Creativity and Lateral Thinking: A Personal Perspective

May 10, 2023

Tudor Rickards

In the memorial event in his honour at the Edward de Bono Institute of the University of Malta, in May 2023, I offer a personal perspective, reflecting on his life and his contributions to creativity

Edward de Bono, is perhaps the most influential communicator on the nature of creative thinking in recent times. His fame came early through his book Lateral Thinking, first published in 1970. It was to accompany him through his long and distinguished life, perhaps eventually defining him through its impact around the world.

It was some years later before I met Edward for the first time. In 1970, I had begun to develop interest in his ideas while working as a scientist inside a research laboratory in what was known as the New Products and Development Group.

A few years later I joined another R&D group at Manchester Business School to take forward understanding about ways of stimulating creativity. I took with my copy of Lateral Thinking. By then, Edward deBono was becoming a celebrity in the field, with a unique style of communicating his ideas seated at an overhead projection system scribbling out his diagrams on a never-ending transparent plastic scroll.

His language and imagery captured his audiences. Too often, our thinking processes resemble someone digging a hole more and more deeply, vertical thinking whereas what was needed was finding a different place to dig a hole. I’ll return to this later.

In the preface to Lateral Thinking he states that in schools
‘Creativity is usually treated as something desirable which is to be brought about by vague exhortation…this book is about lateral thinking which is the process of using information to bring about creativity’.
He continues, ‘Lateral thinking is closely related to insight, creativity and humour. All four processes have the same basis. But whereas insight, creativity and humour can only be prayed for, lateral thinking is a more deliberate process’.

So there we have it. He was setting out a programme for the deliberate process to support or even replace the capricious process leading to creative ideas.

Arthur Koestler

De Bono always presented his thoughts with stunning clarity and impact. Perhaps closest in core concept for me was the work of Arthur Koestler, himself a celebrity intellectual. In his classic book The Act of Creation, published a few years earlier, in 1964, Koestler brought us the concept of creativity as ‘the bisociation two mental frames resulting in an aha or eureka moment’.
Koestler could write with clarity and insight, but made no effort to reach out beyond an elite audience. His very impressive book gained admiration at the time, but in time became a valuable footnote to creativity theory.

Thinking Fast and Slow

A more recent example of a book dealing with theorising creativity rather than its deliberate stimulation is Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman. Like Koestler, provides a book in the academic tradition, with extensive reference and notes. But in its five hundred pages only a brief section of less than ten pages deals directly with Creativity.
I am not downplaying the work through which won the Nobel Prize for his Prospect theory developed jointly with Amos Tversky and which integrates cognitive psychology with Economics.

DeBono could have justified his own deep understanding of cognitive processing through his medical training in a more formal way. Instead he provided the basic thinking tools for the layperson to reach new insights. Ways of digging not deeper but in the right place.

Not a ‘bisociation of matrices’ in sight. Concealed in the Kahneman & Tversky work however was a theory confirming that human decision making was not exclusively rational.

Everyday Creativity

This is a conclusion implicit in much of deBono’s writings. The one approach won a Nobel prize. The other continues to influence a far wider audience, with its practical suggestions for what I like to refer as ‘Everyday Creativity’ a term popularised by the American Ruth Richards, in her book of that name.


On shaking hands and creative leadership in the John Terry Wayne Bridge saga

February 27, 2010

A sad sporting leadership story shows how creativity can be a leader’s secret weapon

Every tale of leadership offers opportunities for learning. “How would I deal with that decision?” is a good question. In the over-publicised case of John Terry and Wayne Bridge, there is also the question “What would I have done to avoid getting into mess in the first place?” For anyone not interested in football, you need to be aware that John Terry was recently stripped of the Captaincy of the England football team. He had been involved in an extra-marital affair with the former partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Public interest is fueled this week by the news that Bridges has decided not to take part in the up-coming world cup later this year.

Leaders we deserve has advocated the merits of creative leadership. How might this play out in practice? Take the critical incident being anticipated today [February 27th, 2009]. Chelsea and Manchester City are due to play a football match. John Terry will be expected to lead out Chelsea (he retains the captaincy of that team). He will be expected to shake hands with members of the opposing team. So there we have a dilemma of leadership. What to do if the handshake is spurned? Oh, yes it’s only a handshake. But for ‘only a hand-shake’ why is the story taking on huge signficance, at least for journalists? That’s another story, and one about symbolism and leadership.

How might creative leadership come into this?

We can start with the assumption that dilemmas often result in either/or thinking. Break the ‘either-or’ and you have a chance of escpaing the dilemma. I’ve also written about this as knight’s move thinking. Edward de Bono would probably say it’s where Lateral Thinking is needed.

The locked-in thinking presents the story as simply one man shaking hands with another. Suppose we pose it as “how to arrange the pre-match handshakes between Chelsea and Manchester City differently (in view of the unusual circumstances surrounding the event)”. I can think of several things that might happen. My thinking has switched from ‘what Wayne Bridge must do’ to ‘what might Chelsea and Manchester City captains, players, and maybe supporters decide to do’. And, that is a matter of co-creativity, and distributed leadership.

Whatever happens this afternoon at Stanford Bridge will be an opportunity for considering ‘what might have been’.


At the start of the match, John Terry offered his hand to Wayne Bridge. Bridge rejects the proferred hand. Chelsea fans boo Bridge enthusiastically throughout the game. But another story was to supplant the hand-shake one. Chelsea lost at home 4-2. Two of their players were sent off by the referee. And I didn’t notice a lot of creative leadership. The ‘fake shake’ gave the tabloids a few headlines the following day.

Leadership and thinking hats

February 16, 2008


Edward De Bono invented Six Thinking Hats as a system for managing team dynamics. It’s popularity derives from its apparent simplicity as a means of identifying thinking processes, and the perceived benefits of structuring and sequencing them for more effective outcomes

Recognizing automatic behaviors

I have been intrigued by the links between Lateral Thinking and Systems theorizing for many years, and Edward de Bono himself has briefly acknowledged the cybernetics theorist Stafford Beer [reference welcomed, as Wikipedia might put it].

The work of the great Herbert Simon offers a theoretical rationale of human behaviors in decision making. Faced with the complexity of available information he referred to the process as satisficing,

In his magisterial text, Herbert Simon argued that

Engineering, medicine, business, architecture and painting are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent – not with how things are but with how they might be – in short, with design.

The original text was claimed to have been written during a long-haul air flight, and made no effort to distract from its central metaphor with more theoretical considerations. However, I have indicated few of the ways in which Lateral Thinking and the Six Thinking Hats approaches can be seen as having links with an information management methodology.

A design for creative thinking

The Thinking Hats approach assumes that individuals have different thinking styles. These can explain difficulties within teams, and the existence of Tuckman’s stages of team forming and storming.

De Bono suggests how these stages can be truncated, by clearer recognition of the thinking styles, and their coordination for greater impact and outputs (decisions, ideas, products).

Survey feedback

Thinking Hats also finds application within a survey-feedback approach supporting personal development and team leadership.

A comparison can be made with the developmental use of Belbin’s team role instrument .

Thinking Hats in Educational Practice

Surfing reveals the use of the methodology in the classroom .

[To be continued]