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Practical Thinking

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

practical thinking

Amazon link: Practical Thinking: 4 Ways to be Right; 5 Ways to be Wrong; 5 Ways to Understand

How is it that in an argument both sides are always right?

How is it that no one ever makes a mistake on purpose but that mistakes get made?

How to guarantee non-performance

The short life-span of the business enterprise

These are some of the questions that Edward de Bono answers in this book.

His theme is everyday thinking, how the mind actually works—not how philosophers think it should work.





Everyday thinking is what fills in the time when you are neither asleep nor dead.

Just as you notice a car engine only when it is not running smoothly so you become aware of everyday thinking when it is not running smoothly.

Everyday thinking is involved in

family squabbles;
making mayonnaise;
planning a holiday;
what to do about the dog when you want to go away for the week-end;
thinking of an excuse for getting to work late;
finding an easy way of getting through your work;
educating the children;
opening a bottle of beer when you have lost the opener;
keeping your end up in a political argument;
and possibly trying to make the world a better place to live in.

There is no law requiring one to think for oneself or to make one's own ideas.

In important matters it is usually easier to accept other people's ideas ready-made and this saves one the trouble of doing any thinking for oneself—though one may still have to do it in minor matters.

Often one has no choice but to accept the ideas of others because thinking things out for oneself can be so difficult.

Education unfortunately provides little help in this matter.

You can probably remember things you were taught at school

about geography (valleys, river deltas, rice-growing countries, etc.) and

about history (dates of battles, names of kings, etc.).

But can you remember what you were taught about thinking?

Or is thinking something that one knows all about anyway—like walking or breathing?

The truth is that thinking is too important a matter to do anything about.

So we have left it to the philosophers who over the ages have amused themselves with the most intricate analyses which have little relevance to everyday life.

Some time ago a man (Rudolf Carnap), who was described as being one of the most influential philosophers of the century, died.

Influential on his fellow philosophers, but hardly on anyone else.

Just how much influence does logical positivism have on everyday thinking?

Why truth is best described as a particular constellation of circumstances with a particular outcome.




In everyday thinking both sides in a fight are always right.

This is because being right is the feeling of being right.

This is what guides your actions, not the abstract philosophical rightness of your ideas.

In this book the four practical ways of being right are explored:

currant cake (emotional rightness);

jig-saw puzzle (logical rightness);

village Venus (unique rightness);

measles (recognition rightness).

In addition to picking out and naming the four different ways of being right the book also picks out and names the five levels of understanding and the five major mistakes in thinking.

The purpose of picking out and naming these patterns of thinking is to make them recognizable.

It then becomes possible to recognize these patterns in your own thinking and in the thinking of others.

You can also talk about them in as definite a way as you might talk about a car or a hamburger.

Without such named patterns thinking is vague and intangible and hence very difficult to talk about.

As soon as one can talk about thinking one is on the way to regarding it as a skill like playing tennis or cooking.

Far too many people regard thinking as a matter of inborn intelligence—which it is not.

In my researches and experiments I have again and again come across very intelligent people who turned out to be very poor thinkers.

Nor have I found that thinking skill has much to do with education, for some of the best educated people (Ph.D.s, university lecturers and professors, senior business executives, etc.) have also been poor thinkers.

To regard thinking as a skill rather than as a gift is the first step towards doing something to improve that skill.

The book looks at practical everyday thinking which allows us to use something effectively without knowing all the details—for instance a TV set.

Other aspects of thinking explored include imagination, creativity, the YES/NO system, the deadly danger of arrogance and the huge importance of humour in thinking.

Thinking may seem to be too complex a process to be understood but the two basic steps are quite simple (carry on and connect up further down the page).

The book also explains the extraordinary paradox that man may be able to think so much better than animals only because he is stupider.

In writing about thinking it is very easy to get lost in word dances with ideas chasing ideas in a confused whirl.

In order to avoid this confusion the book is based on a direct experiment in thinking and not on fancy speculation.

This simple experiment provides the backbone that runs through the book and keeps it from flopping into a shapeless metaphysical mess.

I really do believe that the most optimistic thing about the human race is its relative stupidity.

There would be little hope if the human race was as bright as it thinks it is and still got itself into so much trouble.

I believe that if we started paying attention directly to the subject of everyday thinking it would be rather more useful than shooting for the moon.

At the moment, for instance, there are more professors in England concerned with Sanskrit than with thinking as a skill.


Why not try a page search for “right” on this page and this page?





