also very relevant.

It becomes obvious that wisdom is a way of thinking, not just an accumulation of experience.

Wisdom looks around broadly, and into the future beyond the immediate consequences.

Wisdom is concerned with context and with circumstances.

Wisdom looks at interconnections and interplay.

Wisdom looks at possibilities and alternatives.

Wisdom holds different possibilities in mind and has no need to choose one and to throw out the others.

Wisdom considers the behavior of non-linear systems instead of forcing everything into the linear model.

Wisdom involves doubts and guesses and some risk-taking.

Wisdom does not set out to ‘prove’ things but to follow possibilities.

Wisdom is pragmatic, not authoritarian.

Japanese business has a much longer-term perspective than American business.

This is partly because the short-term demands of the quarterly stock reports needed by the American stock exchanges are absent.

Shareholders in Japan exert much less pressure than in America.

But part of this longer-term perspective is the ‘wisdom’ of a broader picture.

There is less emphasis on being ‘smart’ and making a fast buck.

When it comes to wisdom, Eastern thinking has tended to put more emphasis on this than has been the case in the West.

This has meant an understanding and an acceptance of the world.

There has been a willingness to adapt to the world rather than to change the world.

Sometimes this has taken the form of ‘changing yourself’ rather than the world around.

All this is different from the ‘activism’ of Western thinking, which sets out to wrest the truth from the world and then to use that to change the world.

There does not, however, have to be an either/or dichotomy.

We do not have to choose between cleverness or wisdom.

There are times when we need cleverness and there are times when we need wisdom.

My point is that the very nature of Western thinking with its analysis, judgement, boxes and truth search has pushed us, inevitably, towards cleverness and away from wisdom.

Parallel thinking, with its generation of possibilities, its overlaps and its emphasis on ‘what can be’, provides a way of getting back to wisdom.




32 Dialectic vs. Parallels

Talking is fun and enjoyable.

But how important is talking for thinking?

We know that language is both a great help and a great hindrance to thinking.

It is a help because it allows us to hold on to and to manipulate complex matters.

It is a help because it allows us to create concepts which do not exist in the outer world.

It is a help because it allows us to operate the circular basis of perceptual truth.

Language is a hindrance when it forces us to see things in particular ways.

Language is a hindrance when a word comes with a lot of baggage and emotional shading (as with the word ‘fascist’).

It is a hindrance when it permits false analogies and either/or strategies.

I have dealt with some of these aspects elsewhere. fn 1

Dialectic is supposed to be the essence of the Socratic method.

In Plato’s brilliant fiction, Socrates is always involved in a dialectical discussion with various others.

It is this interplay in terms of questions, answers, agreements and disagreements that is supposed to be the process which is going to lead to the ‘true definitions’ that Socrates sought.

At times, however, Socrates might just as well have been preaching.

He would make statements and then put them as questions, seeking agreement: ‘Is this not so?’.

I have covered that point in a previous section.

The point I want to cover here is whether conversational interchange is so important for thinking as Socrates, and others, believed.

Thinking on your own is boring and requires a lot of self-discipline.

Conversation is fun and it is lively.

Someone may be able to think of something which is new to you.

Someone else’s remark may trigger new ideas.

But you have to be more careful of what you say, because it could be challenged.

We might summarize some of the aspects as?

1. Stimulation.

2. Additional ideas.

3. Challenge and attack.

4. Examples.

5. Suggestions.

All these aspects arise from the nature of the Western thinking tradition.

Because the production of ideas and possibilities is weak in traditional thinking, we need other people to put forward the possibilities.

Otherwise they are not going to appear.

This is similar to brainstorming, where you need many people to produce many ideas if you do not have the deliberate creative tools of lateral thinking.

Because ‘truth’ is partly going to be reached by rejecting ‘untruth’, there is a need for the ‘untruth’ to be seen to be rejected.

The better the untruth is defended, the more valuable its rejection.

There is a need to lead someone step by step through a logical process in order to show how a conclusion has been reached.

Even genuine exploratory discussions can be considerably speeded up by using the frames of parallel thinking.

Strictly speaking, in parallel thinking there is no need for anyone else to be around.

There is no need for questions to direct your attention, because there are specific attention-directing frames (as in the Six Hats method and also in CoRT).

A subject can be thoroughly explored by a thinker entirely on his or her own.

You direct your own attention.

With regard to additional ideas, additional suggestions and additional examples, these can be generated deliberately using the formal techniques of lateral thinking.

Formal creative thinking does not need a group.

With regard to refutation and lawyer-type argument, this is not part of parallel thinking anyway.

How can a suggestion be thoroughly examined unless there are those who defend the idea and those who attack it?

This point has been covered in a previous section.

The simple answer is that a frame like the Six Hats encourages the same thinker to explore both the benefits of the idea and also the dangers.

Because there is no ‘need’ to have other people around when using parallel thinking does not mean that there is no merit in having people around.

It is more fun to think in groups.

Less self-discipline is required.

People do provide additional parallel possibilities.

Someone else’s remark may trigger an idea of your own.

My preference is for group meetings which alternate between individual thinking and group interaction.

What surprises most people who actually watch a parallel-thinking session is that the session is so lively and so motivated.

Those who have been brought up to believe that interest comes only from ‘clash’ are surprised to find that the generation of parallel possibilities can be even more motivating because the hostile element is missing.

Good contributions are acknowledged.

There is the pleasure of insight when you suddenly see something a different way.

There is also the pleasure of discovering something obvious which had not been noticed before.

Structured exploration is, in fact, very motivating, because the mind goes through a series of ‘mini-eurekas’.

There is also the pleasure of seeing yourself use your mind thoroughly and effectively.

So there are benefits to be obtained by thinking in parallel in groups, but the dialectic process is not essential to parallel thinking.

It should also be mentioned that the conventional dialectic method is very time-consuming.

Imagine you had to identify an apple by rejecting all ‘non-apples'.

'This is not a pear.'

'This is not a banana.'

'This is not a tangerine.'

"This is not a plum', etc.

This is clearly an exaggeration, but dialectic does sometimes go rather like that.

With parallel thinking we might say: ‘There is a possibility this could be an apple.

Where does that take us?’

We do not even have to check the ‘apple’ hypothesis before we proceed to see ‘what happens next’.

Groupware is a computer-based system in which people in a meeting put in their ideas ‘in parallel’ without dialectic.

Not surprisingly, the process speeds up the meeting very considerably.

Not every discussion is an argument, but even genuine exploratory discussions can be considerably speeded up by using the frames of parallel thinking.

It is amazing how much non-productive to and fro there is even in goal-oriented discussions.

So parallel thinking does not depend on dialectic as does the Socratic method.

Nevertheless, there can be benefits in carrying out the parallel thinking in groups.




33 Action vs. Description

What is unique about action is that it always takes place in the future.

That future may be the next second or two as you decide how to deal with a mugger or it may be the next 20 years as you plan an electric power-generating plant.

Is marriage a ‘description’ of being in love or an action plan for the next 40 years?

Description takes place in the past.

It may be the remote past and what the Aboriginals did in Australia 40,000 years ago or it may be the taste of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine that you have just sipped.

You can seek to describe the future with extrapolations, scenarios, forecasts, prophecy and guessing.

The doctor, in his or her mind, can project the course of a disease if it is not treated.

But any ‘description’ of the future depends on an expectation that things will be the same as they have been in the past either directly or through a combination of known effects.

When we describe the past there can be ‘truth’.

Witnesses and video cameras can describe what happened in a traffic accident.

There may be accurate descriptions and less accurate descriptions.

But if your son tends to drive your new car too fast you can only speculate as to what might happen.

You can refer to statistics regarding the likelihood of accidents with young drivers who drive too fast, but those will only provide a probability.

The statistics are ‘true’ because they are about the past.

The application of them to an individual in the future is only a possibility with a probability.

Western culture has tended to make a sharp distinction between thinkers and doers.

This is because the thinkers were dealing with truth and theology and science and the doers were merely mucking about and getting things done.

For intellectuals, description is more satisfying than action because description deals with the ‘truth’.

What is there cannot change or escape from you.

Examining a dead butterfly is a good deal easier than examining a flying butterfly.

You can argue and debate about ‘what is’ but only trade speculations about ‘what may be’ as a result of a certain action.

You can seek more information about the past, as in historical research.

It is impossible to find accurate information about the future, except in predicting the continuity of certain events like the appearance of comets at defined times.

Because action is set in the future there is always a ‘risk’ element.

Things might not go as planned.

An unforeseen change in circumstances might produce a contrary result.

When dealing with non-linear systems the result may indeed be uncertain.

The reaction to the proposed action might be greater than expected, as with proposals for new taxes.

Traditional Western thinking does not like the uncertainty of risk.

If you have judgement with a true/ false outcome then how do you deal with risk?

To deal with risk you need the possibility/design aspects of parallel thinking.

If you believe that action springs directly from 'what is' then you are not concerned with the design of action. 

If you believe that 'what can be' has to be designed then you apply the design process to action itself.

Socrates believed and often stated that ‘knowledge is virtue’.

He believed that men acted incorrectly only out of ignorance.

The underlying assumption is that if you have an accurate and detailed street map then you will never lose your way (provided you have good eyesight and the ability to read maps).

Once the street map is there then action is very simple: go straight ahead, turn right or turn left.

So full knowledge will indicate to people what they ‘should’ strive to do and what they should strive to avoid.

The details of the action are as unimportant as the details of walking down the street.

The success of science has reinforced the view that knowledge is enough.

Putting the knowledge to work through technology is relatively simple.

In any case, that technology becomes ‘engineering’ and we can put together knowledge about engineering and learn that also as knowledge.

We can lay down ‘routine’ actions.

You can learn these routines just as an actress learns her lines in a play.

When the right cue is given then the right speech is made and in this way the play proceeds.

So knowledge is going to identify the situation, helped by the decision of ‘judgement’.

Once judgement has declared that it is indeed a particular situation then knowledge of the routine response will take care of the appropriate action.

It can all be done with knowledge, just as a student will answer questions in an examination with material he or she has learned by rote.

Occasionally the situation may be more complex and we will have to analyze it before applying judgement.

We analyze the complex situation into parts which are easier to identify.

Then the routine action is applied.

Before the days of modern medicine there used to be a joke about skin doctors.

