PROFILE: Edward de Bono, ACT Consortium - PR perceptions get a lateral makeover - Edward de Bono on the creative thought process behind the ACT Consortium

In addition to his impeccable academic credentials, and despite the rarefied surroundings of his set in Piccadilly's Albany, Edward de Bono has his feet firmly in the real world. He quotes approvingly Marx's claim that philosophy is to real life as masturbation is to sex. 'There is limited value in playing around with ideas if nothing comes of them in the real world,' he says.

In addition to his impeccable academic credentials, and despite the rarefied surroundings of his set in Piccadilly's Albany, Edward de Bono has his feet firmly in the real world. He quotes approvingly Marx's claim that philosophy is to real life as masturbation is to sex. 'There is limited value in playing around with ideas if nothing comes of them in the real world,' he says.

There is little doubt as to his intellectual pedigree. A Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the 1950s, he has degrees in medicine, physiology and psychology and has taught or researched at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and London.

He has written 62 books - translated into 37 languages - and lectured in 54 countries. A regular media pundit, he invented the phrase 'lateral thinking,' and is synonymous with the teaching of thinking as a skill.

Yet only when his parallel career as a business consultant is taken into account does de Bono's latest venture make sense. He has spent 30 years advising corporations on how to think. He has worked with IBM, Siemens, Nokia and Shell and has applied his views to the World Bank, the American Bar Association and a committee of Asian central bank governors.

The contrast between his thinking self and commercial nous needn't be so stark. Indeed - just as the books lining his walls merge into view with piles of useful clutter - he seems to be both urging philosophy to ground itself in reality and teaching the corporates how to think.

It is a compelling proposition, and one which he has teamed up with Shine Communications to deliver. A lunch last year with Saatchi & Saatchi led to the creation, together with William Mellis, UK CEO of management consultancy Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, of the ACT Consortium. Applied Creativity Triangle is the name they have given to their 'high-powered business solutions' product. De Bono admits the team is yet to have signed up clients, but is confident they are offering something genuinely worthwhile.

'Companies have no way of ensuring competitors are not equally competent.

The best technology can now be bought. In that context, what will make the difference in competitive markets?,' he asks. 'Creativity. And that is better outsourced - as shown by the fact that almost every company outsources advertising.'

By nailing his colours to ACT's mast, de Bono is leaving himself open to the claim that he is being exploited. He is keenly aware of the view that his hard-earned scholarly reputation - remember the 62 books - is being used to legitimise or glamorise what amounts to a business development idea by three professional services firms.

Aware of it, but also dismissive. 'They are using me as a spearhead but I am also using their business function as a way into companies,' he says. 'In the past I would run seminars or sessions for companies and, in the course of them, would give away good ideas. This deal provides a framework for my ideas.'

If the successful communication of ideas starts with self-belief, de Bono will be just fine. The author of books entitled I am Right, You are Wrong and the Textbook of Wisdom, has no problem with self-esteem.

He modestly declines to draw direct conclusions of cause and effect between an idea he gave to Shell in 1971 and the adoption of a crucial element of engineering practice in oil drilling, but the inference is clear. It is backed up by his claim that since he started work for German conglomerate Siemens, the company's share price has doubled. Humble he ain't.

Which is just as well, since he will need self-assurance as well as creativity to market PR to FTSE 100 chairmen and CEOs. De Bono has as much respect for the principles of public relations as he has vitriol for many of its practitioners. 'All sorts of people and companies say you need PR, take their retainers and do damn all,' he says, 'yet the idea that justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done is the strongest endorsement the PR industry could get.'

De Bono outlines three areas where PR can play a valid role. 'One is if you need to make people aware of a new product or service. Another is if you need to prevent negative images that have unjustly arisen.

And the third - the controversial one - is to put right negative images that have justly arisen.'

He points to the example of Perrier water, which ten years ago briefly became contaminated by benzene: 'It was true that some Perrier became contaminated, but that didn't mean all Perrier was undrinkable. As long as a company is trying to put the problem right, that needs to be communicated,' he says.

De Bono has made much of his view that 'perception is reality even when it is not real'. He firmly believes that image counts for much because others use it as a basis for action. It is this kind of rationalisation that provides the real link between an evident polymath and his new found friends in PR.



HIGHLIGHTS

1955

Rhodes scholar, Oxford

1967

The Use of Lateral Thinking is published

1985

Six Thinking Hats is published

2001

Founder, ACT Consortium.





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