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Atlas of Management Thinking


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










This unusual book needs an introduction more than most.

I want to explain its purpose and why I wrote (and drew) it.


The book has two clear purposes: right-brain thinking, and communication.


This may be the first book ever to be written specifically for the right side of the brain — the intuitive side.

I am not aware of any other book with that deliberate purpose.

Its function as a communication system arises from that first purpose, but it can be used independently, and it was this use in communication that suggested the word 'atlas' in the title.

An atlas is a visual reference system, and although thinking is an abstract subject I believe we can create perceptual maps of its use.


Many people are aware of the value and power of intuition: of those feelings and images that are part of thinking but cannot be verbalized.


Over the last few years there has been a good deal of experimental work that has sought to distinguish the operations of the two halves of the human brain.

It is in the left half of the brain that the speech centre is located and this half seems to control our physical activities as well.

In left-handed people it is the reverse.

Left-brain thinking seems to be word-based and to proceed in a logical, sequential manner.

It follows that all books tend to be left-brain books.

The right brain, it seems, is concerned with a different sort of thinking: with images and whole patterns and impressions and what we call intuition.

This sharp division of functions smacks a little bit of Victorian phrenology.

For my part I do not really care whether these 'right-brain functions actually take place only in the right brain or elsewhere.


What I do think is important is the recognition of a type of thinking that is not dominated by language.


Right-brain thinking happens to have become a useful term of reference for this.

I shall also use the term 'image thinking', recognizing that this spans all the way from actual images to undefined feelings.


Anyone who has been to one of my seminars knows that I accompany every thought with an image drawn on an overhead projector.

In the course of a day I might cover five hundred feet of acetate with these images.


They are 'idea pictures' which represent relationships, functions and happenings, not physical reality.


I believe that such images can be more powerful than words for conveying ideas because, unlike words, they exist completely at one moment in time.


A scientist obtains the same effect when he looks at a graph of a complex relationship that would take many seconds to describe in words.


We could describe a chair with a string of words: 'a platform about eighteen inches off the ground and supported by a leg at each corner and….'

We never do this because we have a vague visual image that covers all chairs, and we only need to trigger this image with the single word 'chair'.

When we taste wine we may appreciate the sensations at the front of the mouth, the top, the back and the sides.

We may appreciate the bouquet and the after-taste.

We do not have to verbalize it all.

It is enough to sense the ‘flavor’.

We may form a taste image just as we form a visual image for a chair.


Unfortunately we do not have non-verbal images for complex situations.

The reason is that we have never experienced such situations with any 'sense'.

We have only recognized them intellectually, so there is no sense-image storage.


The specific, and perhaps too bold, purpose of this book is to create a repertoire of just such nonverbal sense-images for management situations.

The sense to be used is that of sight — hence the drawings.

The drawings do not have to be accurate and descriptive but they do have to be simple enough to lodge in the memory.

They should not he examined in detail in the way a diagram is examined, because they are not diagrams.

They are intended to convey the 'flavor' of the situation described.

Such images would be used in right-brain thinking.

This would help us to do right-brain thinking about situations which are otherwise restricted to left-brain attention.

I see a synergy between the two sides: a continual moving backwards and forwards between verbal and non-verbal thinking.



I now come to the function of the book as a management communication system.

In a sense this is its 'atlas' function.

If you know someone has an atlas you can refer him to a page number and grid reference so that he can locate what you wish him to look at.

The images in this book can be used in exactly the same way.

You do not have to remember the images or be able to draw them.

All you do is to ensure that each of your executives (and other businesses you deal with) has a copy of this book.

You then treat it as you would an atlas.

There are no grid references — Just page numbers.

'If we are not careful I can see ourselves heading into a page 164.

'As for Jackson, it is a typical page 99.

'I don't like this new plan at all — see page 98.

'We talk a lot about productivity but it is just page 16 stuff.

'I agree there is an opportunity but that proposal is page 67.

'Is page 182 familiar?'


The comments may be written or spoken.


What are the advantages of such a system in terms of convenience?

It provides a shorthand that can convey very quickly the flavor of a complex situation.

You do not even need the expanse of a postcard.

In fact it is a much better help to communication than a laptop, which only enables people to be even more verbose.

Because the 'atlas' takes responsibility, it is possible to be much more blunt and direct.

There is no need to say things in an oblique way and to beat about the bush.