It was said that dermatology was simple: if the sore was wet you applied a powder; if the sore was dry you applied a cream.

What was in the powder or cream did not much matter.

Sometimes it may be necessary to put together some routine segments of action.

Sometimes it may be necessary to pause to reassess the situation and then apply the routine action.

Routine actions are either obvious (seek out, avoid) or they will have evolved over time.

The technical skill of a craftsman has evolved over time and will be learned by daily experience as an apprentice to a master craftsman.

Action skills are to be learned by apprenticeship.

You learn to play music by playing music, not by reading about music.

To this day we believe very much the same things about action.

There is routine action, and we can learn both the routines and when to apply them.

Then there is ‘on-the-job’ learning, where experience gradually shapes required action patterns.

A group of developers may set out, at different times, with the same ability and drive, with the same capital and action skills.

Some of them will become very successful and others will fail.

We applaud (in some countries) the successful ones and ignore or laugh at the failures.

Timing, luck and circumstances have sorted them out.

Action of this sort is seen to be a ‘hit-and-miss’ affair.

So on the one hand we have routine action and on the other hand we have ‘hit-and-miss’ entrepreneurship.

Where is the need to think about action?

Once again we come back to the fundamental difference between traditional Western thinking and parallel thinking.

This is the difference between ‘what is’, which is concerned with description and truth, and ‘what can be’, which is concerned with possibility, design and action.

If you believe, as the Socratic method does, that action springs directly from ‘what is’ then you are not concerned with the design of action.

If you believe that ‘what can be’ has to be designed forward from a field of parallel possibilities then you apply the design process to action itself.

Because of the uncertainties involved, you cannot, or should not, attempt to design an action using the stepwise adversarial argument system in which you have to be ‘right’ at each step.

Yet people try to do this every day in the business world.

Traditional Western thinking is simply very inappropriate when applied to the design of action.

Yet we have never sought to develop any other type of thinking, because we have been So complacent with our thinking habits, derived from the Gang of Three.

To deal with the future we have to deal with 'possibilities'. Analysis will only tell us 'what is'.

It is only in the military and in business that attention has been given to action thinking.

It was the Prussian military philosopher Clausewitz who laid the basis for much of the subsequent work.

Even so, much of the thinking is still based on the traditional thinking method of classify, identify and apply routine behavior.

You can design a meticulous action plan with every step in place.

You design in checkpoints and contingency rerouting should things turn out differently from what has been expected.

That is one style.

You can forge ahead with some general objective and general guiding principles and then react to what you come across moment to moment, as a rock climber might do on a new face.

You can set sub-objectives and design action to achieve each of these in turn.

You can start with a routine type of action but with a great readiness to adapt and change this as you go along.

At one end of the action spectrum there is ‘plan’ and at the other end there is ‘react’.

Design comes in at all points.

Plans have to be designed.

Reaction has to be designed.

You have to be in a suitable state to react; you have to pre-design reaction possibilities; you have to conceive in advance values and opportunities which will determine appropriate action.

Reaction usually needs to be more sophisticated than ‘run away’ or ‘gobble it up’.

Your moment-to-moment reaction also requires ‘thinking’.

It is only too easy to assume that action is instinctive.

When IBM was founded, the company made weighing scales.

So it was quite an achievement for Thomas J. Watson Sr.

President of the organization, to have insisted on the motto ‘THINK’.

IBM did think, and became very successful.

Then, like most successful companies, it got trapped in its own culture.

It wanted to maximize success.

That means dealing with ‘what is’ rather than ‘what can be’.

To deal with the future we have to deal with ‘possibilities’.

Analysis will only tell us ‘what is’, which is why business schools are not turning out the best business thinkers.

IBM’s analysis revealed that it totally dominated the market in mainframe computers, and these were high-profit items.

Attention to ‘possibilities’ would have revealed that mainframes might be threatened by local area networks and distributed processing.

Attention to possibilities might have suggested emerging competitors as the technology of computers became more of a ‘commodity’.

It is likely that such considerations were raised somewhere in IBM but it proved difficult to design these into action when day-to-day success suggested providing only more of the same.

In the short-term thinking of American business, today’s profits are certainties.

If you do not look after them you may not be around to enjoy tomorrow’s possibilities.

That makes the design of action difficult, because it tends to be a description of ‘what is’.

A dancer learns the routine ballet steps, which are limited in number.

Then the choreographer puts these steps together as an action sequence.

Finally it is the artistic talent of the dancer that puts the steps together in the choreographed sequence but with spirit, passion and expression.

The choreographer has the design task, but the technology of the steps has to be there and final effectiveness depends on the talent of the performer.

Traditional thinking has simply not been action-oriented.

The static judgement/box habits of traditional thinking can deal only with the past and with stable situations.

For dealing with changing situations the methods, attitudes and processes of parallel thinking are possibly more appropriate.

There is a need to work forwards from a field of parallel possibilities in order to ‘design’ action.




34 Value vs. Truth

So dominated have we become by the belief system of the Gang of Three that any mention of ‘truth’ causes a shudder of horror.

There is horror that we might abandon truth for expediency or utilitarianism.

There is horror that we might abandon sacrosanct principles (which in practice we do all the time) for relativism.

There is horror that pragmatism might replace absolute truth and so put society at the mercy of political profiteers.

No matter how little our action may reflect that belief, we like to believe in ‘truth’.

Just as having a monarch in Great Britain prevents the emergence of a political president, so having ‘truth’ up there prevents the emergence of some ‘dangerous’ replacement.

Once again it is important to remember the immediate background to the thinking of Socrates / Plato.

Because we cannot really distinguish what was Socrates from what Plato made Socrates say in Plato’s work, we sometimes need to consider the Socrates/Plato combination.

The immediate intellectual background consisted of the ‘foreign’ (born in Greek cities other than Athens) sophists, who demanded fees for teaching students rhetoric or the art of persuasion.

These people (or most of them) believed that truth was relative, that perception established a personal ‘truth’ for everyone and that ‘expediency’ was all that mattered.

Such basic beliefs meant that you could change someone’s ‘truth’ through persuasion, and the skills of persuasion were therefore very powerful because they could become the source of power in a society where persuasion in both politics and business was all-important.

I do not want to try to distinguish here between those sophists who were really ultra-modern in their thinking and those who were opportunistic charlatans.

There is the same problem with management ‘sophists’ today.

What matters is that Socrates/Plato set out to put truth on an absolute, unchanging and non-subjective basis.

They succeeded very well indeed.

Aristotle then came along and gave order and substance to this system.

In that way the Gang of Three determined our thinking about ‘truth’.

‘Truth’, ‘valid’ and ‘value’ all overlap a great deal.

Philosophers love to attack this overlap and to put each into its proper box.

It is not my intention to do this here.

If you were to make nails of gold, would they have a value?

You could sell them for the gold content.

You could store them as a hedge against inflation.

You might even make a super-luxury gift box held together by gold nails.

You would, of course, have to drill small holes for the nails to pass through, because the softness of gold would make it impossible to use the nails in the usual way.

Yet ‘gold’ is a valuable metal.

Surely the value of gold is intrinsic to the metal?

We do not merely seek to discover which value should prevail. We seek to reconcile values where possible. We seek to design ways in which values can come to change.

If you made a gun barrel out of gold it might not be much use.

But why would you want a gun anyway?

If you want a gun to attack people, that may be a value to you but not to society.

If you want a gun to go fight to defend your country against invaders then society welcomes that value even if it is rather dangerous to you personally.

Aspirin is a dangerous compound, because many people kill themselves with an overdose of aspirin.

Prolonged, heavy use of aspirin may cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

In rare cases young children can have a violent reaction to aspirin.

So is aspirin bad?

Not at all — it is the most used of compounds.

When you have a severe headache there is nothing more wonderful than the power of aspirin to remove that headache.

Some people find that aspirin relieves the pain of their arthritis.

There is good evidence that half an aspirin a day may reduce the incidence of heart attacks in middle-aged men.

So how can something be good and bad at the same time?

This was exactly the sort of argument that Protagoras made.

Anyone concerned with medicine comes across the relativity of value relativity with regard to amount, relativity with regard to diagnosis, relativity with regard to stage of an illness, relativity with regard to individual reactions.

So how do we deal with the ‘truth’ about aspirin being ‘good’?

The ‘truth’ is that aspirin can be both good and bad.

The trouble is only with our ‘box’.

You need to specify the situation in order to determine whether aspirin is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

It is much simpler to consider ‘value’.

Value is directly to do with ‘relationships’.

Value is relative.

A thump on the head with an ingot of gold could be very dangerous.

The fault of Western thinking has been to pay insufficient direct attention to value.

This has been because of the possible confusion between ‘truth’ and value (as in the minds of the sophists) and the danger of regarding ‘truth’ as relative.

The second reason for this neglect was the one we have come across so often before: the belief that from ‘truth’ will spring everything else.

Every stone has value in an arch, because it serves the function of that system.

Yeast and the control of temperature have value in fermentation, because they serve that system’s function.

Values force us to think of systems.

The system of a small chemical plant gives value to cost reduction, because this leads to profit.

Profit has value for the owner, or shareholders, of the plant and also for the workers, because they have jobs.

The workers having jobs is of value to their families, who need feeding.

But the effluent from the plant may be polluting the river.

This has a negative value for the wildlife in the river, for people downstream, for the general level of pollution in the world, for attitudes to pollution, for pollution-conscious crusaders, etc.

Because multiple systems can coexist, side by side or one within another, So values also coexist.

We can then think about some values being higher than others or we can argue about which values should prevail.

Traditional thinking on the lines of ‘I am right, you are wrong’ seeks to sort out these value conflicts by arguing that one set of values is ‘right’ and the other set ‘wrong’.

Obviously, there will be different opinions on this depending on which system you are in.

Should the developing countries hold up their development because the developed countries have done their development and done their polluting and are now more concerned about a pollution-free world?

Can the world afford more pollution whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation?

The judgement/box system of traditional thinking does not work with such a problem.

Lawyer-type adversarial argument does not work unless there is a new code of environmental laws to which everyone subscribes.

We have to use parallel thinking and design.

A good example of ‘design’ is the concept of ‘tradable pollution permits’.

A factory that is currently polluting obtains a ‘permit to pollute’.

Immediately that sounds awful and totally contrary to what we want.

Judgement would usually reject such an idea unless the whole-system picture was taken into account.

