Parallel thinking. Lateral thinking. Random word. Six thinking hats. These are just a few of the theories and tools developed by Dr. Edward de Bono. Dr. de Bono is one of the foremost authorities on creative thinking. He was born in Malta in 1933 and is a PdD in medicine. After practicing and researching medicine, he moved to how humans think and create new ideas.

He taught at prestigious universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard. He has been at the forefront of creativity and innovation for decades. Dr. de Bono has written over 50 books that have been translated in over 35 languages. His teachings have been adopted by schools, public and private companies, and governments. Companies across the globe such as IBM, Siemens, AT&T, Du Pont, and British Airways have trained thousands of employees and adopted many of de Bono’s teachings.

The two most accepted and “famous” innovations from him are parallel thinking and lateral thinking. Parallel thinking was developed to overcome the innate issues with Western-style thinking which are based on arguing and trying to get your idea accepted, rather than the best idea. The goal of parallel thinking is to develop as many ideas as possible, and work together to the best solution, not just the solution your Vice President wants. The Six Thinking Hats (Hats) are the key tool within parallel thinking.

The Hats are six colored hats, each representing a different thinking process. The benefit of the Hats is to separate each thought process to ensure focus and avoid jumping between different ideas. Each hat is discussed for only a few minutes before moving to the next hat. The benefit of the Hats is to ensure all the information on a topic is reviewed by the team holistically – pros, cons, feelings, new ideas, etc.

 Lateral thinking focuses on changing perspectives to develop new ideas. It is a proactive, deliberate way to continually move forward to develop new ideas rather than finding an immediate solution. Not all the ideas will be useful, but it is important to focus on quality and deal with quantity later. Within lateral thinking, the two most adopted tools are random word and PO. Random word uses a word that is not associated with the topic of focus to drive new connections.

For example, you are developing new ways to improve your accounting system. You choose the random word BIRD. Then you pick four words related to BIRD. For example, feathers, flies, nest, and tweet. You would then use these four words to develop new ideas linking to the topic, improving the accounting system. The random word forces you to think outside of normal patterns and to forcefully look at unrelated words to drive new ideas. PO is another excellent tool within lateral thinking.

PO stands for provocation. A provocation forces thinking in a new direction. You use the word PO to precede a provocation/statement. PO is used to overcome limitations and optimize the pattern behavior of the human brain. Use PO as a stop sign to pause and then develop new ideas. Instead of immediately saying NO to something, you can insert PO to expand the thinking and look for more options.

For example, someone on the product planning team says they need another $10 million. Before saying NO, restate the problem using PO and develop new ways to create new products with the current budget. Stating PO indicates that it’s time for new ideas and to not immediately say NO. PO forces you to avoid traditional thinking patterns and search for new ideas. The product planning team might develop ideas to crowdsource suggestions from customers, talk to engineers in a different industry and understand how they solve similar problems, or talk to suppliers on ways to reduce overall costs.

PO can also be used to connect two disparate ideas. For example, automobile PO deodorant. PO links these two unrelated words (ideas) to drive new ideas. This prompts expanded thinking and look for ideas that are not directly related to the topic. Some potential ideas; develop new ways to incorporate scent into the driving experience or develop a roll-on paint dispenser to cover-up scratches.

Change the way you think. Move from EITHER/OR to AND. Say AND instead of BUT. Think of WHAT CAN BE rather than WHA T IS. If you want to improve your creative thinking skills and help your teams innovate, read Dr. de Bono’s books. You can watch his lectures on YouTube, but they are slow and painful. Here are a few of his great books to help you on your journey of self-improvement.

Dr. de Bono was a very interesting person. His theories can be used in your personal or professional life. The power of parallel thinking and lateral thinking is the adoption of deliberate and systematic methods to develop new ideas any time and any place. Read his books and start using the tools every day to transform your life.

Lateral thinking: Creativity Step by Step. (1970). New York, NY: Harper & Row Publisher (

Six Thinking Hats. (1985). New York, NY: Back Bay Books (

Teach Your Child How to Think. (1992). New York, NY: Penguin Books USA, Inc. (

#parallelthinking #lateralthinking #sixthinkinghats #creativethinking #innovation #creativity