Think! Before It’s Too Late

by rohit on November 1, 2009

De Bono's new book

De Bono's new book

Ideas matter. Always have. These days matter more than ever before ?

There is a new book – out a few weeks ago – by thinking guru (I knew him to be a ‘lateral thinking’ guru) Edward de Bono called Think! Before It’s Too Late. Having not read him earlier (he’s written 67 books),  I find some of his ideas very useful. This book is not on his thinking methods (Six thinking Hats, lateral thinking et al), but offers more of a macro perspective on thinking per se. He has advice for schools, universities, business and government.

Some nuggets:

The Internet and other media have made obsolete the university system as we have known it. Universities have historically provided knowledge, their role was to be the repository and the transmitter of the wisdom gleaned over the ages. In today’s world, this role is not as important, one can get knowledge without going to the university (cf. the post   5 interesting ways technology is changing the way we learn ).

De Bono says skills are what universities should provide, not knowledge. He lists four skills. This list seems obvious in hindsight, but I haven’t seen anyone else put this up.

1. Information skills: where to get relevant information. While for us Internet users, this seems an easy task in the information age, there are the billions who are yet novices. Learning to use a PC and it’s application software, a mobile, an iPhone or other information appliances  are skills that I consider part of this set.

Interestingly, despite the plethora of specialist job and matrimonial sites, even veteran users still take time to learn how to use these well, there are new features coming up all the time.

2. People skills: dealing with people in terms of both understanding and managing them.

They teach a little at the HR courses in MBA, not sure why every collegian shouldn’t be taught a bit! This is training for life, why does one need to be an MBA or employed at a corporation ?

3. Professional skills: related to the chosen profession.

4. Thinking skills:  These are, broadly, critical and creative thinking, both are important. However, the education system has so far focused on critical (Greek kritikos = ‘judge’) thinking alone. Here, arguments and logic are called into play and one arrives at one right solution.

De Bono says the Church in Europe used critical thinking – inherited from the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato & Aristotle – to silence their critics and establish their doctrine.The Church did not have a need for any other type of thinking; alternatives outside the given framework were barred, as the story of Galileo makes clear.

So did the concept of ‘truth’, which was the one right answer that could not be questioned. Arguments, logic, “truth” , all helped establish religion.  The education system which was in the hands of the Church, inherited this method of thinking.

And the Indian educational system, inherited from the British, has the same character.

Design thinking

In the real world, however, we need creative thinking too, especially what is called  design or problem-solving thinking. Creative thinking is what gives the new ideas and the solutions.

My daughter’s an architecture student and – her dean once informed me -about half the curriculum is built around design. Architecture, graphic arts and related fields have always emphasized design concepts,but most others have not.

I daresay the average school student in India first encounters problem-solving when he/she appears for the Joint Entrance Exam exam of the IITs. When I took the exam (decades ago !), each question at the exam was novel, you could not find it in a book. Microsoft and other IT companies ask problem-solving questions as part of the recruitment process.

De Bono’s been evangelizing the cause of teaching thinking to school and university students. Creative thinking is not talent or an inherent IQ, he says, it can be taught. He has several certified courses on the same. All schools in Venezuela have adopted his methods, say he.

I wonder if our children were exposed to such thinking methods what this would imply for the coaching classes for the IITs & the IIMs. Would these students at all need to enroll for these coaching classes. Worth a thought 🙂

5. The fifth skill

Looking at the poor attention being paid by today’s urban youngsters to physical fitness, I would add fitness as the fifth skill that our universities could inculcate. There are few open spaces in our cities, many distractions and inadequate motivation for people to participate in sports or otherwise keep themselves fit. Even at the school level, this is given lip service.

There has been some criticism of De Bono’s methods, in particular whether they achieve the results they claim to achieve, but there is no taking away from the depth and breadth of his efforts.

Interestingly, it appears Think! Before it’s Too late is yet to release in the United States, has announced an Apr  ’10 date.  The U.K. paperback edition, however, has been available (INR 372) at Indian bookstores for months.

Wonder what the U.S. publishers are thinking !

Footnote added Nov 2nd : For India , one needs include English language skills, the number of 12+ adults to claim to know English is 86 million (National Readership Survey 2007), the number who have a working knowledge could be as low as 35 million.
Related post : More on the agenda to grow the Indian Internet market

So that’s six skills our young need to have. It’s a moot point as to whether these are too many for existing universities and schools to deliver.

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