If that factory cleans up its effluent then that permit can be sold to another factory.

So there is now ‘cash value’ in cleaning up the pollution.

There is also another, more hidden, value: time is given to the factory to clean up its effluent.

I am not suggesting that this is the only way to do things, or even the best way, but am suggesting that this is a good example of a ‘designed way forward’.

Where there are conflicting values it is somewhat pointless to seek to argue which are the superior values or which are ‘right’ and which ‘wrong’.

I am not suggesting that all values are equal or that there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ value.

The showing of excessive violence on television clearly has a value in terms of audience rating, advertising rates and job success of the program directors involved.

But the effect on society is the negative value of lowering the acceptance threshold for violence.

I am not sure that this is any different from any form of exploitation in which the value of the exploiter is different from the values of the exploited.

An extra value is, however, pulled in.

This is the value of ‘freedom of expression’.

There is the suggested fear that censorship of violence on television could be the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and that censorship would soon extend to political choices and other values (just as Plato wished).

A ‘designed’ way around this difficulty would be to allow violence but to put a price on it.

There might be a cost of £10,000 for every murder each time the show was aired.

There would be a scale of prices for other forms of violence.

There would now be a cost consideration.

If we must have that murder ‘for its dramatic necessity’ then there is a cost, just as there would be a cost if you ‘had to’ shoot the film in Tahiti.

Considerations of production and showing cost would now apply.

Yet you could still show what you wanted.

The money would go to victims of violence.

What I am seeking to show is that ‘design’ is not ‘discovery’.

We do not merely seek to discover which value should prevail.

We seek to reconcile values where possible.

We seek to design ways in which values can come to change.

We seek to design ways in which people can be free to choose values.

People should be free to smoke if they know what they are doing, are prepared to pay their full healthcare costs (if necessary) and do not impose their smoking on others.

Values are determined by systems, contexts and circumstances.

In practice we seek to operate a pragmatic hierarchy of values: the planet, the general good, society, the community, the family and one’s self.

Sometimes we take refuge in custom or tradition.

Sometimes we take refuge in majority voting or opinion polls.

Almost always we would like to argue from ‘basic moral principles’ or the law.

We feel most comfortable with that, because we are then on the solid ground of right / wrong.

That others might have a different view of right/wrong as it applies to values is as irrelevant here as it is in any other situation.

My ‘right’ is based on truth yours is not.

There are times when a decision about values or a choice of values does have to be based on the absolutes of some belief system.

There is no need to exclude or deny that.

Parallel thinking does not have to operate with ‘never’ or ‘always’.

The point is that if we develop the ‘design’ habits of parallel thinking then we may be able to cope with many conflicts of value better than we are able to at the moment using our traditional thinking system.

Is this just a plea for ‘relativity’ and ‘pragmatism’?

Those are judgement boxes with habitual values attached to them.

Many values are relative whether we like it or not.

Why not ‘all’ values?

Because there is no need to make that claim.

Pragmatism implies a choice of what is most ‘useful’ under the circumstances.

Pragmatism is still based on ‘what is’: the choice is between existing options.

Parallel thinking puts the emphasis on design and on the creation of new options.

Into this design process can go fundamental principles and ‘absolute’ values.

These are not excluded.

Many people find that an ‘absolute’ prohibition of killing another person is somehow overcome by the context of war or self-defense.

True pacifists and true vegetarians are rare.

One of the difficulties with traditional thinking is the gatekeeper judgement system in which each statement has to be judged before being accepted into the ‘party’.

Each contribution is challenged and has to prove itself.

You cannot make a chain if some of the links are defective.

However, particularly with values, but also with other matters, it is sometimes necessary to get the ‘whole picture’ before the contribution of each part can be assessed.

It is similar to needing to know what aspirin is going to be used for before judging whether aspirin is good or bad.

Is it a good move or a bad move to raise the price of some goods you are trying to sell?

It depends on the economic situation at the time.

It depends on the market and distribution system you are in.

It depends on whether the goods can carry a prestige label.

It depends on whether the price rise is sufficient to propel the goods into a different ‘class’.

It depends on how you use the extra profit from the higher margins (if the price rise is a matter of choice, not necessity).

Is this extra money going to be used for promotion or for better packaging, or is it just going to give extra profits?

With parallel thinking all the possibilities are fed in and laid alongside each other.

The picture may then become clear.

Sometimes a decision can be made immediately; at other times there is a need to design a way forward.

We may need to launch a new version of the product at a higher price rather than just putting the price up.

Values are determined by systems, contexts and circumstances.

They are also determined by perceptions.

There is the story of a perfume which became successful only when the marketers quadrupled the price.

Did people assume that if it was so expensive then it must be the best?

Did people prefer the ‘price judgement’ to their own sense of smell?

Did people find value in giving as a present the most expensive perfume possible?

To some people such things smack of the trickery and deceit of advertisers and marketers who set out to persuade people with the same sort of trickery that was taught by the sophists, who also set out to change perceptions.

But is this a fair assessment?

If you want to indicate to someone that you are giving that person an expensive present because you value her and because she only deserves the best, is that not a genuine value?

If you genuinely do not trust your own sense of smell, is it not reasonable to suppose that a perfume that can continue to sell at a high price must be good?

We feel that all these things are separate from the real intrinsic value of the perfume: the truth.

But the whole business of perfume is about perception and image.

Those are the systems that create the value.

Maybe you want your friends to recognize that you are wearing an expensive perfume.

In fact there are cheap generic perfumes which often are almost exactly the same as the expensive ones (which is permitted so long as they do not use the same name).

You could really buy those, if you trusted your nose, and get almost the same effect except for the present-giving value.

It is important to explore values which are not always obvious.

It is also important to design values which are not there until you have designed them.

The value of selling a half doughnut is that the buyer would feel ‘virtuous’ in not eating the other half.

This is a different value from eating a small doughnut, where the ‘uneaten’ half is not perceptually present.

The value of gossip and rumor in society and in political matters has been consistently underestimated by political theorists.

The value of such matters is that they themselves set values.

When a political party has been in power a long time and long enough to mess up the economy and other matters, that party has a good chance of being re-elected if the economy is bad enough.

This is because the opposition is now seen as a bunch of amateurs with no experience of running a country in difficult times.

It is said that some couples ‘enjoy’ quarreling, because it is stimulating, because it relieves boredom and because it still indicates passion for each other.

Some people prefer to be hated rather than ignored.

There are times when people do not really want their complaints attended to they prefer to have the opportunity to grumble about something.

Are such things true, occasionally true or cynical myths?

Value sensitivity and valufacture (a new word fn1) give value to life.

Art is a value-producing exercise.

Should art just reveal by highlighting and distilling values that are always there, or should art seek to open up new values?

Belief systems are the ultimate creator and arbiter of the values that decide behavior.

Socrates believed that knowledge alone could do this that was another belief system.

In dealing with values there is a need to consider parallel possibilities.

That is why parallel thinking is important for exploring values, reconciling values and creating new values.

Design is part of the process.




35 Water Logic and Parallel Thinking

Water Logic explored

What is the relationship between ‘water logic’ and parallel thinking?

At various points in this book have referred to water logic, and there may be some confusion about how it fits in with parallel thinking.

What is the relationship between spaghetti and tomato sauce?

What is the relationship between a pair of trousers and the zip?

Parallel thinking is the overall general method of thinking.

Water logic is a type of logic used in parallel thinking.

In traditional thinking, adversarial argument (dialectic) is a general method.

Within the argument there is the use of ‘is/is not’ logic, induction, deduction and other ways of handling ideas.

You could use parallel thinking without using water logic just as you can eat spaghetti without tomato sauce or wear trousers without a zip.

But for various reasons, which I shall go into below, something like water logic is both useful and needed in parallel thinking.

Traditional logic is based on ‘is’ and ‘definitions’.

The definitions are what we seek, and that is what Socrates was all about.

Once we have the definition then we ‘judge’ whether something fits that definition or not.

Water logic is based on ‘to’ and ‘destinations’.

‘What does this lead to?What comes next?’

It is more like a road where each town on the road leads to the next town.

Water logic is the logic of perception and self-organizing information systems.

Traditional logic is a ‘game’ we play with the external world, using language boxes as definitions.

It is the logic of systems which require an external organizer rather than being self-organizing.

In parallel thinking there is a strong place for creativity.

Parallel thinking is not just about judging (critical thinking) but about generating possibilities.

Creativity is one of the ways of generating possibilities.

Creativity is more than just sitting and waiting for new ideas.

We can use the deliberate and formal techniques of lateral thinking to generate ideas.

One of these techniques involves ‘provocation’.

In provocation we put forward a statement which is not part of our experience.

For example, we might say: ‘Po a cinema ticket should cost $100.’

Obviously there is no point in ‘judging’ that provocation as such.

Instead of the mental operation of ‘judgement’ we use the mental operation of ‘movement’, so we move forward to the idea of providing cinema-goers with a simple way of investing in a film they have just seen.

This is an idea I once presented to the Swedish film board, which was seeking new ideas for financing films.

This moving forward is a clear example of water logic.

Parallel thinking is action-oriented.

We move from possibilities to the direct design of action.

The first stage of parallel thinking is to do with laying down a field of parallel possibilities.

Parallel thinking is concerned with ‘possibilities’ more than with the judgement of ‘truth’.

What are you going to do with a possibility?

You move forward to see what it leads to.

You move forward to see what it contributes.

We use a hypothesis (possibility) in science to lead us to look at things in a certain way and to lead us to design experiments to get further data.

With possibilities it is almost essential to use water logic.

‘What happens next?’

In parallel thinking we do not need to use boxes with hard edges and the ruthless judgement that fits or forces things into these boxes.

There is ‘overlap’.

Something can be both A and a bit of B at the same time.

If we cannot fit things into the boxes, then what are we going to do?

We move forward to see what happens.

In traditional thinking we use contradictions to prove error and to force choices.

In parallel thinking we embrace both possibilities and move forward to see what results.

In parallel thinking we can put together a group of things, or parallel possibilities, and then ‘look to see what happens’.

One of the techniques of lateral thinking is the ‘stratal’. fn1 

Here we simply put down, in parallel, about five statements about the matter and then see what these lead to.

The statements ‘sensitize’ patterns in the brain, and we look to see what follows.

This is part of the dynamics of water logic rather than the static descriptive activity of rock logic.

