ACCORDING TO Edward de Bono, being intelligent is no guarantee of being a good thinker; the latter helps fulfil the potential of the former. And he believes thinking is a skill that can and should be taught. Enough people have either agreed with him or at least explored his ideas to have fuelled a multi-million dollar industry. He has published more than 60 books, been invited to lecture in more than 50 countries, advised many governments and international agencies and featured in media worldwide. There are in excess of four million references to his work on the internet. De Bono was born in Malta in 1933 from where he launched his impressive academic career that includes an Oxford scholarship and further degrees from some of the world's most prestigious universities. He coined the term 'lateral thinking' - which seeks the solution to intractable problems through unorthodox methods, or elements which would normally be ignored by logical thinking - which is now well established and appears in the Oxford English Dictionary. De Bono's are by no means the only higher order thinking skills on offer, but his commercial acumen, using a judicious mix of intellectual rigour, popular, accessible language and vigorous and sustained self-promotion, has seen them get greater coverage. And his mission to be a global promoter of creative thinking now has a local following. 'What could be more important than teaching children how to think?' says Ian Robertson, local authorised provider for the De Bono Thinking Programmes for Students. 'I think awareness in Hong Kong of de Bono's work is quite high.' Mr Robertson became interested in that work nine years ago after attending a three-hour Saturday morning session in Hong Kong called 'Teach Yourself How to Think'. 'It was then that I realised this is what I wanted to do. I read all the [de Bono] books and even went to New Zealand to meet him. I think he will be remembered as one of the great figures of the twentieth century.' Thinking courses sponsored by the de Bono organisation are not new to Hong Kong; several businesses and organisations have organised seminars for staff. But there was no permanent base here. Mr Robertson, a former department manager at a civil engineering and construction company, decided to put that straight in June 2003 and start the Hong Kong franchise called 'Out of the Box Thinking' with a clear focus on young learners. 'We began with some summer programmes. They were not the first; there had been a few in the past run by the Asian licence holder Peter Low out of Singapore. And then I distributed brochures and advertising material in more than 35 schools,' he said. There are currently programmes running as an extra-curricular activity in several schools. In addition, individual or groups of students may choose to attend training at the organisation's headquarters in Hollywood Road. 'The programmes we offer consist of units requiring 12 hours of attendance,' Mr Robertson said. 'Our present enrolment is in excess of 100 students and growing fast and we have trained students from more than 40 schools.' Typically, students first enrol in the one-unit 'Six Thinking Hats' course. This thinking technique is a strategy designed by de Bono to counter what he sees as the negative effects of what he calls 'adversarial thinking' (argument). He proposed an alternative aimed at encouraging instead co-operation, exploration and innovation. Participants are encouraged to simplify, broaden and clarify their thinking by focusing on one type of thinking at a time and avoiding the confusion of trying to deal with all aspects of an issue or situation at the same time. They do this by 'wearing' different coloured metaphorical hats for each type of thinking or style of approach. This is meant to enable people to look at things in different ways to broaden their natural or preferred method. Thus, when presented with a situation or challenge, a yellow-hat (or sunshine) thinker, for example, will consider the benefits and feasibility of a range of solutions while another might don a blue (sky) hat to manage the thinking process. The management of information is the responsibility of the white hat and the black hat thinker represents caution, highlighting difficulties and problems. Using the green hat to consider alternatives and creative ideas (although there are problems with that one - see foot of story) and a red one for intuition and feelings provides a wide range of perspectives. Any combination of hats appropriate to the topic at hand can be used. Ian Gould-Wilson's eight-year-old daughter Jasmine has completed the course. 'At work I have to analyse big problems and children need the same skills. They need the ability to make sense of all the information they have available to them and take a broader, balanced view, think logically and ask good questions. I had to learn the hard way,' he said. Typically students such as Jasmine then progress to the Cognitive Research Trust, or CoRT programmes. 'The eight units, named after famous scientists, may be taken in any order. They try to teach participants to simplify their thinking, become more creative and confident. This helps them better able to come up with better ideas and make better choices.' Students are introduced to a range of thinking tools to help them think seriously and systematically; including the ability to consider other people's views, create alternatives and prioritise options. Fifteen-year-old Ysabelle Cheung, who is at school in London and preparing for her GCSEs, did the CoRT programme in six days in Hong Kong. 'I am much better at essays now,' she said. 'I can organise my thoughts. The course helped me look at new perspectives and see things in a new way. And it was fun.' Some schools use de Bono's ideas in the classroom but the use tends to be sporadic, leaving room for commercial organisations to fulfil a growing demand. Currently programmes are conducted in only English but that may change soon. 'I'm just waiting for someone to help translate the materials. Then we will be able to get into more local schools,' Mr Robertson said. Although he saw the precepts of de Bono's strategies as being universal , he said local factors were sometimes an issue, as a recent case showed. During the recent inaugural certificate presentation ceremony held at the Foreign Correpondents' Club, students played the White Hat Bingo Game in which different age groups had to collect various pieces of information from adults in the room. 'As a result I understand it is a Chinese tradition to call a man whose wife has been unfaithful 'a green hat' - so we might have to rethink that one,' he said.