Home » Archive » De-patterning: refining the first stage of thought

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

After finishing New World, New Mind I was convinced of two things. First, more attention is needed around staging our thinking processes. Second, the authors didn’t had no idea how to do it.

So, while Cuban waves tickled the beach, I grabbed Edward De Bono’s book, Po: Beyond Yes and No. I discovered that this book is everything New World, New Mind should have been.

To be fair, De Bono’s work is light. The book doesn’t dig deeply into the supporting facts. He takes his authority as granted and plunges into the concepts. The Ornstein and Ehrlich book set up all the points that De Bono makes in his.

De Bono’s book is about the process of informing the process of thinking. He agrees with Ornstein and Ehrlich that we create caracatures of our reality and, no matter our intention, stumble into pre-defined routes of thinking.

De Bono describes logic, our usual mode of thinking, as a stage/gate system. Each gate defines the gate that follows and the reasons behind each decision are forgotten as successive gates are passed. It’s a process based on trust.

We trust that our perception of information is unbiased. It isn’t. Using towels and gelatin, De Bono shows what we think do in our minds and then what we actually do. As a metaphor it suggests the consequence of pre-defined patterns and how they bias our perception.

An experiment

Take a white towel and lay it on the floor. Grab a glass of any liquid likely to leave a stain (wine, India ink, Koolaid) and splash a bit somewhere on the towel. The stain represents an information point.

Splash some more in various spots around the towel. Together the blotches represent contextualized information. It is perfectly recorded on the surface of the towel. This is how we think we percieve information – perfectly recorded, exactly as recieved.

To see how we actually recieve and record information, do the following.

Fill a shallow tray with liquid jello and leave it in the fridge for several hours until cooled. Heat up the wine or ink or whatever was used to stain the towel.

Splash the hot liquid into the tray in a similar way as was done with the towel.

The first splash is the first bit of information. Notice how it leaves an impression on the surface of the jello?

Slosh some more around in different places on the jello’s surface. Are any bits running into others? Are several bits of information draining into the pool created by the first? Are channels forming that are common to several different splashes?

Drain off the liquid and observe the surface of the jello. Are the unique splashes perfectly recorded or do they bleed into each other?

The towel is an example of how we think we recieve information. The jello is an example of how we actually recieve information.

When we recieve new information it gets funneled into the deepest ruts and courses along to the deepest pools of our experience. But, here’s the kicker, we still think it’s been recorded exactly as it was recieved. That deception undermines the integrity of logical progression.

If every valid decision we make becomes a logical candiate for every future decision. The more often a decision is taken, the more new information is filtered through the same patterns. We create caracatures of thinking that begin to characterize similar things as identical things even if they’re independent. Old decisions are validated or repeated.

Naturally corrupted

The strength of logical progression begins to erode when we recognize how new information is naturally corrupted.

This usually isn’t an issue. There isn’t much new under the sun. Old solutions usually work fine. But what if we want something new under the sun (vain as that may be)? When creativity and innovation are the target, those old ruts are a threat.

A de-patterning process

To bump us out of old ruts, De Bono proposed a de-patterning process. He provided three specific examples of depatterning that illustrate the intention behind the book.

First he suggests posing intermediate impossibilities. Take an issue and invert it, turn it inside out, switch the back to the front or make any other change that forces the proposition into an impossible position. Use the change to jar your thinking loose of old channels and take advantage of the new paths it creates to think differently.

Second, use random juxtaposition. If new “environmental solutions” are the target, put “environment” beside something unexpected like “shoe”. Our minds don’t naturally associate these concepts and exploring them as though they were related drives out new ideas.

Finally, take it for granted that previously defined solution sets will present themselves. Don’t waste energy throwing out or beating down patterns, move beyond them. Set them aside as one possible alternative and continue to pursue others.

Attending the first stage of thought: concept packages

The de-patterning process is essential. The consequences of logistical thought and our instinctive patterns for characterizing our world require this kind of jolting. Not so much because our pattern process is so flawed but mostly because it’s incapable of recognizing flawed concept packages.

Concept packages are the first stage of thinking. They inform the process of thought. But, because the process is patterned, concept packages also define the outcomes of logical progression.

We’ve learned (and been taught) to focus on process thinking. Gathering the right information and concepts deserves more effort.

Final summary

Overall I’d give Po: Beyond Yes and No an 8 out of 10. I love the perspective of the book. But making up new words, like “po” is flaky. Maybe that’s a result of old patterns, but it’s distracting.

From my perspective, the most important part of the book is that it trumpets an opportunity to drive out creativity and innovation by focusing more explicitly on the concept packages that inform thinking processes. De Bono provides a framework for starting to tackle that opportunity.

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