Instead of the instant gatekeeper judgement of each part, parallel thinking seeks to build up an overall picture of the entire system.

We look to see what each part contributes to the system.

We first collect as many possibilities as possible and then look to see what each possibility contributes.

‘What does this lead to?’

Whereas traditional thinking is description-oriented on the basis that if you ‘know what is’ then action is easy — parallel thinking is action-oriented.

‘What action does this lead to?’

We seek to design action chains.

We move from possibilities to the direct design of action.

We do not have to apply judgement boxes first.

The emphasis in parallel thinking is on ‘design’ rather than on analysis.

‘How do we “design forward” from the field of parallel possibilities?’ 

‘How do possibilities lead into a design?’ 

‘What would the proposed design, itself, lead to?’

The emphasis is on ‘What next?’

We could borrow standard designs, but in all other cases the design does not exist until we put it together.

An architect does not ‘discover’ houses but needs to ‘design’ them.

This is the fundamental difference between the ‘search’ idiom of traditional Western thinking (prospecting for gold) and the ‘design’ idiom of parallel thinking (constructive).

A very specific use of water logic is in the flowscape technique. fn2 

Here, in a field of parallel possibilities, we look to see which other possibility follows from every item.

The final flowscape gives us a picture of our perception of the matter.

‘Where are the stable loops?’

‘What is the “drainage” pattern?’

‘Which points are highly sensitive and which points are peripheral?’

We might also see how the flow patterns change if circumstances change.

In this technique we see a simple example of how information can come to organize itself.

‘What does a particular popic [suggested term for “possible picture of the world”] lead to?’ 

‘What happens if we switch to another popic?’

We can try things out.

We can compare.

All this is part of parallel thinking and different from judgement thinking.

Traditional Western thinking is firmly based on ‘judgement’.

Once we move away from judgement we come to the movement of water logic.

‘Where does this take us?’

‘What does this lead to?’

What we are seeking is the formation of perceptions, concepts, ideas and pictures of the world (popics).

Once we have these then we can see their utility and check them out as required.

There is a belief not that we shall discover the ‘truth’ but that information will come together to give us a ‘possible’ design for action or understanding.

There is a belief that, given a chance, information may have a self-organizing tendency in the human brain but not on a piece of paper.

There is an apparent overlap with the ‘pragmatism’ of William James.

He was concerned with ‘practical differences’.

He wanted to get away from the elaborate word games of philosophers to ask what practical difference a particular statement made.

He was interested in the ‘truth value’ of a statement, which he called the ‘cash value’.

There is a similarity inasmuch as parallel thinking is also concerned with the design of practical action.

But parallel thinking is concerned with ‘possibilities’.

In that respect it is almost the opposite of the pragmatism of William James.

The emphasis in parallel thinking is on ‘design’ rather than on analysis. 

If you put a number of interactive chemicals into the same solution then you expect something to happen.

You expect compounds to form from the interactive elements.

In the same way, if we feed parallel possibilities into our consideration we expect outcomes to form.

We can help this with the ‘design’ process.

Ideas and statements are not fixed in their ‘definition boxes’ in parallel thinking.

They are allowed to ‘flow forwards’ with water logic.

We look to see ‘what next’ rather than ‘what is’.

So we can see how the general idiom of water logic is very much part of parallel thinking.

In addition there are times when the specific application of the ‘movement’ of water logic is used.




36 Overlap

A fundamental characteristic of parallel thinking is the avoidance of hard-edged judgement boxes.

There is a preference for ‘flagpoles’ and for ‘overlap’ as suggested in Figure 18.

There is no need to ‘include’ and to ‘exclude’.

There is no intellectual ‘racism’.

There is no need to use words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘must’, ‘cannot’, ‘all’ or ‘none’.

There are not the sharp dichotomies of true/false, right/ wrong and either/or.


Figure 18

Readers will have observed that in writing this book have, from time to time, used the traditional methods of thinking to point out the deficiencies of traditional thinking.

Surely this proves the very utility of traditional thinking?

Several points are involved here.

The first point arises from overlap.

There is utility in traditional thinking, and I have made that point throughout the book.

There are times when judgement and criticism are very useful.

So when judgement is needed why should I not use the existing judgement system?

There is no need to have an either/or situation.

We do not have to throw out traditional thinking completely in order to use parallel thinking.

My purpose in writing this book has been to point out the deficiencies of traditional thinking.

It is inadequate for generating ideas.

It is inadequate for designing outcomes.

It is obsessed with judgement and judgement boxes.

It believes that refutation is a way of getting to the truth.

The emphasis is on ‘search’ rather than ‘construction’.

You can have clothes that are fine for a summer holiday in the Caribbean but totally inadequate for a Scandinavian winter.

But the clothes are useful in their place.

The folly is to assume that these clothes are sufficient for all occasions.

It is this belief in the completeness of the traditional thinking system that has led to the failure of Western thinking where ‘design’ is needed.

The brain works directly with fuzzy overlap. Activity in one region sensitizes other regions. 

The excellence of the brain does not arise from its organization as a filing system of discrete pigeonholes, but from its organization as a system of multiple overlaps.

The second point is that was brought up in the traditional thinking system, because parallel thinking had not yet been defined.

So, from time to time, I slip back into that mode.

The designer of a Grand Prix racing car is not necessarily the best driver of that car.

In a similar way may design thinking methods and tools but that does not mean that — I am going to be the best user of these methods and tools.

I would expect that youngsters who grow up with an understanding of parallel thinking will become much better at it than am myself.

This can be seen in schools where youngsters start using such methods as the Six Hats and the CoRT Thinking Lessons.

The third point is that most of the readers of this book will have been educated in the traditional thinking system, so it is necessary to ‘talk that language’.

If you go to France you are best understood if you talk French.

In the same way, fully expect that reviewers of this book will try very hard indeed to force the ideas expressed into specific judgement boxes, because that will be their method of working.

The chapters in this book are not separate watertight boxes.

There is a great deal of overlap, and even repetition.

That is necessary in order to build up the whole picture.

Just as parallel possibilities can overlap as they contribute to the overall picture, so do the chapters in this book.

The same thing can be said in different ways and in different places.

What matters is the overall picture that is built up.

It is only traditional thinking which insists on sharp definitions as a way of proceeding.

If you want a ‘possible’ definition of parallel thinking it could be:

‘The creation of a field of parallel possibilities from which to design a way forward.’

Is this the ‘best’ definition?


It is just a possible definition.

It is this belief in the completeness of the traditional thinking system that has led to the failure of Western thinking where 'design' is needed.

We like hard-edged boxes because our thinking is essentially based on whether we agree that something goes into one box rather than another or whether we agree that the label on a box is correct.

We like to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

We like to think of the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’.

We like to think that something is ‘wonderful’ or ‘awful’.

We like to know whether we should eat what is put in front of us or reject it.

The overlap of parallel thinking permits phrases like:

'sort of … '

'a bit of both … '

'democracy-like systems … '

'in the region of .'

'related to …'

'perhaps … '

'maybe … '

'possibly … '

'could be … '

To those brought up on the fixity and rigidity of traditional Western thinking such phrases are acutely irritating and uncomfortable.

It is like looking up a number in a telephone book and finding that the print is too small to read.

Yet the brain works directly with fuzzy overlap.

Activity in one region sensitizes other regions.

Stimulation in a new region also has its areas which it sensitizes.

Eventually an area that has been sensitized from different directions becomes activated itself, as in Figure 19.

This is the exact process of overlap that is the basis of parallel thinking and parallel possibilities.

The excellence of the brain does not arise from its organization as a filing system of discrete pigeonholes, but from its organization as a system of multiple overlaps.


Figure 19

There is overlap between this book and several of my previous books.

This book brings together ideas that have started elsewhere.

In particular there is overlap with my book I am Right, You are Wrong.

The difference is that in that book related traditional thinking methods to the way the brain works as a self-organizing information system.

At the end of that book readers may have been looking for the practicalities of an alternative system that uses ‘water logic’ rather than ‘rock logic’.

This current book provides that practical alternative.

In this book have set out the practical general thinking method of ‘parallel thinking’.

The emphasis has been directly on this method, both in itself and in contrast to traditional Western thinking.

There is overlap with other books such as Serious Creativity and Water Logic.

I have referred to these books, but it has been quite impractical to go into the details of the specific thinking techniques put forward in those books.

The same comment applies to the book Six Thinking Hats and to the CoRT Thinking Lessons, which contain specific procedures for applying parallel thinking.

I can never be sure that every reader of this book will have read previous books of mine, so l cannot take things for granted.

On the other hand, those who have read previous books may find some of the points repeated.

All this is part of the process of overlap.

You could claim that an apple is the ‘same as’ an orange because they are both ‘fruit’.

Being a little bit more specific, you might claim that an orange is the same as a tangerine because both have an orange-colored skin.

If you look for superficial resemblances you will not have difficulty in finding superficial resemblances.

But if you want to enjoy the substance of an apple, an orange or a tangerine then you have to go deeper than superficial resemblances.

To extract the maximum value you may have to become a gourmet who can even recognize the different tastes of oranges from different countries.

It has never been difficult to be superficial.

When we look at the world around, there is a huge amount of overlap of our ‘attention areas’.

We do not have built into our eyes a sort of grid through the squares of which we proceed systematically.

Sometimes we may look at the broad picture and sometimes at a detail.

We get the complete picture from this overlap.

That is exactly the purpose of overlap both in parallel thinking and in the writing of this book.




37 Change vs. Stability

Should we change for the sake of change?

The answer should be ‘No’, but there are good reasons for saying ‘Sometimes’.

There are areas like art and fashion where change is the energizer.

Without change, things get bogged down in sameness.

Change gives excitement and stimulation.

Change allows new directions to emerge.

There is complacency where we settle down within the game we have set for ourselves.

A classic example is ‘education’, which sets its own criteria (usually remote from the needs of society) and then feels satisfied at fulfilling these.

There is no reason at all for supposing that the way we do something is the best way.

The particular sequence of experiences that set up the current method need not have been optimal.

If we are willing to make the effort we can often find new ways which are simpler, more effective and cost less.

So there can be good reasons to seek to change even when there is no strong necessity for change.

But what about when there is a strong need to change?

The world around is changing.

Technology is driving change.

Populations are growing.

Values are changing.

Developing nations are developing faster.

