Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono

Our old friend Edward de Bono died on 9th June. There are plenty of obituaries that give dates and times of his many achievements so I shall confine my comments to some of the events that involved us.  There were plenty, and they were invariably lively and often challenging. As a thinker you can’t please all of the people all of the time and Edward was forthright and plain speaking, but always in the interests of clarity and caring.

The first time I met him was in 1967. I had booked to attend a talk he was to give, sponsored by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). On arrival at the venue I was approached by the Institute’s Director and told that the person moderating the session had been delayed and would I do it instead. I knew that Edward was the proponent of lateral thinking but very little else about him. I had not even read his first, recently published, book which, of course, was conveniently on display for sale after the talk. I got hold of a copy before I had to announce him and the event that was to follow.

My introduction was, by the standards of those days, unusual. I said that the game we were about to play was one that all advertising agencies depended on for their livelihood. It was the game of creativity. Edward picked up the theme immediately and we had a splendid evening of turning perceived relationships into new ideas and potentially saleable merchandise. His ability to relate apparently disparate concepts and events that, at first sight, had little to do with each other, intrigued me then as it has done every day since.

Edward and I stayed in touch after this and collaborated on a number of ventures. We had both discovered the Psion pocket computer and were enthusiastic supporters of it. He wrote several of his substantial library of books – over 60, I think – on it when flying to his next destination. As his wife, Josephine, explained to me, it was a feature of his life that he always wanted to be at the (next) place rather than the one he was at now. His restlessness sometimes created awkward communications but it sure made you think. Occasional emotional discomfort was more than compensated for by never-ending intellectual challenge.

To me, that was his great contribution to millions of people. I had asked my Creative Director at Bensons, the advertising agency, a brilliant man called Francis Harmar-Brown, to define creativity for me. We were going to New York on the penultimate Atlantic crossing of the original Queen Mary liner and he took the five days to come up with “Creativity is the ability to perceive relationships”. This was only a year before de Bono published his own work on the subject. In it he codified and explained the purpose of creativity – and the importance of it being as wide ranging as possible if it was to stir people from the conventions of form and ritual to which they were so unnervingly attached.

When Eliza Quek, my business partner and wife, was asked by the Maltese Government to spend time helping them prepare for membership of the European Union she sought advice from Edward as to the most important things to do and to avoid while living in Malta. He reflected for a moment and then replied “Don’t take political sides in any circumstance”. He went on to explain the very narrow margins between the political parties. Differences of opinion divided not only social classes, wealth and comparative poverty, business and customer interests – many families were politically split down the middle, too. His advice was heeded and proved to be invaluable.

Our time in Malta encouraged the relationship with Edward, even though he flew in and flew out as fast as ever. And when he wanted to establish a business in Singapore he asked my advice in the start up of his work with Peter and Linda Low who became dedicated and faithful followers and proponents of his teachings. Theirs was the fastest growing of all his franchises.

Now he has set out on the greatest adventure of all. He changed forever the concept of thinking. In recognising him for his very substantial contribution to human creativity, I must also add that I hope he will rest in peace. He deserves time off for he never, as far as I know, took any holiday or substantial relaxing period during his life.

His legacy is our better thinking and we thank him most deeply for that.

Bless you, Edward.

John Bittleston