How to Have a Beautiful Mind

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 August, 2004, 12:00am

How to Have a Beautiful Mind

by Edward de Bono

Vermilion $120

When I met Edward de Bono in 2000, the father of lateral thinking appeared rather wayward. How could anyone credit his theory that, as he propounded in The De Bono Code Book, it was time to switch from speaking in sentences to spitting out numbers?

He lashed out at his detractors, accusing them of attacking his personality and maligning his theories without due consideration. But his code proposal appeared beyond the pale. Just imagine greeting your significant other with a string of digits.

Concerned with tactics for fostering an attractive personality, How to Have a Beautiful Mind sounds more sensible. Useful, even. It nonetheless also contains some material that may make the reader laugh - at, rather than with, de Bono.

Consider his suggestion that you should be allowed to park your car in any marked space so long as you leave your headlights on - an incentive to rush back quickly. Another bright idea is that coffee makes a good flavouring for spaghetti. De Bono asks what would happen if dogs were taught to speak, then says they 'might want political rights and even votes'.

The book is repetitive, too. It reiterates the Six Hats discussion model he devised in 1985. The book strongly echoes the 1998 De Bono manual How to be More Interesting.

In some passages, the strategist who has advised organisations ranging from IBM to the Australian cricket team sounds like the earnest fictional schoolboy Adrian Mole. Recommended mental beautification tactics include combing the media for provocative topics. 'You might begin by saying: 'In the paper today there was this story...' Or: 'Did you see the report on television about...',' he writes.

Even harder to stomach is the blurb's promise that How to Have a Beautiful Mind can make the reader 'irresistible'. Apparently, anyone can become a sexual magnet merely through learning to listen attentively and speak subtly.

De Bono does talk some sense, however. It is hard to disagree with his parallel thinking theory, which challenges the value of the 'I am right, you are wrong' argument - a legacy from the Greek Gang of Three (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle).

We need to move beyond the aggression of Gang of Three debate because it's often counter-productive. 'If you insist on always winning an argument,' de Bono writes, 'you end up with nothing more than you started with - except showing off your arguing ability.'

Explore rather than argue, he counsels. For added appeal, you should lace your dialogue with 'what if' questions and amusing diversions.

But just say that, for the sake of argument, you do all this while maintaining a Constructive, Fun or Learner attitude. Say that you also insert one of his jokes into your discourse. One ingredient will then be conspicuously absent: spontaneity. Anyone who follows this guide to the letter risks degenerating into the charm-deficient owner of a mechanical mind.