Pollution is increasing.

People are living longer.

We can pretend that change is not happening or that it does not affect us or that we can insulate ourselves from change.

We can seek to ‘go back to basics’ or to recreate the ‘good old days’.

We can seek to resist change at all costs.

We can wait until the pressure for change is overwhelming and then, grudgingly, give way.

We can hope that the evolutionary pressures of change will gradually mould our existing ideas and values so that there need be no sudden or conscious change.

We find dealing with change particularly difficult, because traditional Western thinking (the Socratic method, the Gang of Three) was never designed for change.

It was designed for a stable society in which there could be no concept of the very rapid changes of the last 100 years or so.

Why should we suppose that three clever Greek philosophers sitting in the city state of ancient Athens would have devised a thinking system that would be capable of dealing with the rapid change we see around us?

Not only is this traditional thinking system poor at dealing with change, it can even be dangerously rigid.

Socrates was searching for ‘true definitions’.

Plato was concerned with the ‘absolute, unchanging ideal forms’.

While we may still prefer that the principles governing human behavior should remain unchanged, this belief in ‘true unchanging concepts’ should be severely restricted

If we have a thinking system that is not intended to produce change, it is not surprising that we do not have much confidence in the change process.

There are fundamental concepts in society which may indeed need changing.

These might include: money, economics, employment, work, education, democracy, justice, health, etc.

We have come to regard all these as absolutes and unchangables.

Our design thinking still plays around with the existing concepts rather than designing new ones.

We still hope that evolutionary pressures will teach us better ways of operating these traditional concepts.

We cannot conceive that such fundamental concepts may need changing.

Change needs ‘possibility’ and ‘design’.

How can a judgement/box system be any good for change?

Is it enough to sit and hope that ideas will somehow emerge and present themselves for judgement?

Even if they do, will it be much use judging them in terms of the ‘old’ boxes?

The good is the enemy of the best.

The adequate is the enemy of the better.

Because our traditional concepts (including our thinking system) are more or less adequate, we see no great need to change them.

At best we would accept an imperceptible ‘drift’ type of change, so that things become different without any sharp change-points.

We prefer the method of modification to produce change, because this is so much less risky than radical redesign.

Yet in certain areas such as economics, and possibly democracy, radical redesign may be needed.

Defending existing ideas is worthy and often very well done but is not, itself, a change process.

Let others seek to change and we shall resist change.

From this dialectic clash might come the sober change that is needed.

But will it?

That sort of change may be far too slow and also inadequate.

In self-organizing systems, adjustment is usually not enough.

If we play around with the same basic pieces we will get the same sort of outcomes.

There comes a time when we need to challenge and rethink the ‘pieces’ themselves.

A fundamental defect in our traditional thinking system is the belief that evolution will throw up new ideas and that judgement will provide the harsh environment in which only the better ideas will survive.

Very little technical progress would have been made if we had followed the same route in technology.

We would still be working on improved paddle wheels on boats.

In fact the only reason there was a change from the paddle wheel to the screw was that a test could be arranged.

There was a tug of war and, to the horror of the Admiralty, the screw ship happily pulled the paddle wheeler backwards through the water.

But how can we arrange similarly finite tests for concepts in other areas?

How can we design the new ideas to be tested?

We can be creative about what we set out to achieve.

We can be creative about how we achieve a traditional objective.

We may design new values, or design to achieve existing values.

In many fields we are able to assess good designs because they achieve what they are supposed to achieve.

So there is no absolute reason why we should not be able to assess the worth of a new concept.

We do this not by judging it in comparison to an old concept but in terms of what the new concept delivers.

Should we never try a new wine, because there is no absolute way of proving that it tastes better than the ones we know?

There is risk, but there is also reward.

If we have a thinking system that is not intended to produce change, it is not surprising that we do not have much confidence in the change process.

When we develop skill in parallel thinking, in possibilities, in creativity and in design, then we might be better able to cope with change.

But how much effort are we putting into developing those skills?

Very little because we still believe that information, analysis and judgement are sufficient.

Gold is stable and unchanging, but its practical use is limited.

Absolute truth is stable and unchanging, but its practical use is limited to making judgements and to providing the ingredients for the design process.

Potatoes do not make a meal until you learn how to cook them.

By all means judge the taste of the cooked meal, but do not expect judgement to design the cooking method.

A fundamental defect in our traditional thinking system is the belief that evolution will throw up new ideas and that judgement will provide the harsh environment in which only the better ideas will survive.

We get caught a vicious circle.

The worse we are at designing better concepts then the more important it becomes for judgement to assess these concepts.

But the more importance we give to judgement the less are we going to develop the design skills for producing better concepts.

If you do not provide your children with behavior models then discipline becomes necessary to control their behavior, but discipline is itself a poor behavior model.

That is why we should no longer continue to believe that the judgement aspects of traditional thinking are sufficient to cope with the changes that are needed.

Defending existing ideas only appears an adequate way of coping with the need for change.




38 New Language Devices

Do we need new language devices, or does existing language allow us to do all the things we want to do?

Your existing cooking pots may allow you to cook all the meals you have always cooked, but if one day you want to cook dim sum then you may need to get a proper steamer system.

Or you can decide that, since your existing pots are not designed for cooking dim sum, you should exclude the possibility of dim sum from your diet after all, you have done pretty well without dim sum so far.

Or you might put together some ad hoc system of strainers and saucepans to achieve the same effect as a proper steamer.

Similarly with language: we can regard as unnecessary and not worth doing those things which language does not permit or we can seek to achieve them in a clumsy ad hoc way and then claim that this is perfectly adequate.

I invented the word ‘po’ because there did not exist an adequate language device which allows us to signal that we are making a deliberate provocation.

We know that provocation is mathematically necessary in any self-organizing system and all the indications are that perception takes form in a self-organizing system.

Therefore provocations are both necessary and useful.

To be sure you can say: ‘Listen, I am now going to put forward a provocation and — want you all to treat this as a provocation …’ You could do this, but it is inconvenient.

We do not really need the question mark in punctuation, because the questioner could always say: ‘What follows is intended to be a question, so treat it as a question.’

The simple question mark is rather more convenient.

In order to carry out parallel thinking effectively, we need some language form that allows us to ask for ‘parallels’ and also to indicate that we are putting forward ‘parallels’.

‘Put a parallel …’

‘Place a parallel …’

‘Throw a parallel … ‘

‘Offer a parallel … ‘

The very word ‘parallel’ also needs to come to exist in its own right, just as the word ‘alternative’ exists.

The Gang of Three created their own vocabulary with ‘ideal forms’, ‘essence’, ‘substance’, etc.

It is very often necessary to create a new word or to give a more specific meaning to an existing word in order to convey a new concept.

We do not have to be complacent about what existing language can do for us. There is no reason to suppose that language has reached a stage of perfection and cannot be changed for the better.

Just as we have a question mark in written language, so we can also have a symbol for parallels.

This is suggested in Figure 20.

The symbol is placed after a subject to imply a request for parallels.

The symbol is placed before a statement to indicate that this is a parallel.


Figure 20

Examinations in education. //

// Continuous assessment.

// A way of motivating students to study.

// Making employment selection easier.

// Testing a student’s exam-taking ability.

// Accountability of education.

/ / Satisfying parents.

/ / Quality control.

// Frequent oral assessment.

In practice there is no need to put the symbol before each parallel: it would be enough to put it at the beginning of the set of parallels.

In parallel thinking we often need to bring together a cluster of items, concepts, perceptions and possibilities in order to see ‘what happens next’.

This is very much part of water logic.

The relationship between the items is very loose.

They are there only because we have chosen to put them there.

The basis for that choice may be a vague sense that they ‘belong’ in a certain area.

The basis may also be one of ‘provocation’, because we want to see what happens if the items are put together (as in a stratal fn1).

‘What does this cluster lead to?’

‘Take this cluster forward.’

‘What do you get from this stratal?’

‘Progress this forward.’

We really also need a word for this bag of items that we are holding temporarily together.

The written punctuation mark is somewhat easier than the spoken reference to the cluster.

The suggested mark is shown in Figure 21.

The mark is placed before the cluster to indicate both the nature of the cluster and a request to ‘take it forward’ to some outcome.


Figure 21

(()) Shared work, part-time, more leisure, quality of life, unemployment, black economy.

(()) Street crime, drug need, basic economic need, crime culture, gangs, peer groups, role models, no escape, police, overcrowded courts, deterrence.

The ordinary language device of ‘What does this lead to?’ is probably adequate to convey the ‘to’ of water logic.

‘What does this lead to?’

‘Where do we go from this?’

‘Take this forward.’

‘What follows?’

‘What comes next?’

For written language a simple arrow placed after the word or phrase would suffice, as suggested in Figure 22.


Figure 22

Deciding where your taxes should go.

Restriction of part of earnings to defined spending.

Attention-directing is a key part of thinking.

We usually achieve this with a question.

The CoRT thinking tools (CAF, PMI, C&S, etc.) can also direct attention, as do the Six Hats.

‘Direct your attention to … ‘

‘Focus on … ‘

‘Hold your attention on … ‘

The written Spanish language has the very sensible device of putting the question mark at the beginning of the question.

This immediately allows the reader to know that a question is now being posed.

This is much more sensible than only indicating at the end that it is a question.

We could shift the question mark to the beginning of the question or we could create a new ‘attention-directing’ indicator as suggested in Figure 23.


Figure 23

>> The check-in procedure at airports.

>> The congested air routes and air traffic control.

>> The future size of aircraft.

>> The layout of future terminals at airports.

You might want ‘something to separate’ the horses in one field from the sheep in another.

That is a very broad concept.

You might want a ‘barrier’ to effect the separation.

You might want a ‘fence’.

You might want a ‘wooden fence’.

You might want a ‘wooden fence with close vertical palings’.

In this process we come down from a very broad concept to an almost detailed description of a fence.

In thinking and in talking there would be value in being able to ask/indicate that there was a wish to go ‘up’ to a broader concept or ‘down’ from a broader concept to one that was more specific.

It is not very easy to do this in ordinary language.

‘Use a broader concept here.’

‘Take this up to a broader concept.’

‘Go down to a more specific concept.’ ‘What is the broad concept here?’

‘Could you be more specific?’

At this point I am merely pinpointing a need for some elegant device rather than suggesting such a device.

