Handbook for the Positive Revolution Part 1



PENGUIN BOOKS              1991


Back cover

When Edward de Bono pioneered the concept of ‘lateral thinking’ he started a quiet revolution in thinking that has now spread across the world. He was twenty years ahead of the times when he put forward the idea of the brain as a self-organizing information system in 1969. This is now mainstream thinking.

It is all too easy to complain, protest, grumble, criticize and attack. Traditional revolutions define an enemy and seek to overthrow that enemy. When you have got rid of the bad things then all is supposed to turn out well.

There are many people who have always felt that negativity is not enough. They see the need to be constructive, to be creative and to contribute towards making things happen. These are the people who will welcome the Positive Revolution. Edward de Bono’s challenging new book provides a practical framework for a serious revolution which has no enemies but seeks to make things better.

The hand symbolizes the five basic principles of the Positive Revolution: thumb for effectiveness, index finger to point the constructive way forward, middle finger for human values, ring finger for self-improvement and little finger for contribution – to remind us that even a small contribution is better than endless criticism.

About the author

Dr Edward de Bono has written thirty-two books some of which have been translated into twenty-four languages including Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, Bahasa, etc. He has been invited to lecture in forty-five different countries and has a world-wide reputation as the leading authority in both creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking skills. He is the originator of the term ‘lateral thinking’ which now has an entry in the Oxford dictionary.

Dr de Bono was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and has held faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard.

Dr de Bono’s original background was in medicine where he investigated the complex inter-active systems of the body, and in psychology. His work with computers made him particularly interested in the thinking that computers could not do: the perceptual and creative aspects of thinking and methods for improving human thinking. His main contribution has been to work upwards from the behaviour of self-organizing systems to devise simple methods for improving human thinking: for example the word ‘po’ and the deliberate provocative techniques of lateral thinking.

Dr de Bono’s course for the direct teaching of thinking in schools (CoRT) is now in use with millions of school-children around the world. Some countries have made it compulsory in every school. His instruction in thinking has also been sought by governments and by the world’s largest corporations such as Exxon, NTT (Japan), IBM, Du Pont. His ‘six hat’ method is now very widely used in businesses as elsewhere.

The key features of the thinking of Dr de Bono are constructive, creative and positive. Dr de Bono also focuses on the perception side of thinking which is the most important part outside technical areas. It is these concerns that force him to challenge traditional thinking with its double emphasis on critical negativity and logic. As a result his ideas often upset some of the more old-fashioned thinkers.

Although the background may be complex, Dr de Bono seeks to design methods and habits that are very simple, very practical and easy to use. That is why his work has spread so widely.

Dr de Bono has also made three TV series which have been shown to millions of viewers.

Author’s note

Why bother? This is a sensible phrase to cover a sensible strategy. Go your own way. Do your own thing. Carve out a little niche in the complex world and then be happy and content in that niche. Being worried about the rest of the world is too futile and too difficult a task. Let those who are motivated to change the world work on that task.  The world will always last long enough to see out your lifetime.

I am not going to disagree with this point of view but to side-step it in order to write for those who know that they are inseparably part of the world in which they live: their own internal world, the local community world and the world at large. Let the others munch contentedly like cows in the field – happy that there is grass today.

My concern has always been with human thinking because this seems to me to play so central a role in human happiness and development both from moment to moment and also over the long term. I believe that we have done relatively little about thinking but have been content with a fluency of argument and the ability to attack and defend positions. This sort of thinking unfortunately lacks the creative, constructive and design energies that we really need in order to go forward. Indeed, our absurd emphasis on negativity seriously impedes such progress.

This particular book is not, however, about thinking habits and methods. This book is about the fundamental background and setting in which we would use our thinking skills. If we are disposed to be negative then our thinking skills will help us to be negative. If we are disposed to be positive then our thinking skills will take us in that direction. This is more than a moment to moment emotional bias – it is the fundamental attitude of our being.

There are far too many people who believe that natural evolution controlled by critical negativity will form the ideas that we need – just as Darwinian evolution perfected a variety of life forms. This is a dangerous fallacy. Evolution is very slow, very messy, very wasteful and is incapable of making the best use of available resources. Inadequate – but not disastrous – ideas and institutions will survive, perfect and defend themselves thus preventing the more effective use of resources. That has always been the logical basis for revolution.

This book is intended for those who see this logical need.

