Playful Arrangements and Deliberate Distortions: Hacking The Linear with Edward de Bono

I first came into contact with the ideas of Edward de Bono as a teenager while browsing through my father's bookshelves. With the possible exception of Buckminster Fuller, I would say that de Bono is the writer who most influenced my understanding of the process of creative thinking during this period of my intellectual development. At this point in history - some forty years after the first publication of The Use of Lateral Thinking it is most likely that most people have encountered some reworked or rehashed variation of the principle of lateral thinking, but there are a few important ways in which this unique use of the imagination can be of immense benefit to creative writers:
  1. Be Liberal with the Scissors, Red Pen, Trash Can or Shredder - In chapter 3 of The Use of Lateral Thinking de Bono uses the analogy of "half dug holes" - when we have been digging away in an unprofitable direction, pursuing a plot or plan which is not producing results, the natural inclination is to want to continue digging in the same spot. There is a dominant idea in place which dictates the direction, and this dominance is so powerful that it is possible to change course even though it is apparent that the current course will lead to disaster. What is the antidote? One technique described by de Bono is to "acknowledge the dominant idea and then gradually distort it until in the end it loses its identity and collapses." The Cut'n'Mix Word Machine offers automated distortions which can be applied to text with the Shuffle, Morph and Replacer Effects.
  2. Chance is a Powerful Generator of New Ideas - In Chapter Seven of The Use of Lateral Thinking uses the analogy of playing roulette successfully: The first few steps are to learn the rules of the game, but the all-important third and fourth steps are what will determine whether or not you will be successful in the long term:
    • "The third step is to play as often as you can and get rid of any inhibitions which interfere with your playing."
    • "The fourth step is to recognize when you have won and to pick up your winnings instantly."
    This procedure sounds very similar to the cut-up writing technique as employed by William S. Burroughs: by randomizing a pool of words which have been cut from a text, one can more quickly identify exciting new combinations: new phrases, new concepts and bizarre juxtapositions which could spawn whole new avenues of investigation. As de Bono explains: "... if the mind makes no attempt to direct the ideas and is curious enough to pursue them, there will always be enough ideas - often there will be too many."