  • Introduction
  • Knowing What to Do
    • Three basic know-all processes
      • Instinct
      • Learning
        • First-hand learning
        • Second-hand learning
      • Understanding
    • Thinking in practice
      • Why bother?
      • Basic thinking process
      • Understanding is thinking
  • The Black Cylinder Experiment
    • The Challenge
      • Imagine a tall black cylinder standing on a white table in front of you.
      • No one is near the table and there is nothing on the table except the cylinder which stands stark and alone.
      • About twenty minutes pass.
      • Suddenly, without warning, the cylinder falls over with a crash.
      • Why?
      • No one has gone near it.
      • Nothing has been seen to happen.
      • There is no sound except the crash of the falling cylinder.
      • You are asked to try and understand what has happened and to write down your explanation on a card.
      • But you have only ten minutes in which to think of an explanation—and you are not allowed to examine the cylinder in any way.
    • Experimental subjects
    • Relevance
      • The black cylinder experiment was deliberately kept simple so that the thinking processes involved in trying to understand the phenomenon could be easily analysed.
      • What relevance does this experiment have to everyday thinking?
        • There are the following points which are common both to everyday thinking and to the black cylinder experiment:
          • Not enough information is given.
          • There is no opportunity to collect the data one needs.
          • Trial and error experimentation is not possible.
          • There is no way of checking whether an idea is right or wrong.
          • It is not a closed situation in which one can prove that one is right.
          • There may be several different explanations.
          • One is dealing with vague ideas and not with precise numbers which can be put through a mathematical formula.
          • It is not so much a matter of checking ideas but of thinking of them first.
          • In spite of the inadequate information one is required to come to a definite conclusion.
          • There is no one to ask.
      • Out of the thousand people who took part in the experiment only three wrote on their cards: 'I do not care.'
        • This is a perfectly valid response for no one is obliged to understand anything.
        • If you do not care to understand something then you must borrow an explanation from someone else or do without one.
      • Process not content
      • Raw thinking
      • Results
    • The Five Ways to Understand
      • L-1 Simple description
        • Impossible to say nothing
        • Pass it on
        • A Valid First-Level Explanation of What Happened
      • L-2 Porridge words
        • Very useful meaningless words
      • L-3 Give it a name
        • Magic and magnets
        • Modern magic
        • Minor magic
        • Names mean a lot
      • L-4 The way it works
        • Cause and effect
        • Name or process
        • Follows on
      • L-5 Full details
        • How full are full details?
        • Combination of third and fourth levels
      • Summary of levels of understanding
        • Levels used everywhere
    • The Use of Understanding
      • How much detail
        • Scientific analysis
        • Everyday thinking
        • Doing something
        • Need and use
        • Detail danger
        • Usefulness is what matters
      • Black boxes
        • Press the right button
        • Spells and special gods
        • More primitive but more advanced
        • Automation age
        • Ignorance tools
        • Leap-frog
        • To use a black box one has first to recognize it in order to know which is the right button to press
      • Named-ideas and bundle-ideas
        • Contents
        • Movement
        • Requirements
        • Requiron
        • Modification
        • Named-ideas and action
        • Trapped
        • Stock
          • 1. Precise named-ideas
          • 2. Vague named-ideas (porridge words)
          • 3. Interaction named-ideas
          • The vague ideas and the interaction ideas are the ones used to make up bundle-ideas
          • Third and fourth level of understanding
            • Bundle-ideas tend to correspond to the fourth level
            • Named-ideas on the other hand correspond to the third level
      • Precise principles and vague general ideas
      • Summary
    • The Basic Thinking Processes
      • Carry-on
      • Connect-up
        • Movement
      • Problems and questions
        • Jump ahead
        • Known and unknown destinations
        • Porridge words
      • Man is stupider than animals
        • The short-sighted hen
        • The dog with a cold
        • Cabbages and kings
      • Cross-links
        • Tortoises win races
      • Summary of porridge words
    • The Five Ways to be Wrong
      • M-1 The monorail mistake
        • Lean against it
        • Weight to one side
        • Top-heavy
        • Top-heavy and to one side
        • Shift in centre of gravity
        • Monorail mistake is easy to make
      • M-2 The magnitude mistake
        • Abstract ideas
        • Measurement
        • Names not measurement
      • M-3 The misfit mistake
        • Goodness of fit
        • Easy to make
      • M-4 The must-be mistake
        • Stops evolution
        • Shuts out alternatives
        • Culture and personality
      • M-5 The miss-out mistake
        • The whole picture
        • Selection
        • Attention area
      • Summary
      • Correcting mistakes
      • Mistakes arise directly from the way the mind handles information
    • The Four Ways to be Right
      • The need to be right