With the written form we could use a simple arrow as suggested in Figure 24.

The arrow pointing upwards means ‘going up’ to a broader concept and the arrow pointing downwards means ‘going down’ to a more detailed concept.


Figure 24

Sales tax.


Distributed processing.

Offshore banking.

I want to make clear that none of the forms and devices suggested here is essential to the skillful operation of parallel thinking.

I have included them to indicate that we do not have to be complacent about what existing language can do for us.

There is no reason to suppose that language has reached a stage of perfection and cannot be changed for the better.

I have also intended this section to be a sort of test-model for complacency and change.

It is very easy in looking at the suggestions to resist change because it is change.

It is easy to say that you do not see the value or purpose of the device because you have not made an effort to look forward to see the effect.

There is also the usual transition problem of introduction ‘No one else will understand what I am doing.’

If it is within a closed group then this transitional problem is easily overcome.

Where the Six Hats are now in use the terms have become part of the communication culture.

Do I expect the word ‘popic’ to catch on?

Probably not, because, although it has a great convenience, the meaning is not immediately obvious.

I do, however, expect the term ‘parallel thinking’ to catch on, because I know how easily it has done so when I have used it.

Also the meaning is direct and simple.

Finally, the term pr vides a needed contrast with the head-on clash of adversarial thinking.

The term ‘parallel thinking’ directly implies cooperative thinking in parallel.




Summary 1: Parallel Thinking vs. Western Thinking

At this point it may be useful to summarize the essential differences between traditional Western thinking (the Socratic method, the Gang of Three, etc.) and parallel thinking.

Traditional thinking is firmly based on ‘judgement’.

This is the key mental activity: 

Is/is not.



Fit/does not fit.


Proved/not proved.

What are we judging?

We set up ‘true’ definitions, categories, boxes, and we judge whether something fits into a box or not.

We judge which box the matter fits into.

We may seek to derive these boxes from experience, as Socrates sought to derive his true definitions of ‘justice’, etc., or we may decree these boxes, as in ‘game truth’ (we decide the rules of the game).

We set up either/or dichotomies and opposites in order to force a judgement choice.

We seek to point out contradictions also to force a judgement choice or to prove another party wrong.

We also judge consistency, fit and the sufficiency of evidence for a statement.

Why are we doing all this?

We are doing it because we want to ‘discover’ the truth.

We are interested in the truth of ‘what is’.

We believe that if you have the truth then all else is easy.

It is a basic ‘search idiom’, like prospecting for gold.

To help us in this search we use analysis and we collect information.

New ideas are supposed to be presented by evolution, by creative individuals or by an ‘opposites’ process of thesis/antithesis followed by synthesis.

Once presented, the ideas are battered into useful shape by criticism.

Judgement is always within the existing paradigm.

In parallel thinking the key idiom is ‘design’, not search.

We seek to design a way forward.

You need to design and construct a house.

You do not ‘discover’ a house.

In parallel thinking, instead of the harsh accept/reject operation of judgement, there is ‘possibility’.

We accept possibilities even if they are contradictory and mutually exclusive.

We lay them down alongside each other in parallel.

In parallel thinking, instead of adversarial argument in which one side tries to refute the propositions of the other side, there is parallel cooperative thinking in which all parties are looking in the same direction at any one moment.

(There are frames for helping this, such as the Six Hats method.)

In parallel thinking, instead of hard-edged boxes and categories, there are flagpoles and spectra and overlap.

Expressions like ‘usually’, ‘by and large’ and ‘sometimes’ are acceptable in place of the ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘all’ and ‘none’ of traditional judgement thinking.

This arises from the use of ‘possibly’ instead of yes /no.

In parallel thinking there is an attempt to reconcile contradictions instead of choosing one and totally rejecting the other.

In parallel thinking there is a great emphasis on the direct creation of new ideas and new concepts.

This process can be helped by the formal techniques of lateral thinking.

It is not just a matter of waiting for ideas to emerge.

In parallel thinking there is as much emphasis on concepts as on information.

In parallel thinking we pay great attention to perception, because that is how we organize experience — as perceptions and concepts.

Because we are dealing with perceptions, we can use the flow of ‘water logic’ rather than traditional ‘rock logic’.

In parallel thinking a useful outcome is obtained by ‘design’ rather than by ‘judgement’.

From the field of parallel possibilities we design our way forward.

In parallel thinking we are concerned with action rather than with description.

We are concerned with the values that arise from the ‘truth’ rather than only with the ‘truth’ itself.

We can now look at some of these points again in a direct contrast manner.

‘What can be’ vs. ‘What is’.

Design vs. search.

Build vs. discover.

Create vs. repeat.

Constructive vs. destructive.

Action vs. description.

All these indicate a positive and constructive effort to bring something about.

It is not a matter of discovering ‘what is’ but of designing a way forward.

It may be a matter of creating new ideas rather than repeating the standard ones.

It should be pointed out that Socrates was searching for the ‘truth’ in ethics, where the search method was probably appropriate.

It is the application of that method to all areas that is the deficiency of Western thinking.

In parallel thinking a useful outcome is obtained by ‘design’ rather than by ‘judgement’.

From the field of parallel possibilities we design our way forward.

Possible vs. certain.

Acceptance vs. refutation.

Value vs. righteousness.

These indicate a broad view and a tolerance.

Instead of the instant gatekeeper judgement of traditional thinking there is acceptance of all items as ‘possibles’.

Once the possibles have been laid alongside each other then the outcome is produced through the design process.

Now the whole field can be seen.

Now the whole system can be seen.

Windows vs. categories.

Flagpoles vs. boxes.

Spectrum vs. dichotomies.

Overlap vs. discrimination.

Soft edge VS.hard edge.

Reconcile vs. reject (contradictions).

All these indicate a softening of the rigid ‘box’ system that is at the heart of Western traditional thinking.

This follows the replacement of judgement by the acceptance of ‘possible’.

Instead of forcing the world into an imposed order of boxes we can let information organize itself; if it does not, we can design a way forward.

Parallel vs. adversarial.

Laying alongside vs. gatekeeper judging.

Exploration vs. clash.

The practical operation of traditional thinking often involves argument, adversarial clash and dialectic.

This is seen as essential to the thinking process.

In parallel thinking dialectic is not essential.

Instead there is the cooperative attempt to explore the subject thoroughly and to develop new perceptions and new concepts.

Perceptions vs. processing.

Subjective vs. objective.

‘To’ vs. ‘is’.

Water logic VS.rock logic.

‘What next’ vs. ‘what is’.

Flow vs. identity.

Self-organizing vs. externally organized.

The way we look at the world is determined in our minds.

Our concepts and perceptions provide the frames through which we look at the world and with which we deal with the world.

We seek to make these frames as valid as possible.

When dealing with perception we need to use the water logic of flow, which relates to how one state of activity in the brain ‘flows’ to another.

Our perceptions are already self-organizing.

We seek to help, and change, that self-organizing process in order to produce better perceptions and concepts.

Ideas vs. information.

Creative vs. deductive.

Provocation vs. description.

Movement vs. judgement.

These indicate the emphasis on ‘creating’ new ideas and new possibilities.

That has always been the basis of science and of progress.

In creating new ideas you do not have to be ‘right’ at each step.

You can use deliberate provocations and then move forward from these to useful new ideas.

Valuable creative ideas will always be logical in hindsight but are not obtainable by logic in foresight, because of the asymmetric nature of patterning systems.

Analysis of information will allow us to choose from among our standard ideas but will not create new ones.

Information by itself is not enough.

It is only concepts that give value to information.

Whole vs. part.

Non-linear vs. linear.

System vs. element.

You can only assess the contribution of an element to the whole system when you look at the whole system.

Analyzing out the parts and judging them will give a false impression.

The ‘acceptance’ and ‘possibility’ of parallel thinking make it easier to look at the whole picture.

Circumstances, contexts and interactions give value to the parts of the system.

Forward vs. backward.

Change vs. stability.

Challenge vs. defend.

In place of the defense of the existing state of affairs, there is an effort to move forward to make things better.

Traditional thinking is poor at coping with change, because change is compared to what is and is rejected for as long as possible.

In the ‘design’ idiom of parallel thinking we seek to move forward.

Wisdom vs. cleverness.

Plural vs. single.

Humility vs. arrogance.

These suggest the broad view that takes in the big picture.

There is an acceptance of alternatives and different points of view.

There is not the arrogance which springs from the ‘onetruth’ idiom (my truth).

In the parallel thinking system, points of difference are not mutually exclusive dichotomies.

There is not the choice of one and the rejection of the other.

Parallel thinking does not use such hard-edged boxes.

The points of contrast between the two systems are like the ends of a spectrum.

For example, judgement may be at one end and design at the other.

Parallel thinking is then closer to the design end of the spectrum than is traditional thinking, which is very close to the judgement end.

For example, parallel thinking does use judgement in order to decide whether a ‘designed’ outcome is useful or valid.

The difference is that judgement is used at this point, not as a way of getting the outcome.

Similarly, parallel thinking is also concerned with stability, but this is the stability built out of useful change and not through the rejection of all change.

Again, parallel thinking acknowledges the full value of information, but believes that information is not enough unless supplemented by concepts.

Sometimes the difference between parallel thinking and the Western thinking system is a matter of sharp contrast.

Traditional adversarial argument is completely different from parallel exploration of a subject.

The acceptance of possibilities is different from gatekeeper judgement.

Green is a different color from blue.

At other times it is a matter of tendency and emphasis.

In parallel thinking there may be more emphasis on perception than in traditional thinking.

There may be more emphasis on generating ideas than on judging them.

We could say: ‘This color is more green than blue.’

It should by now be clear that there is a real and fundamental difference between parallel thinking and traditional Western thinking.

There are huge differences of operation.

There are huge differences in the basics: 

design vs. discovery; 

possibility vs. judgement, etc.

To try to fit them into the same ‘box’ weakens the value of each thinking method and could only be achieved with a box labelled ‘thinking’.

It is also futile to point out that some element of each method occurs in the other.

There is indeed some overlap, but the ‘flagpoles’ are far apart.

There is some speculation in traditional thinking just as there is some judgement in parallel thinking.

Airplanes and birds both fly; a mechanical ditch digger and a mole both make holes in the ground.

In one system we have judgement of the ‘truth’ as defined by categories we have set up.

