He thinks Muammar Gaddafi should have been made ceremonious King of Libya, the UK rioters should have been sprayed with oestrogen and Barack Obama should have accepted his offer to teach him how to think. Always provocative, Edward De Bono shares his ideas with Christian Peregin.
Pale green walls flank the lobby leading to Edward de Bono’s panoramic apartment at the luxurious Verdala Mansions. It’s the perfect colour for the self-proclaimed world leader in creative thinking who links green to creativity in his famous six thinking hats concept.
Gaddafi should have been made king... UK rioters sprayed- Edward De Bono
In these surroundings, with birds singing from pomegranate trees, and lush sun-kissed vegetation rolling in the background, it is difficult not to be inspired.
But how do you creatively interview a man who has written as many books as he has lived adult years and has consequently been interrogated by journalists hundreds of times?
“You could just keep quiet and I could ask myself the questions,” he says with a chuckle.
At 78, Dr de Bono has lost much of his agility but has a stranglehold on his lucidity.
He considers himself to be a returned migrant, having spent his entire life travelling but retaining his residency in Malta, which he loves for its size and friendly people.
Despite his passion for value-based creativity rather than never-ending analysis, he makes a philosophical remark about his home island.
“In a small country you would think everyone will be on the shore looking outwards to the big world. But we’re on the shore looking inwards,” he says.
He hastens to add, however, that the Maltese are very intelligent and the country is ideal for his next big project.
“A Palace of Thinking.”
The idea is not exactly new: a centre where thinkers from around the world would gather to receive, create and publish ideas on global issues to improve public policy.
Dr de Bono had made a similar proposal in 2008, when he suggested a Palace of Thinking be sited in Malta to mark the EU’s Year of Creativity in 2009. The government had accepted to designate the National Library in Valletta for this venture, but the concept never really kicked off.
In 2004, a World Centre for New Thinking had been set up in Bighi following a similar proposal by Dr de Bono. Again, besides “a few meetings” the venture had been unsuccessful. He is not keen to elaborate on the reasons why but it seems to be due to a lack of enthusiasm.
But Dr de Bono is persistent and recently held meetings with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi as well as Opposition leader Joseph Muscat to give fresh impetus to his brainchild.
“In general they’re in favour,” he says, but they need a bit of a push.
Dr de Bono wants an iconic site, like a historic palace, to be designated for the project. It would not require any investment from the authorities because the site, be it a museum or a residence, could retain its current purpose and simply “make space” for some activities throughout the year.
The return, he argues, would be immense, since every time an idea is published and makes the news, Malta would make the news with it – boosting the country’s prominence and in turn attracting more tourism and investment.
“I’m in a good position to do it because I’m the world leader in creative thinking. And Malta is the ideal place,” he says, because of its size and neutrality.
“The motivation of politicians is to survive,” he points out as he recounts an anecdote later about when he told British Prime Minister David Cameron in a letter to appoint a Minister of Thinking. “They’re always cautious about taking an initiative which could expose them to criticism.”
Dr de Bono’s solution is for politicians to take credit for the popular ideas generated and leave the unpopular ideas to the “silly” people who came up with them. It would allow politicians to “fly kites” without having much to lose, he says.
“If [an idea] doesn’t work, they can let de Bono take the blame... I don’t mind... Most of the ideas will be pretty useless but some will be useful and if people like them, politicians will say OK.”
One of the tools of Dr de Bono’s world-famous lateral thinking process is “provocation”; coming up with outrageous ideas to provoke others to build on them and come up with better ones.
At the risk of oversimplification, he accepts the challenge to tackle complex issues like the Libyan crisis and the enigmatic UK riots.
“It’s too late now, but about six months ago, I would have suggested making Gaddafi symbolic king for 10 years, give him no political power and make sure his throne couldn’t have been inherited. He would then go. I think he would have accepted and the whole thing could have been done easily,” he says, perhaps underestimating the dictator delusions of his popularity.
Dr de Bono had made an almost identical proposal about Zimbabwe’s heavy-handed president Robert Mugabe, in an interview with this newspaper in 2009.
On the UK riots, which philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists have all struggled to explain, Dr de Bono says the violence would have stopped immediately if the rioters were warned and then sprayed with oestrogen (female hormones).
“They would be terrified. They wouldn’t be able to make love. They would start growing breasts...”
So was it just a question of too much testosterone in the streets?
No, he says, it was also about “fashion” and not having much to do, but the disincentive would have been effective.
What about Malta’s recently downgraded economic outlook from Moody’s? Is there a quick-fix solution to that too?
Dr de Bono says Malta’s economic woes are mostly due to the problems of its surrounding neighbours, but with some thinking and initiative solutions are bound to be found.
In fact, Dr de Bono thinks even the mammoth troubles which characterised US President Barack Obama’s legislature could have been solved using his tools. He had written to Mr Obama as the EU’s Ambassador for Creativity some years back, offering lessons in creative thinking.
“All [his] trouble today is due to his not replying,” Dr de Bono says with a smirk and hardly a humble tone.
Dr de Bono dismisses his critics as people who fail to understand his concepts. He also enjoys listing his high-profile “fans” including musicians like the Pet Shop Boys and architects like Renzo Piano. He thinks Mr Piano should design his roofless theatre in a way that allows some form of roof to be built on it in the future depending on how popular the venue became.
But as a man who practically proclaims to have all the answers, how has he applied his thinking tools tangibly in the real world?
“I’ve come up with ideas about thinking,” he says, somewhat surprised by the subtle implication that he should have done something more practical or productive.
Yet, as he sits peacefully on his veranda breathing in his palatial surroundings, with a self-satisfied smile on his healthy-looking face and a stunning blonde assistant doting over him, how can you blame him.