Remember Lateral Thinking?

By Brian Ohanlon, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 10 years 27 weeks ago.

"If changes in one small area are too quickly communicated across a system as a whole, they would tend to be dampened out. New and dissenting ideas need time to accumulate evidence and argument."

Ilya Prigogine, winner of a nobel prize for chemistry.

That quote sums up a lot of it for me. But lately I stumbled across another forgotten text, which I want to draw peoples' attention to. What is important about a book called Lateral Thinking, published in 1970 by one Edward De Bono? In a nutshell, it is the notion he tries to put forward, of keeping ideas alive longer in the system. The system in question, is the human brain. Remember guys, Lateral Thinking was published in 1970. Yet, before any of the technology we have today, it was exploring ways to juggle multiple ideas together in the same space. Most of the technological attempts I see today are a ham fisted attempt to do just the same, without going to the heart of the problem - peoples' own brain, and how it tends to function. It wouldn't be the first time software designers made that mistake though. Just think of the early pioneers like Mitch Kapor etc, and Jobs, who took a while to realise people found the interface difficult - software engineers didn't look at things from the point of view of the user. Reading Lateral Thinking, reminds me of reading a book like Smart Mobs actually. Because there was a platform upon which certain ideas could circulate and exist for a much longer period of time. Mobile devices created a new space for ideas, a new kind of container, which people could interact with. A commons perhaps?

Alvin Toffler in the Third Wave, talks about Second Wave info-space as being extensive but non-active. Filing cabinets, libraries and accounting systems. The info space of the third wave being extensive and active. But it appears there are problems with the third wave info space though. A lot of authors are trying to describe the problem, some more sucessfully than others. Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail, talks about the shelf as a place where things go to die. Clay Shirky has explored this idea of shelving systems too in his writings and talks. Are we trying to impose old metaphors on new situations, technology and social organisation? What is so crucial, and so missed by thinkers on third wave info space technology - is that De Bono exposed years ago, that the human brain itself, is indeed a place where ideas go to die. By nature of the way in which ideas arrive, they are organised in a non-optimal fashion. Rearrangement of ideas is sometimes impossible. One has to realise, that the human brain itself is a very imperfect environment for containing anything, or generating alternative solutions. Does this remind you at all of problems with wiki-pedia?

For all the talking and phDs, and talent thrown at the problem, people have tended to ignore the one important fact - the structure of the human brain itself. Big companies are trying to solve the wrong kinds of problems. People working on this are being side tracked. At great cost in time, effort and financial investment. The best commentators are circling around the problem I think. This web site about the commons, which looks back to ancient civilisations and early group behaviours is insightful enough. Steven Johnson deals with the human brain issue, in Emergence and his book about things that make us smarter. Malcolm Gladwell, has compiled many useful observations on how the brain functions. Even my auntie could read Gladwell and learn a lot. Which is great, because she deals with children a lot in her job - young brains and how they work. I must say, Blink is a most useful reference.

Alvin Toffler discussed linear and circular, space and time in The Third Wave. How the order inside peoples' minds had to change between first and second wave. I do like Peter M. Senge's Fifth disipline. Senge's classic example of filling a glass of water - the systems thinking way to see it. Senge deals with limitation in our language - not directly with the brain itself. Our language, originating from ancient Greece etc, doesn't describe things as they really are. It is a truncated description for things. Gladwell delves into this too. Susan Blackmore's book on Dawkin's idea of memes, has I think been widely adopted by the technorati. Yeah, all these texts are useful, because they deal with aspects of human brains and groupings of people etc. But for my own money, I think Edward De Bono has done the best home work, if you care to study his writing. The idea of a computer is lurking behind the text. When de Bono starts to describe the surface of the brain and its ability to store information. I think, that many technology and web business models today lack his input. Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence and The New Leader are good, dealings with failure of the brain to explore multiple leadership styles. But to get right to the heart of the matter - the brain itself - I think, de Bono's book is unsurpassed.

Hope this thought of mine, will be useful to you.