In the other system we design forward from a field of parallel possibilities.




Summary 2: The Failure of Western Thinking

It is now time to pull together the various points that have been made in the book regarding the ‘failure’ of Western thinking.

We can look at this failure under three possible headings?

1. Western thinking has failed because it is suitable only for certain purposes and totally inadequate for other purposes.

2. Western thinking has failed because it is actually dangerous and forces us to look at the world in a harmful way.

3. Western thinking has failed because its complacency and its ability to defend itself have made it impossible to develop different thinking methods.

The Socratic method was designed for a very specific purpose.

Following the subjectivity of the sophists, some of whom believed that personal perceptual truths were the only truths, Socrates set out to ‘discover’ the ‘true definitions’ of such things as ‘justice’.

He was concerned with putting ethics on to a firm basis so that the persuasive skills of the sophists could no longer sway society.

Plato, with his strong fascist tendencies, developed the notion of ‘ideal forms’ which was imposed on the world by his thinking.

Later, Aristotle (the third member of the Gang of Three) tightened up the system and showed its application to science.

Throughout the ages this ‘discovery-of-the-truth’ idiom has been very attractive to philosophers, to religious thinkers and to scientists because it has been the basis of their employment.

But this idiom is totally inadequate when there is a need to construct, to build, to change and to design a way forward.

You can discover gold, but you have to design and build a house.

Applying standard ideas is no use if there is a need to develop new ideas.

Where problems cannot be solved by identifying and removing the cause, there is a need to ‘design a way forward’.

Our thinking habits and our education have placed all the emphasis on analysis and judgement.

There has been no emphasis placed or design and creativity.

Yet the present-day problems of the world are crying out for those skills.

The traditional thinking system has simply been inadequate on the ‘generative’, ‘creative’ and ‘productive’ side.

This is because the traditional thinking system was not designed for such purposes at all.

Neither Socrates nor Plato was to blame.

You cannot blame the designers of a farm tractor if someone finds it not much use as a racing car.

The fault lies with those who have failed to see the inadequacy of the system and who, to this day, seek to defend it as complete.

The traditional thinking system seeks to attack fault, to solve problems and to correct what is ‘wrong’.

Yet progress needs to come from challenging and rethinking concepts which have been ‘right’ in their time.

Because we have come to accept such concepts as ‘truths’, we defend them vigorously and never see any value in challenging them.

In any case, the system provides no means for challenging them.

There is no place for formal creativity in the traditional thinking system.

Nor is there any place for ‘design’.

If you are seeking to discover the truth then you are not interested in ‘creating truths’.

Of course, creativity has been permitted in the arts and to talented individuals, but it has never been accepted as a mainstream necessity.

Yet we now know that there is a mathematical necessity for creativity in any self-organizing information system like the human brain.

What are we going to do about it?

So traditional Western thinking has been inadequate in the creative and design side of thinking.

That such thinking has taken place at all is due to individual energy, the possibility system (not the judgement system) and the search for the truth.

This last element is indeed part of the traditional thinking system, and has been a good motivator in science, but in complex, nonlinear systems design has now become more important than discovery.

We can now move on to the actual dangers of the traditional thinking system.

From the ‘search for the truth’ and the harshness of the judgement system have come righteousness, arrogance and intolerance of plurality.

When you have found the ‘truth’ you know that everyone else must be ‘wrong’.

Indeed you must show them that they are wrong, because this is one of the fundamental ways of proving that you are right.

You set up a mutually exclusive dichotomy and then prove the other side wrong.

It would be unfair to claim that discrimination and racism arise from this judgement/box idiom of Western thinking, because other cultures show the same tendency from time to time.

But it could be said that Western thinking has reinforced and legitimized these nasty habits of mind.

The need for dialectic clash in order to get at the truth has led directly to the verbal conflict of adversarial argument.

Once again this legitimizes and reinforces the nasty combative habit of humans when they want to get their own way.

In practice this argument habit is extraordinarily inefficient and ineffective.

It allows the operation of personal power politics and never makes full use of the intellectual talent available.

It puts matters into the ‘us-and-them’ mode.

It is only when one has seen the effectiveness of parallel thinking (for example within the Six Hats framework) that the sheer incompetence of the argument method becomes obvious.

Western thinking is failing because its complacent arrogance prevents it from seeing the extent of its failure.

Because criticism is so very easy (just choose a frame different from the one offered), it has become a dominating habit of even intelligent people.

There is a ridiculous belief that it is enough to get rid of the ‘bad things’ and what will be left are good things.

Today’s experience all over the world shows that getting rid of the bad things only results in chaos.

There may no longer be any person or party to blame, but that is the only gain.

The elevation of the ‘critical intelligence’ to the highest level of human endeavor has probably been the single greatest mistake of Western intellectual development.

Yet that is still the basis of our culture and our universities.

That is danger indeed.

Think of all that wasted intellectual talent which might have been harnessed to creative and constructive effort.

In times of total stability the critical intelligence might have been necessary to prevent any change and to keep things on the agreed course.

But we are so very poor at dealing with change because we still hold that dangerous belief.

We now come to the third leg of the ‘failure’ of Western thinking.

This is complacency.

The Gang of Three really set up a belief system which forces us to look at the world in a way which confirms that belief system.

It is a system that is very good at attack and defense on its own terms.

It is like a Frenchman in France telling you that you must speak French if you are in France.

For historic reasons the thinking of the Gang of Three was very welcome at the Renaissance, because it replaced dogma and scripture with logic and reason.

Both the humanists and the Church thinkers eagerly embraced this wonderful new thinking (which it was at the time).

So this particular system of thinking captured the heights of Western intellectual culture and has remained there ever since, because of its ability to defend itself with its own rules and to intimidate anyone who dares question its excellence.

Horrific as it may seem, there are people today who seriously believe that it is enough to teach ‘critical thinking’ in schools.

This traditional type of judgement thinking has a high value but completely leaves out the constructive, productive, creative and ‘operacy’ side of thinking which is so desperately needed in society.

So the very existence of traditional Western thinking has meant that all educated people were brought up to believe in the sufficiency of analysis and debate.

That is the only way they can think, and therefore they believe it to be the only possible way to think.

But is it?

Because this traditional method seems so excellent in the particular universe of education (for analyzing and commenting on what is put in front of you), people come to believe in its excellence.

We have therefore made no effort to develop other methods of thinking.

The intellectual ‘guardians’ of society (in the fascist Platonic sense) set as a method for everyone what happens to suit their own analytical purposes.

Those who need to be constructive in society and those who wish to be constructive in society are treated as if they do not think and do not need to think.

The constructive and creative side of thinking has been neglected because it is of less use to academics.

Just as Chinese civilization was sterilized by reverence for its academics, so Western civilization is being held back by the notion that anal sis and description are sufficient thinking skills.

We are all so entrained in the traditional Western way of thinking that it is difficult to stand back to look at its virtues, its peculiarities, its limitations and its arrogance.

That it should be arrogant defines it as a belief system.

It is only by comparison with an alternative approach to thinking, as in parallel thinking, that we can come to see more clearly the nature of the Western thinking process that has so pre-empted our thinking about thinking.

I suspect that in the future computer software will allow us to use self-organizing field effects which will force us beyond the step-by-step propositional thinking to which we have been hitherto limited.

My own entry into the subject of thinking came directly from my work in medicine with the more complicated interactive systems (glands, kidneys, respiration, circulation) and the need to develop concepts of self-organizing information systems.

This led to the consideration of behavior in neural networks (see my book The Mechanism of Mind).

From that came my interest in creative thinking and the development of the processes of lateral thinking.

This led on to the importance of perceptions and concepts, and eventually to a realization that traditional thinking was not as complete and not as perfect as had believed.

Western thinking has always assumed a particular information universe, just as Euclid assumed a plane surface for his geometry.

If we move into self-organizing information universes then traditional thinking can be seen as only one particular thinking method.

So Western thinking is failing because it is not designed to deal with a changing world.

It is failing because it is inadequate to deal with change, because it does not offer creative, constructive and design energy.

It is failing because it suggests dangerous judgements and discriminations which tend to make things worse (as in legislative chambers and politics).

It is failing because its complacent arrogance prevents it from seeing the extent of its failure.




Action Epilogue

This section need be read only by those people who, having come to the end of the book, ask: ‘So what do we do about it?’

Since the purpose of parallel thinking is to design an outcome, it is only appropriate that those who seek an outcome from this book should have the opportunity to consider some suggestions.

In general, think we should pay much more attention to the principles of parallel thinking.

We need to rid ourselves of the obsession that criticism is enough.

We need to do very much more about design, constructive thinking and creative thinking.

It is no longer enough to suppose that these things are ‘just going to happen’.

We need to realize that we need ideas as much as we need information.

I am often asked by radio interviewers to tell listeners what they can do about their thinking if they do not want to buy a book or go on a course.

This is rather like asking what you can do about eating if you do not want to buy food and do not want to go to a restaurant.

If we really want to change our thinking habits then we do need to do some things.

A slight change in attitude will not have much effect.

I would like to see ‘thinking’ taught as a specific subject in all schools.

Thinking should also be infused into other subject areas, but it does benefit from being the centre of attention in specific ‘thinking lessons’.

Many schools and some countries have been doing this for some time already.

It is not enough that there should be the old-fashioned critical thinking, which is so lacking in the creative and constructive aspects of thinking.

There is a need for ‘operacy’ and the skills of doing.

Analysis and judgement are not sufficient.

It is no longer excuse enough to say that it cannot be done or that there are no practical ways of teaching thinking.

The CoRT Thinking Lessons have now been in use for many years in many countries with many different cultures.

The students respond to them very well.

The Six Hats method for teaching structured parallel thinking is also now becoming more widely used in schools.

So there are practical things that can be done, and experience with these.

To claim that these things cannot be done is like proving that cheese does not exist.

It does.

At all levels in education I would like much more attention paid to the ‘design’ side of thinking.

We need to supplement the usual focus on analysis with an equal emphasis on design.

How do you bring things about?

How do you make things happen?

How do you create new ideas?

We need to be specific about teaching the skills and habit of design.

This is ‘design’ in its broadest sense and not just buildings and machines.

We need to consider complex interactive systems and how we can design within such frameworks.

This should apply in all subject areas, so that even those who have less need to use design will know what it is about and why judgement alone is not sufficient.