Signaling a page number is never embarrassing.

This can be important both in negotiations and also in appraisals of performance.

The Repertoire provides a convenient labelling system for some standard management situations.

The person sending the communication has to clarify his own thoughts in order to select the most appropriate image.

This may be the most important aspect of all.

The system can be used in group discussions as a third party reference system.

It can be used as an aide memoire when a person is thinking to himself about a situation.

The images act like questions: 'Is this the case here?'


For a long time I have been convinced that the business world uses more thinking than any other world.

This is inevitable both because of the rate of change and also because of the need to make things happen.

There are always things to be done:

problems to be solved;

opportunities to be discovered and developed;

ventures to be conceived;

projects to be organized;

forecasts to be made;

assessments to be assessed.

The thinking is very different from that in the academic world or even the scientific world where times does not matter and coasting is easy.

As I have written on other occasions, I have been impressed by the motivation of business executives with regard to thinking.

Of course there are executives who believe that seat-of-the-pants experience is enough. :(

Of course there are those who believe that business is a matter of collecting data and sorting it. :(

Nevertheless there are a considerable number who do believe in the importance of thinking.

Many of these, in turn, believe that there is nothing that can be done to improve thinking and that their personal intelligence is quite sufficient anyway;

but there are others who have just as much confidence in their thinking skills but who accept that thinking is an operating skill and like any other operating skill it can be improved through direct attention. :(

In routine and semi-routine operations experience probably is the best master.

But running up and down a groove successfully does not get one out of the groove.

There was a time when grooved thinking was enough.

Sustained economic growth endorsed traditional methods that were reliable and sufficient.


In a changing and competitive world more and better grooved thinking may not be enough.


Innovation and creativity are important but that is not what I am writing about here.


What I am referring to is a broad range of operating thinking skills: in short all the thinking we have to do if the groove can no longer do our thinking for us.

In particular we need a great deal of conceptual thinking, for in the end the success or failure of a business rests on its concepts.

A concept may only take a few seconds to design but the lack of a good one can mean the failure of a billion dollar corporation.


It is the more successful organizations that sense the need to develop further thinking skills because they attribute their success to their thinking.

The less successful ones see no need because they blame their failure on circumstances.


A few years ago I coined the term 'operacy', which is the skill of getting things done, of making things happen.

I believe that, in education, operacy should be treated on an equal basis with literacy and numeracy.

Traditional education is much too concerned with descriptive thinking because there is an odd notion that from a full information field the right action automatically emerges.

To my mind the most dangerous fallacy in education is the belief that intelligence and thinking skill are the same thing.

It is dangerous in two ways:

firstly because it follows that the intelligent need no training in thinking

and secondly because such training would be pointless for the less intelligent.

Unfortunately highly intelligent people are not always effective thinkers.

So much so that in our work in the Cognitive Research Trust in Cambridge we have coined the term 'intelligence trap' to describe thinking habits which may actually put the intelligent youngster at a disadvantage.

For example, the person who can articulate and argue well can seem to justify any perception, and as a result his thinking effort is directed towards this argumentation rather than to the (more important) perceptual exploration.


There is a growing awareness that even the intelligent need to pay direct attention to thinking skills.

Once we decide to pay direct attention to our thinking skills — instead of regarding them as an automatic part of our intelligence — there are many things that can be done.

There are techniques both in lateral thinking and in basic thinking skills that can be practiced and used.

Software for the mind is no less valuable than software for computers.

Mathematics, itself, is a software system.

This book can now be seen against the background of what I have written above, as an attempt to create a visual meta-language for situations.

I believe it to be worth doing.

The more we enrich our perception the more powerful it becomes.

As computers take over more and more of our thinking, perception will always remain the most important part.

The clarity with which we see a situation is the basis for any subsequent decision or action.

That clarity is not built up piecemeal but obtained through a flash of recognition.

We do not measure the length of a friend's nose in order to recognize his face.

It is this type of recognition that the book aims to help.

Sometimes we call it intuition.




