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E-cyclopedia Monday, 14 December, 1998, 14:45 GMT
Six hats: Edward de Bono's strange lesson
The people in charge of educating the UK's children are being taught a rather unusual lesson themselves by the guru of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono.

Dozens of Department for Education and Employment staff will next month take part in a crash course to learn about how the country's class sizes could be cut if only those in charge would wear different coloured hats.

Dr Suess with the Cat in the Hat
Red and white: Dr Seuss with the Cat in the Hat
Dr de Bono's Six Hats theory - which he claims is the first new way of thinking to be developed for 2,400 years - can supposedly cut the length of meetings, take the egos out of business, and help people to reach better decisions.

The six hats have different attitudes associated with each of them. Everyone in a meeting will metaphorically wear the same hat at the same time, and look at an issue with the same attitude.

Colour code

For instance, the yellow hat is for optimism and constructiveness. The black hat is for negativity, the white one for neutrally passing on information, the red one for feelings and hunches, the green one for new ideas and the blue one for organising the other hats.

The theory is just one of the many ideas Dr de Bono has come up with since he rose to prominence in the 1960s with his book The Use of Lateral Thinking.

Born in Malta, he first came to the UK as a Rhodes scholar, and now lives in Piccadilly. He has cited Dr Seuss as one of his favourite writers - perhaps an influence on the hats - and said his motto would be "Think again".

Napolean, believed to be one of Dr de Bono's ancestors
He has helped dozens of governments and multinational corporations around the world come up with fresh ways of tackling their problems, but until now has not been received as much of a prophet at home.

Reviewers of Dr de Bono's books have been particularly critical of his work.

Anthony Daniels of the Daily Telegraph wrote of Textbook of Wisdom in 1996: "I have seldom read a book more thoroughly banal than this one."

Lucy Kellaway wrote in the Financial Times about Parallel Thinking in 1994: "As ever with de Bono, the whole is produced with breathtaking arrogance."

And Alan Ryan wrote about the same book that it was "extravagantly boastful, intellectually empty and really rather disagreeable".

Critical mauling

One of his harshest critics was William Hartston in the Independent, who wrote of de Bono's anecdote that the Innuit language had a word meaning "I like you very much, but I would not want to go seal hunting with you".

Hartston wrote: "Well, the English language has a word that means: 'I have listened to what you have to say and I understand the points you are trying to make, but I find your argument utterly unconvincing.'That word is 'bullshit', and this book is full of it."

Po, second from left.
Yet despite the critical mauling, he remains hugely prolific, and has shown a keenness to apply his thinking to world problems - one idea was to set up an Intellectual Red Cross. Countries would send their best thinkers to ponder tricky situations.

If he had a wish, he once wrote, he would like to be remembered for inventing the word "po" - a word somewhere between "either" and "or".

Dr de Bono may well be remembered for Lateral Thinking, even perhaps for his Six Hats, But sadly for him, Po will be for many people forever a Teletubby.

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