He says he has a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has devised a way out of the recession and claims to have improved the employment chances of unemployed Britons. Edward de Bono shares his creative thinking skills.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved after more than 60 years of wars, failed mediation and botched agreements. But one Maltese scholar claims to have a creative solution that would bring peace to the region. Where others have failed Edward de Bono believes he can succeed.
"Deduct $50 million from the aid given to the Palestinians for each rocket fired into Israel. The same concept would be applied to Israel. Now you are no longer a hero to your people by firing a rocket, which in any case is symbolic, since you've just cost them a hospital or a school. You have to give them something to lose," Prof. de Bono says.
If it's so simple why hasn't the idea been implemented?
"Because nobody has suggested it probably," he replies.
It's a pity George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, has not yet pencilled in a meeting with Prof. de Bono. Indeed, US President Barack Obama has not even taken up Prof. de Bono's offer to give a lecture on creative thinking.
"As a present from the EU I wrote to Barack Obama a letter and offered to go and teach him how to use creative thinking. I haven't had any response," he says. Whether Mr Obama will be interested is another issue altogether.
In a 45-minute chat with Prof. de Bono, who has made a thriving business out of creative thinking, I am regaled with more solutions to other pressing world problems.
The long and short of Prof. de Bono's 40-year crusade is the need to generate new ideas by teaching people how to improve their thinking skills. He insists information is not enough. He says traditional universities have been superseded by the digital age. Rather than teaching the wisdom of the ages, which today is accessible at the touch of a button, Prof. de Bono argues in favour of universities that teach skills.
"You can analyse the past but you have to design the future and to do so we need to escape the 'yes' and 'no' logic that seeks to be judgmental," he says.
Within this context he offers a solution to the Robert Mugabe impasse in Zimbabwe and a way out of the recession that is gripping the world.
"We are too concerned with the blame game, which hinders us from designing the way forward. What would I do with Mugabe?" he asks, to prove his point.
Prof. de Bono would give him a permanent title such as 'Father of the Nation', a nice palace, a decent income, a driver and some political power such as the ability to veto two bills a year.
"He would have happily moved out of politics. But to say to someone who has run the country for 28 years, 'please disappear', will not work," Prof. de Bono says.
I get this nagging feeling that former Prime Minister Alfred Sant would have loved to have Prof. de Bono around in 1998 when he faced Dom Mintoff's wrath in Parliament.
However, when I ask him for a creative solution to Mr Mintoff's dissent he just looks at me.
"I cannot tell you. I would need to know Mr Mintoff's motivations for voting against, his reasoning and the circumstances that led him to it," Prof. de Bono says.
He may not have an answer to what happened 11 years ago in Parliament, but come April Prof. de Bono says he will be publishing some "powerful ideas" ahead of the G20 summit in London to help the world get out of the recession.
Ironically, it was the creativity of bankers and fund managers that dragged the world into the rut it is in and here is an individual advocating creativity and new thinking to solve the problem.
His idea has to do with the creation of a "functional currency". It would incorporate the normal currency and Prof. de Bono's brainchild, a "spending currency". He has even invented a name for the spending currency: the Bon, although he insists it has nothing to do with his surname.
"Playing around with interest rates isn't that powerful to stimulate spending when they get below a certain level. If we want to stimulate the economy through spending we should be able to exchange an ordinary euro for a spending euro which has twice the spending power.
"It works by going to a bank, giving it your euro and in exchange you will get back two 'spending euros' called Bon. You can then spend the Bon in any shop at the value of two euro. This will directly stimulate spending. It will also be dated so that people will not be able to save it," he explains.
His proposal would certainly leave central bankers the world-over scratching their head. Would such a currency encourage the UK to join the eurozone?
"No, because the functional currency must be used within the country. The UK can keep its pound but it will have a spending pound as well," he says.
Has Prof. de Bono applied his thinking skills when taking personal investment decisions?
He smiles. True to his Maltese roots he says that "sometimes" he invests in property and that he has shunned investment in hedge funds and similar financial instruments.
He gets back to the financial crisis and insists that not enough new thinking is going on.
"There is the belief that giving more and more information is enough. It is not. New information does not solve the problem because at some point you have to generate new ideas," he insists.
New ideas almost always face resistance and in some circumstances even the censor's knife. Ironically, at the same time Prof. de Bono was inaugurating the launch of the events marking the European Year of Creativity and Innovation with Education Minister Dolores Cristina, the play Stitching was banned.
Does censorship sit side by side with creativity?
"I don't know the nature of the play but creativity sits side by side with censorship. Censorship means that there is freedom of speech but it is not freedom to upset anybody or attack people. Maybe the play is offending people of a certain religion, or it could be deemed to be obscene in certain aspects. Obviously, there are limits to freedom. You're free to play your radio at full blast but are you free to go and play your radio in a park next to other people? No. You've got to respect other people," he says.
I persist with my question: does he agree with censorship?
"No, but freedom and respect go hand in hand. Freedom has to be accompanied by responsibility," he says, sidelining my argument that nobody forces people to attend theatre presentations.
One of Prof. de Bono's word creations is 'Po', which he describes as the basic tool for creative thinking. The rationale behind 'Po' is to escape judgment and accept a statement, however nonsensical or illogical it is, as a stepping stone from which one can move to a good idea.
He immediately cites an example.