Creativity and the design process and parallel thinking itself are only ways of achieving constructive results.

We need to pay attention to ‘serious creativity’.

Creativity is no longer a matter of messing around and hoping that ideas will emerge.

Creativity is much more than taking off your tie, feeling liberated and brainstorming.

Such processes are weak and old-fashioned.

There are formal techniques, such as those of lateral thinking, which can be applied as deliberately as we might use a mathematical procedure.

All students in whatever subject area should be given the chance to develop such skills.

We must get away from the belief that creativity is the business of only a few talented geniuses.

I would almost like to see governments taking ‘design’ seriously enough to have a Department or Ministry for New Ideas.

Such a department would seek to encourage and collect emerging ideas.

Such a department would set up teams to develop new ideas on specific issues.

I would like to see the United Nations set up a formal Office of Creativity.

This would provide a framework for focusing design thinking on issues and problems.

Such an office would also provide a platform for the bringing forward of new ideas which might be too politically sensitive to be ascribed to one country or another.

I would like to see International Creative Commissions set up to do some new thinking and some design thinking around specified subjects: healthcare, ecology, employment, etc.

Businesses are already starting to use the Six Hats method of parallel thinking because they find it so much more powerful and productive than traditional argument.

All organizations should seek to put this simple procedure into their operating culture.

I would like to see society having the courage to challenge and rethink some of our most basic concepts in economics, in education, in government and elsewhere.

There is good reason to believe that existing concepts have reached the end of their useful life.

I would like to see an international centre set up which would focus directly on the improvement of thinking methods.

Part of the work of such a centre would be training people to train others.

Part would be the development of better thinking tools and processes.

Part would be organizing Creative Commissions to rethink standard concepts and methods.

Such a centre could become the focus for the new culture of thinking.

Throughout, the final emphasis should be on constructive thinking.

Creativity and the design process and parallel thinking itself are only ways of achieving constructive results.

It is no longer enough to talk about the top of the mountain.

It is no longer enough to talk about ‘peace’ or a pollution-free world’.

There is a need to develop climbing techniques if we are going to get to the top of the mountain.

We do not have to throw out the traditional system of thinking.

But we need to be aware of its dangers.

We need to note where it is excellent and where it is inadequate.

We need to combine the generative processes of parallel thinking with the judgement processes of critical thinking.

Above all we need the courage to question whether the thinking system which we have held so dear for 2,500 years is really going to be adequate to guide us over the next 100 years.

Being defensive and complacent about our thinking methods is almost as bad as considering that all this is someone else’s business.





“Why is ‘thinking’ important? awareness — seeing the road ahead

Because without thinking we can only act in the following ways:

1. Act purely on instinct like insects.

2. Repeat the usual routines.

3. Do what someone else > decides > and orders.

4. Follow the emotion of the moment.” — Edward de Bono


If you don’t design your own life THEN someone else will do it for you!!!

The Alternative to Tyranny

Dealing with risk and uncertainty


Everyday thinking is what fills in the time when you are neither asleep nor dead.


Thinking is that waste of time between SEEING something and “knowing” what to do about it.


Knowing what to do


The purpose of thinking is to deliver to you the values you seekcontinue


“If you do not care
to understand something
then you must borrow an explanation
from someone else (and they will deceive you)
or do without one.” continue


Dealing with risk and uncertainty

What thinking is needed — now or later? ↑ ↓

Now and then the ‘edge effect’




Edward de Bono interview (12+ minutes) #audioplayback

Wisdom is largely about broadening perception

to know something important … (#sda on memo)


Finding and selecting the pieces

Connect, connect, connect

Getting a broader view !!! helicopter



Most of the mistakes in thinking are mistakes in perception. an exploration #sda


star-red-16x16 SEEING only part of the situation — insufficient #information


Topics vs. realities ::: larger view




Three types of broad — width, depth, richness



Once you see something you can’t unsee it

JUDGEMENTAttention-directing frameworks


mental patterns



harvest and implement

Now and then the ‘edge effect’

It’s easy to get lost without a map

Creating a better “map”


bluebox10 The patterning system of the mind — the NEED for MANY competing patterns


bluebox10 Finding and selecting the pieces of the puzzle

“Alternatives don’t have to show themselves” ↓


bluebox10 A big really picture

A smaller element ↓



star-green-10x10 “The terms knowledge industries, knowledge work and knowledge worker are nearly fifty (sixty, seventy, eighty) years old.

They were coined around 1960, simultaneously but independently— the first by a Princeton economist, Fritz Machlup, the second and third by this writer.

Now everyone uses them, but as yet hardly anyone understands their implications for human values and human behavior, for managing people and making them productive, for economics, and for politics.” — PFD

star-green-10x10 The Second Curve — missing the turn to the future

star-green-10x10 The World: A Brief Introduction

star-green-10x10 Books by Walter Wriston

star-green-10x10 Technology is about work: the specifically human activity by means of which man pushes back the limitations of the iron biological law which condemns all other animals to devote all their time and energy to keeping themselves alive for the next day, if not for the next hour.

star-blue-10x10 “A change as tremendous as … doesn’t just satisfy existing wants, or replace things we are now doing.

It creates new wants and makes new things possible.”

star-green-10x10 Knowledge and technology

star-green-10x10 No surprises

star-blue-10x10 Long years of profound changes

star-blue-10x10 The Five Deadly Sins

star-green-10x10 A FREEDOM brainroad

star-green-10x10 T. George Harris — civil rights, politics, business, psychology, careers, self-development, health and spirituality

star-green-10x10 Celebrating the life of Peter Druckeraudio by Rick Warren

star-green-10x10 Things don’t alway work out as expected. What are the implications for those impacted?

star-blue-10x10 The voyage of the St. Louis 1939

star-blue-10x10 The really bad guys don’t always get what they deserve

star-blue-10x10 The good guys don’t always carry out their obligations


bluebox10 Intelligence, information, thinking

star-green-10x10 If you never change your mind, why have one?

Have a sign on your desk which says:

‘Same thinking as yesterday, last year or ten years ago.’ — life experience

star-green-10x10 Parallel Thinking

star-blue-10x10 Water Logic — what does something lead to?

star-green-10x10 Think! Before It's Too Late

star-green-10x10 Practical ThinkingThe black cylinder experiment and the world surrounding you

star-green-10x10 Textbook of Wisdom — if you can SEE the road ahead …

star-green-10x10 Attention directing frameworks — a place in the mind

star-green-10x10 Intelligence ::: Information ::: Thinking combo pdf

star-green-10x10 Three types of intelligence

star-green-10x10 Dealing with risk and uncertainty

star-green-10x10 Information: Search not Think

star-green-10x10 Windows of Opportunity

star-green-10x10 Information and Decisions

star-green-10x10 What Everybody Knows Is Frequently Wrong

star-green-10x10 Time-life Navigation Insights

bluebox10 The memo THEY don’t want you to see

bluebox10 Why bother?

star-green-10x10 How can the INDIVIDUAL survive?

star-green-10x10 The INDIVIDUAL in entrepreneurial society

bluebox10 Managing Oneself — a REVOLUTION in human affairs

star-green-10x10 More than anything else we are responsible for our own self-development and allocating our lives

star-green-10x10 The second half of one’s life

star-blue-10x10 Who you really are and who you might become!?


star-red-16x16 Jumping to conclusions

see above

altenative paths toward judgement

bluebox10 “Most people make the mistake of believing that because something is simple, obvious and sensible we do it all the time.

This is not so at all.

We do not usually do even the simplest of things.” EDB

bluebox10 Assumptions


star-red-16x16 Misinterpretation caused by feelings

bluebox10 What about feelings and values?

bluebox10 What about beliefs? It is also true that beliefs can stand in the way of progress

bluebox10 Doing a PMI

bluebox10 Social ecologist

bluebox10 Sixteen different angles

bluebox10 Broad





Perception provides

the ingredients for thinking ↓ #pta


↑ “If our perceptions are wrong
then no amount of logical excellence
will give the right answer.” ↓


Your thinking, choices, DECISIONS are

determined by

what you’ve “SEEN
↑ …



“It is only our lack of complete information
that makes it necessary for us to think”

The traditional notion in education that information is sufficient is old-fashioned and dangerous



“In addition to information

we need #ideas.

Ideas are
the spectacles
through which
we look
at information



‘An #idea
can never
make the best use
of available information
information trickles into the mind
over a period of time
the idea patterns set up
cannot be as good
as if
all the information
arrived at once.’ continue




“One does not pay attention to everything.


And one acts
only upon what one is
paying attention to.


(A Century of Social Transformation)


The reaction may be #thinking or it may be action (which is only thinking that passes through our mouths or our muscles instead of our minds).

The world around is full of a huge number of things to which one could pay attention.

But it would be impossible to react to everything at once.

So one reacts only to a selected part of it.


The choice of attention area
the action or thinking
that follows.


The choice
of this area of attention
is one of the most fundamental
aspects of thinking.”

Very powerful ::: TLN Insights ::: #adt #edb


The thinking
to get things done

Getting the RIGHT things done and avoiding the four realities of an executive’s situation that push them toward futility

Is it a problem or an important decision?

Career Performance or trivial pursuit

objectives, priorities, alternatives,
other people's views,
creativity, decisions, choices, planning,
consequences of action operacy



“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence;

it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker



The shift from manual workers
who do as they are being told
either by the task or by the boss —

TO knowledge workers
who have to manage themselves

profoundly challenges social structure


Managing Oneself (PDF) is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” …

“It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities:
Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life),

and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context



More than anything else,

the individual
has to take more responsibility
for himself or herself,
rather than depend on the company.”


“Making a living is no longer enough
‘Work’ has to make a life .” continue

finding and selecting the pieces of the puzzle


The Second Curve




These pages are attention directing tools for navigating a world moving relentlessly toward unimagined futures.



What’s the next effective action on the road ahead


It’s up to you to figure out what to harvest and calendarize
working something out in time (1915, 1940, 1970 … 2040 … the outer limit of your concern)nobody is going to do it for you.

It may be a step forward to actively reject something (rather than just passively ignoring) and then working out a plan for coping with what you’ve rejected.

Your future is between your ears and our future is between our collective ears — it can’t be otherwise.

A site exploration: The memo THEY don't want you to see



To create a site search, go to Google’s site ↓

Type the following in their search box ↓

your search text



What needs doing?




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