MMT (Made Me Think)

by beccaborrelli

La Promenade. Marc Chagall. 1917-18

La Promenade. Marc Chagall. 1917-18

“For hundreds of years we have believed that if something is logical in hindsight, then logic should have been enough to get the idea in the first place. This is complete and total rubbish.”— Edward de Bono.

Next to my pillow for the last week has been The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher. Came across a piece by Edward de Bono on page 140 of the beastly thing. The last post I wrote was about how little we teach children in regards to their inner world (NOT, for the record, cranky teachers who eat 9 year old egos for lunch…)

De Bono believes that teaching students “how to think” is as important (if not, ahem, more) than teaching Math/Science/Language Arts. He says crazy things like:

“Thinking should be a deliberate act, rather than a reactive one.”

And… “Language has been the biggest help, and the biggest barrier to human evolution.”

The piece I’m posting is a blatant cut/paste until I can find shreds of time bigger than a fingernail clipping to blog. I don’t know if I’ll be sent to the principals office for copyright infringement… but I’ll give credit and see what happens.


We don’t think in words. The temptation to equate thinking with language is because words are more palpable than thoughts. After all- I’m thinking- if I couldn’t talk to myself how would I know what I was thinking?

Thinking is hard work; few engage in it.

For those who do there are a number of ways of sorting, each with advantages and disadvantages. They can be broadly categorized:

Natural Thinking. This is fluid and undirected, it wanders and meanders, is subject to repetition and generalizations. The sort of thinking that goes on when we don’t think we’re thinking.

Logical Thinking. This selects a route and follows it to its conclusion. With this approach the solution is largely predetermined, so if you head off in the wrong direction you can end up painting yourself into a corner.

Pattern Thinking. This confines thoughts to operate within given rules. Therefore solutions are limited by the possibilities available within the pattern.

Lateral Thinking. This is purposeful in intent without specific aim. Freewheeling so it can reveal solutions which might have been overlooked in other approaches.

Grasshopper Thinking. (Brazen Method of Preference.) Most of the time our thinking jumps around alternating and mixing between reasoning which adheres to measurable responses, and imagining which allows unpredictable currents to play around with data. Producing electrico/chemical sludge.

If Ulysses James Joyce exploited the fact that we don’t think in words, and even if Ulysses is so complex as to be inaccessible (at least to me), it must still be a gross simplification of the mush of muddled thought constantly churning, tumbling and swirling around in our heads.

Paradoxically education allocates more value to logic and analytical skills than to imaginative conjectures. Thus law is held in esteem whereas art, or design is considered a fiddly, fussy, arty-crafty activity of minor intellectual endeavor. An attitude with an attitude- particularly perverse since analysis looks backwards while design looks forwards.

Language also plays its part. Have you noticed that when we don’t agree with someone we say: “I don’t think so.’ The ‘… think so’, literally indicating a prescribed route.

The conventional thinking we are taught (and conditioned to think) employs what Edward de Bono calls ‘rock logic.’ Rocks being solid, hard, permanent, inert and unchanging. Like bricks, rocks can be added on top of one another to build structures. However there is also ‘water logic.’ this is fluid and flows according to gradient (context), and assumes form according to space (circumstance.) If you add one rock to another, you get two; if you add water to water, it changes shape. Rocks analogous to a page of accounts and water to a piece of poetry.

The former has units which add up to a conclusion, the latter has images which conjure up a perception. One isn’t better than the other; it’s courses for horses.

To move from hod to pail do Bono suggest inserting an equivalent of the mathematical zero into our thinking. He suggest ‘po‘, a neologism derived from hy’po‘thesis, sup’po‘se, ‘po‘ssible, ‘po‘sition, and ‘po‘etry. Confronted with a sticky situation one inserts ‘po’ into the equation, instead of giving a knee jerk res’po‘nse. This allows for time to generate new thoughts and ex’po‘se fresh perceptions. ‘Po’ can open the mind to reveal ‘po‘tentials outside of conventional thinking and analytic evaluation.

The world we have around us is a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, unfortunately it has also produced problems we cannot solve on the same level of thinking at which we created them.

Alan Fletcher. The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon 1994.)