"I was talking to Boeing engineers and as a provocation I said Po planes land upside down. In no way is that a good idea. When planes land upside down, the wings give you downward trust. From that comes the idea of a normal plane with two small wings upside down. This gives you negative bias and if you need extra lift in emergency you retract them or flap them up and immediately you get extra lift.
"Seventy per cent of plane crashes are caused because of the inability to get instant extra lift. They're looking into it and we'll see where it gets to. In no way is the provocation a good idea but from it we can get to something," he explains.
I suggest a statement and ask him to tell me how it could be a stepping stone for a good idea: "Illegal immigrants should be turned away at sea and if need be, shot."
"That is not designed as a provocation. A provocation is set up as a provocation not as an idea. Yours is an idea of what people would like to do. It is not the nature of a provocation. A provocation is not something you intend to do. You never intend having planes land upside down but it helps you think for alternative solutions," he says.
A recent Eurobarometer survey has shown that illegal immigration tops the list of concerns for the Maltese. This has been a thorny issue for the past few years. Prof. de Bono is asked what innovative or creative thinking skills can the country apply to solve this problem.
"Next week we have a meeting at the Thinking Palace on this issue. There are various ways of approaching the problem and one of them is by tackling the middlemen. Make it illegal to carry immigrants and if you are caught doing it you confiscate and sink the ship, obviously after taking people off it.
"In this way, the middlemen are in trouble and if there are no middlemen it is very difficult for the whole system to function," he says, making it sound like a simple solution.
In a nutshell, that is what the EU agency Frontex has been trying to do with questionable means and little success.
"Yes. But maybe it needs to do it more vehemently. It is the middlemen that you have to get at," he insists.
Middlemen or no middlemen I contend that when people are desperate they will still risk life and limb to seek a better living elsewhere. Prof. de Bono refutes the argument, insisting there are millions of desperate people in the world.
"If you take that attitude are you willing to say we will accept them all or are we going to help those who make the effort to leave? In that case, why not go to India and find all those desperate people and ask them to come and stay with us?"
He insists that desperation on its own is not sufficient reason to justify immigration. I get this feeling that most of Prof. de Bono's solutions to international problems centre around the notion that money is a prime motivator for people. It doesn't take creative thinking to believe so but there may be other historical, social and cultural precepts that motivate people to act in one way or another. I ask him whether money drives his solutions.
"Money is an important motivator but the key difference is that we need to move away from the urge to judge. We need to design a way forward. When Greek thinking came to Europe at the time of the Renaissance, schools and universities were in the hands of the Church.
"They were not interested in perceptual thinking, creative thinking, design thinking. What they were interested in was truth, logic and argument to prove the heretics wrong. So our main traditions of thinking are to find the truth. There is nothing wrong with that but we never culturally developed thinking for creating value. Individuals might have, but as a culture we have not," he explains.
Does the yearning to design a way forward discard the notion of justice?
"It has nothing to do with justice," he says and elicits another example from the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
"One other way of solving it is to say that Palestinians can vote in Israeli elections. Maybe not a full vote, even a half vote or a quarter of a vote. The politicians in Israel, those who are more constructive, would get more votes and they get into power. Now it will no longer be enough to be a hawk.
"They have to design a way forward so that people's needs, fears, motivations will be addressed. Justice is OK. You commit a crime and you pay," he says, ignoring the democratic principle of one person, one vote.
And again, another example follows suit.
"I was asked by the Crime Committee in South Africa to help them out because the crime rate was alarmingly high. They came up with the suggestion of injecting criminals with a shot of oestrogen. All these macho guys start becoming effeminate, they grow breasts, they can't make love and they said that would absolutely terrifying..."
Isn't this similar to the controversial castration law for sex offenders in the Czech Republic which has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations?
"Castration is permanent, the oestrogen shot wears off. Sometimes you have to do things to people," he says.
The National Library in Valletta, re-christened as the Palace of New Thinking, sits next to Parliament. Is there enough thinking going in Parliament? Prof. de Bono's instant reply is "no".
"I was in Mauritius and had a meeting the Prime Minister who is a big fan of mine and I said why don't you - for just one day - use the six hats concept in Parliament.
"The Speaker would get up and declare yellow-hat time, which means that unless you have something positive to say you keep quiet. Then it's black-hat time, where negatives and downsides are expressed. And at the end it will be red-hat time where they can insult each other as much as they like. He likes the idea. That will change parliament completely," he says.
Prof. de Bono says parliament needs to have more professionals such as architects, engineers and scientists. These people cannot enter the political fray because if they are not elected the next time round they cannot go back to their job.
"Parliament is filled with lawyers, teachers, trade unionists and journalists, people who are very good at talking but have no practice in constructive thinking. And that is a real problem with democracy worldwide," he says.
It's easy to pinpoint the problem but what is the solution?
"Parliament can be held in the evening so that people can continue doing their day of work and then go to parliament. Parliament's negative mood, where politicians are expected to oppose each other, is a waste," he says.
Before we depart he recounts how teaching thinking skills for five hours a week to unemployed people in the UK improved their employment chances by 500 per cent.
"It works," he says. "It is amazing that, culturally, for 2,400 years we have done nothing about thinking. Worldwide there are, maybe one million people writing software for computers, but software for the human brain we have done nothing for 2,400 years."
That is one whopping timescale Prof. de Bono hopes to change, and with that I'm back in the street trying to think myself out of the traffic jam that has developed outside Valletta.