Atlas of Management Thinking




1 Clash, Confrontation, Argument Or …

2 A Sort of Ritual Dance

3 Trumping With a Fact

4 Different Values

5 Different Objectives

6 Different Perceptions

7 Both Sides Are Right

8 Arguing About a Matter of Principle

9 Destructive Arguments

10 Doctrinaire Argument

11 Constructive Argument

12 Cross-Purposes


13 Efficiency

14 Effectiveness

15 Waste

16 Flurry

17 Detail

18 Structural Fault

19 No Flexibility

20 Difficult

21 Structural Improvement

22 Diversion


23 Yes Decision

24 No Decision

25 The Effortless 'No'

26 The Yes Effort

27 An Easy Decision

28 A Difficult Decision

29 A Decision That Is Not Obvious

30 A Weak Decision

31 Decision For Choice

32 Coping With An Obstacle

33 Refusal To Make A Decision

34 Indecisiveness

35 A Counter-Productive Decision

36 Consultation For A Decision

37 Dilemma

38 A Political Decision

Getting There

39 On Target

40 Poor Aim

41 Short-Fall

42 Collapse

43 Recovery

44 Shifting Target

45 Intermediate Targets

46 Guidelines

47 Bring The Target Nearer

48 Broaden The Target

Problem Solving

49 Information And Problem Solving

50 The Factors Involved

51 Combining Elements

52 Define The Problem

54 Confusion

54 Contradiction

55 Solving The Wrong Problem

56 Diversion

57 An Approximate Solution

58 Break Down The Problem

59 Working Backwards

60 Self-Created Problems

61 Opportunities

62 Hidden Opportunity

64 Crowded Opportunity Space

54 The Shallow Opportunity

65 False Opportunity

66 Sensing An Opportunity

67 False Entry

68 Delayed Reward


69 Approval

70 Disapproval

71 Leadership

72 Instruction

73 Demand

74 Coaxing

75 Blocking

76 Turn-off

77 Motivation

78 Organization


79 Sign-Posts

80 Bell-Wethers

81 Block The Old Route

82 Atrophy

83 Temptation

84 Staged Transition

85 Transition Channel

86 New Entry Point


87 Setting An Objective

88 Momentum

89 Rear-End Objectives

90 Shopping

91 Vague Objectives

92 Alternative Objectives

93 Short-Term And Long-Term Objectives

94 Contradictory Objectives


95 Wrong Fit

96 Inadequate Fit

97 Excess

98 Complicated

99 Pre-Emption

100 Combined Fit

101 Standard Units

102 Adaptive Reception

Future Forecasts

103 Wide Uncertainty

104 Extrapolation

105 Degrees Of Gloom

106 Accelerating Disaster

107 Stable States

108 Optimism

109 Bumpy Ride

110 Base-Line Drift

111 Wilder Fluctuations

112 Multiple Scenarios

113 Discontinuity


114 Planning

115 Sub-Plan

116 Incomplete Plan

117 Patchy

118 Unnatural

119 Dislocation

120 Friction

121 Unbalanced

122 Top-Down

123 Bottom-Up

124 Conflicting Plans


125 Thrust

126 General Exploration

127 Broad Front

128 Linking-Up

129 Finding Support

130 Challenge

131 Disbelief

132 Exchange

133 Come Together

134 Putting A Question

135 Detail

136 Consolidation

137 Confusion

138 Survey


139 No Communication

140 Communication

141 Selling

142 Different Languages

143 Barrier

144 Pseudo-Communication

145 Polarization

146 Ambiguity

147 Field of Communication


148 Stability

149 Vulnerability

150 Bankers' Risk

151 Investors' Risk

152 Speculators' Risk

153 Broadway Risk

154 Insurance Risk

155 Inevitable

Group Decisions

156 Compromise

157 Consensus

158 Leadership

159 Power

160 Voting

New Venture Investment

161 Steady and Predictable

162 Front-End Investment

163 Ravine

164 High Technology

165 Deceptive

166 Hidden Costs

167 Cut-off


168 Total Fit

169 Sloppy

170 Almost Suitable

171 Modification

172 Tolerance

173 Design

Organization Structure

174 Pyramid

175 Layers

176 Tree

177 Network

178 GoIf Tee

179 Mutual Support


180 Growth

181 Edge Problems

182 Sag

183 Snap

184 Split

185 Disintegration

186 New Roots

Basic Thinking

187 Explore

188 Search

189 Posing a Question

190 Project

191 Other Viewpoint

192 Analysis

193 Extract

194 Compare

195 Alternatives

196 Select

197 Synthesis

198 Design

199 Processing

200 Provocation





“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




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