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Opinion • July 11 2004

Lateral and parallel salesmanship

“That word is ‘bullshit’ and this book is full of it” (W Harston on De Bono’s ‘Textbook of Wisdom’)

Probably critic W Harston went much too far in expressing his scepticism of Edward De Bono’s ‘lateral’ (now updated to ‘parallel’) thinking. The vein of his criticism is exactly the same aggressive manner that the guru himself adopts when marketing his bizarre ideas as innovative, effective and almost with a promise of guaranteed success in situations where, Dante-style, hope has been abandoned.
Twice I wasted time and money attending Dr De Bono’s stereotyped lectures - delivered with passion and the precision of a tape-recorder - some decades ago.
‘Lateral thinking’ was then in fashion among pseudo-intellectuals simply because nobody could really understand it. But it fascinated people and provided a talking subject projecting intellectualism.
I was reminded of my grandmother’s elation every time she returned home from a Latin-peppered panegyric during the village festa’s annual church celebrations.
An hour-long eulogy of the patron saint was too much for a little boy who, inevitably, snoozed off in church not being let loose to burn up his excess energy.
On being probed about what she had picked up from the oration, granny would gingerly admit to understanding absolutely zilch, but still felt exhilarated with the beauty of it all, especially with the heavily Italianised Maltese sprinkled with Latin quotes.
Dr De Bono’s interview by Karl Schembri last week contained almost nothing which had not been previously and repeatedly claimed by way of past achievements.
With more than a small dose of agnosticism in matters political, social and economic, I need more convincing to believe such claims as those, for instance, associated with Pharmacia, Siemens, Statoil and NVS. Not to mention the statistical reduction in tribal in-fighting among South African illiterate miners, obviously during apartheid. Such gigantic corporations would never dare contradict De Bono’s claims, even if they in confidence came to regret the colossal outlays they were cajoled to fund in trying out something novel, perhaps even ‘sexy’!
On the contrary, they are more likely to placate their own sceptical shareholders bent on avoiding arid intellectual pursuits, and even to attribute financial returns from their ‘investment’ in De Bono’s expensive ‘Idea Power,’ the newest parallel thinking technique currently marketed as the ‘Six Thinking Hats.’
Another gimmick, forsooth. A bait which the Maltese government may well gullibly swallow, judging from the Education Minister’s speech at the inauguration of the ‘World Centre for New Thinking’ in Kalkara.
The Minister stated that his government was supporting this initiative of the De Bono foundation because the Centre could possibly become Malta’s contribution to the EU and to the world. Bombasticism (‘bullshit’) or another ‘Pacem in maribus’? Who knows! Let the judgmental role in the evolution process be played by the EU, or better still, by the Nobel Prize judges. Not by us. We simply cannot afford financing such a luxury, because at this stage it cannot be described differently. The De Bono foundation does not need financial support, but only official encouragement at no cost whatsoever, or in any way, to our national coffers.
In salesmanship the asked price for a unique service, without competition is often pitched incredibly high, this being the surest way of convincing the gullible that, even if perceived dubious in its realism or practicality, it must be immeasurably fruitful in its eventual success. Which, of course, is hardly ever capable of contradiction or downsizing. Evidence, either way, is always non-existent.
And let not the Centre be financed or subsidised from EU funds already earmarked for Malta, unless potentially forfeitable. Yes, we do need to think of something by way of making a lasting contribution to the EU’s cultural or intellectual heritage. But why something which universally is so controversial? Simply by haughtily labelling his critics ‘silly idiots…who have their own jealousies..,’ Dr De Bono does not convey, at least to me, the reassurance he purports to possess in the realm of creative thinking. Nor, it seems, to the Nobel Prize judges who have awarded for less.
I probably qualify as a ‘silly idiot,’ but emphatically not as the jealous type. As a Maltese I am always glad when fellow citizens achieve international success, however small. Some weeks ago I praised tenor Joseph Calleja, whom I have never met though immensely enjoyed his voice. Last Sunday I lauded the team that beat international competition in ground pyrotechnics for New Zealand. The ‘problem’ with me is that I am perhaps too much of a pragmatist, prioritising projects by their measured, or somehow measurable, success and not necessarily or exclusively in financial terms, but at least economic or social.
Admittedly, Dr De Bono does endeavour to do this, being the only sales talk that lands new clients, but we only have his word as to the real cause/s of the imputed successes. There is mention at all of the instances where success was absent in the eyes of the clients, which must have happened at times, for sure. Either way, the odds will always be unavailable. In my reckoning, each client must have been an experiment and will continue to do so.
Can our government afford such an expensive experimentation? Sales talk has never impressed me. I pray that the government will not be taken in as, obviously, what the De Bono Foundation is after is yet another client with a burning desire to etch its mark on the EU.
I write in this manner because, during the interview with Karl Schembri, focus was directed on the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, the latest fad purportedly suffused with enough ideas even to solve the nation’s fiscal deficit problem. The hardest of them all. The problem whose solution alone can possibly get us in the EU’s good books and into eurozone.
In a recent column entitled ‘Three Wise Men,’ I proposed the appointment on MCESD of three independent experienced economic specialists precisely to put on their thinking hats, listen attentively to what all social partners say, express their objective views and ideas thereon and, ultimately, to become the people’s conscience in the formulation of the social pact which, undoubtedly, is not likely to contain sweeties. Dr De Bono prefers six. So much the better.
What is important, however, is that the ideas flowing from the wearers of the thinking hats make sense, even if conventionally arrived at through the process of knowledge, observation, analysis, evaluation and conclusion.
But, for heavens’ sake, nothing as outlandish, nay outrageous, as DeBono’s latest addressed to the USA, Israel and Palestine.
Just visualise how many situations identical to the Middle East fiasco would erupt elsewhere in the expectation that America would fork out the billions in return for reducing the massacre of civilians by terrorists?





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