69. Edward de Bono: Criticisms and controversies

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By Stanislaw Pstrokonski. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

I've spent a total of seven episodes up till now on Edward de Bono's work on creativity, lateral thinking, and the workings of the mind. While reading his books, a number of criticisms arose in my mind which I never felt I had the chance to fully express. In the name of balance, I also looked for any criticisms of de Bono online, and I found some quite damning allegations. My criticisms from his books and these allegations are topics I would like to spend one episode talking about.

The main problems with de Bono's books are two: (1) they are too repetitive (they all seem to say the same thing, with occasional novelties); and (2) they provide no references (ever! in 67 books by an Oxford- and Cambridge-educated author with a PhD!!). Each of these is concerning for different reasons. If de Bono kept "writing the same book" 67 times, why did he feel the need to publish so many books? And if he's supposed to be an authority on creativity, why couldn't he have come up with new ideas to fill those 67 books with?

The problem of references appears even more concerning after reading allegations from de Bono's former associates that his work is practically all plagiarised. This would certainly explain his unwillingness to write references, since he would be trying to claim all those other people's work as his own.

There is a real 此地无银三百两 moment at the start of one of his later books. (The Chinese reads "in this place there are not three hundred caddies of silver". There is a story that somebody tried to hide their money by burying it and, for good measure, putting up a sign with the above words just next to where it was buried. The saying means to deny something in such a way as to incriminate oneself, or reveal the very thing that was supposed to be hidden by denial.) He leaves an Author's Note to the effect that he is sorry for not referencing anybody, because he forgot, and he really wants to give the right people credit, honest!, he just can't remember any of the conversations he's had or things that he's read for the past, oh, fifty years. It's somewhat ridiculous and really adds fuel to the suspicion that he hasn't been intellectually honest in his works.

This episode may not be rich in insights into creativity, other than perhaps that which Einstein bequeathed to us: "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." Although I really think that there is value to the ideas that de Bono came up with / stole during his career, the possibility of plagiarism, and the lack of his own creativity in writing books with something genuinely new to say over a more than fifty-year-long career, detract from the strength of his arguments.

The jury is out on where de Bono's ideas come from (although he is definitely guilty of being repetitive in his writing). We must also be aware that those who allege that de Bono has stolen the ideas of others are not necessarily trustworthy themselves. While the story weaved together by these threads is plausible, it is not known for certain to be the truth. This episode seeks only to be fair in highlighting suspicions, although nothing is proven definitively.

Enjoy the episode.

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