      • Understanding the unknown
      • Education and being right
      • Being right is a feeling
      • Four ways of being right
      • R-1 Emotional rightness (currant cake)
        • Gut feeling
        • Limitations
          • The time-scale is likely to be the shortest possible one
          • The ideas it supports may clash with the interests of others
        • Summary
      • R-2 Logical rightness (jig-saw puzzle)
        • Funny-shaped pieces
        • Choose your own pieces
        • Make the pieces fit
        • Using the wrong pieces
          • Which bowl is more contaminated …
          • Increasing the ratio of boys to girls
          • Reaching the wrong conclusions
        • Limitations
          • 1. Incorrect basic ideas are … properly fitted into a logical structure
          • 2. Conclusions can never be more valid than the ideas one starts with
          • 3. A clever person can prove just about anything by skillfully fitting together …
          • 4. Incorrect basic ideas at the bottom …
          • 5. Arrogance and a belief in the absolute rightness
          • 6. Being right at each step is the essence of logical rightness
          • Main limitations of logical rightness can be summed up as the arrogance …
      • R-3 Unique rightness (the village Venus)
        • de Bono's 2nd law
          • Soft sciences
          • Outside science
        • Limitations
          • 1. Can quickly become dogmatic certainty
          • 2. Uniqueness achieved not by lack of imagination but by demolition of alternatives
          • 3. Refusal to accept alternative explanations
      • R-4 Recognition rightness (measles)
        • Immediate recognition
        • Worked-up recognition
        • Enough
        • Limitations
          • 1. The feeling of certainty is almost inversely related to the accuracy of the recognition
          • 2. You can never be sure …
          • 3. Different people see different features
          • 4. The diagnosis names or patterns have to have been established beforehand
          • 5. Diagnosis name you use has the same meaning for other people
          • 6. You have to exclude other diagnoses which are fairly close
          • 7. Recognition rightness does not in any way prove that the basic picture is itself right
        • Recognition rightness summary points
    • The YES / NO System
      • Limitations
        • 1. Adequate is good enough
        • 2. Permanent labels
        • 3. Sharp polarization
        • 4. Arrogance of righteousness
      • The arrogance of being right
        • Ideas first
        • Intellectual tradition based on arrogant righteousness
        • Types of arrogance
        • Arrogance, effectiveness and fanaticism
        • Arrogance and stupidity
        • Justified arrogance
        • Arrogant righteousness and the thinking process
      • The arrogance mistake
        • Doubt
          • Retardant doubt
          • Propellant doubt
        • Anti-arrogance
      • Summary
    • Humour, Insight and PO
      • Humorous explanations for cylinder falling over
      • Escape from the YES/NO system
      • Half right
      • Push ahead
      • Intermediate impossible
      • Right at each step
      • Insight
        • Problem
      • de Bono's 1st law
      • Discontinuity
      • 'PO' the new word
        • Two uses of PO
          • First use: liberation
          • Second use: provocation
        • Change and new ideas
      • Summary
    • Imagination
      • Aspects of imagination
        • 1. Picture vividness
        • 2. Number of alternatives
        • 3. Different ways of looking at something
        • 4. Creative imagination
      • Imagination in the black cylinder experiment
        • Timing devices
        • Raising weight to the top
        • Impact on side wall
        • Alterations to base
      • Reverse approach
        • Unstable to start with
        • Bent to start with
        • Turning a process off
      • The use of imagination
        • Imagination and unique rightness
        • Imagination and basic thinking processes
        • Imagination and creativity
      • Summary
    • Creativity
      • Black cylinder experiment: lack of multiple possible explanations and reasons
        • 1. No time
        • 2. Satisfied
        • 3. Thrown out
        • 4. Too detailed
        • 5. Too general
        • 6. No knowledge
        • 7. No ideas
      • Lateral thinking (the process); Creativity (the result)
      • Purpose of creativity
        • Escape old ideas
        • Generation of new ideas
      • Satisfaction and creativity
      • Change
      • Knowledge and creativity
      • Being wrong and creativity
      • Techniques and time in creativity
      • Summary
    • Attention and Clues
      • Area of attention
      • Carving out areas of attention
      • Different attention areas
      • Clues
        • Generating clues
        • Purpose of clues
          • 1. To suggest ideas
          • 2. To confirm ideas
          • 3. To exclude ideas
        • Shuttle
        • Danger
      • Science tries to be wrong
      • Practical man has to be right
      • Bandwidth analysis
      • Distortion
    • Think — 2
      • Starting place
        • Disagreement
      • Summary
    • Conclusion
      • The most important rules of everyday thinking
    • Summary Notes
    • Back cover


“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 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




These pages are attention directing tools for navigating a world moving toward unimagined futures.

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 figure out a coping plan for 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 starting point



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