There is a useful place for negativity in changing values: in providing shaping pressures; in curbing excesses; in removing defects in order to improve an idea; and in forming the conscience of society. But the constructive and creative energies have to be there in order to get the steady, step by step progress that is the basis of the positive revolution. How we generate these constructive energies is what the positive revolution is about.


This is a serious revolutionary handbook. The greatest strength of this serious revolution is that it will not be taken seriously. There is no greater power than to be effective and not be taken seriously. That way you can quietly get on with things without the fuss and friction or resistance from those who feel threatened.

In the positive revolution there are no enemies. Traditional revolutions are negative and derive their energy from being against things. The only energy of the Marxist revolution was derived from its struggle against capitalism. Where that struggle was successful the new system eventually died of inertia when it became only an ancestral memory.

Is it possible to have a revolution without the rage, hatred and passion of being ‘against’ something? Is it possible to have a revolution without the sense of mission and focused energy that an ‘enemy’ provides? Many would say that it is not possible. Such people are locked into that old-fashioned and tiresome habit of thinking based on ‘I am right – you are wrong.’

Righteousness is indeed a traditional source of energy. A simplistic view of an enemy does give the cohesion, shared views and camaraderie of professional revolutionaries. But the positive revolution is not for professional revolutionaries but for ordinary people – for those amateurs who can make a difference, inch by inch. A positive revolution is not the mighty clash of the ‘rock logic’ of brutally arrogant ideologies but the slow and steady power of ‘water logic’ with ability to surround and infiltrate.

  • The weapons of the positive revolution are not bullets and bombs but simple human perceptions.
  • Bullets and bombs may offer physical power but eventually will only work if they change perceptions and values.
  • Why not go the direct route and work with perceptions and values?
  • With the positive revolution there are no enemies – even those who want to enjoy being enemies need to be denied this legitimate pleasure.
  • There are a few who will join the positive revolution immediately. There are those who will join later when it is fashionable.
  • There are many, including the enemies, who will be quietly by-passed. Most will not notice it is happening until it is far advanced.

I finished writing my book I am Right – You are Wrong one sunny summer morning at nine o’clock. Half an hour later I had started this book. This book is the short practical handbook for the positive revolution. The other book provides the intellectual basis and seeks to show why our traditional clash system of thinking is insufficiently constructive.

  • This practical handbook was originally written for Brazil, which so badly needs a revolution but whose intellectuals are much too old-fashioned to design one.
  • The positive revolution is needed everywhere, particularly in the United Kingdom where negativity has so often been the means by which a club of mediocrity holds on to power.
  • After reading this book, or the preceding one, some thinkers may come to see negativity not as the highest exercise of intelligence but as the squalling of a baby who has no better means of getting attention and is incapable of other action.
  • If you want to spread the positive revolution buy a few copies of the book for your friends – or encourage them to buy the book for themselves. It is not so much a book for reading as a book for working from.


Effectiveness and Action

If I had to design a system in which it was impossible for intelligent people to be effective, then I would design the following system:

  1. People in positions of power would use their intelligence to defend their positions of power and to survive.
  2. Intelligent people mainly use their intelligence to attack, criticize and blame others.
  3. Everyone else is intelligent enough to be passive and to assume that their occasional vote is a sufficient contribution to local and world affairs.


Every piece of iron can be considered to be made up of thousands of tiny magnets. All these tiny magnets are pointing in different directions – so the overall effect is zero. If, however, all the tiny magnets can be lined up to point in the same direction then the piece of iron acquires the mysterious power of a magnet.

  • Traditional negative revolutions are led by the power group and everyone else has to follow.
  • Is it possible to start a revolution the other way round? Is it possible to have a general shift in mood and action first?
  • I believe it is if the weapons are perceptions rather than bullets and bombs.


Negative Revolutions

In a traditional negative revolution there is an enemy to be hated. It is this hatred which gives cohesion to the revolution and provides a sharp sense of purpose.

Traditional negative revolutions are defined by what they are attacking.

  • When the struggle has succeeded there is too little experience needed to build and run society.
  • It might be better to start off with a positive revolution.

A positive revolution may be contrasted with a negative one.

Instead of attack there is construction.

Instead of criticism there is design.

Instead of change through violence there is change through perception.

Instead of the power of guns there is the power of information.

Instead of the hard edges of ‘rock logic’ there is the flow of ‘water logic’.

Instead of ideology to provide the direction there is a humour to allow changes in direction.

Instead of a centrally organized system there is a self-organizing system.

Although the positive revolution is non-violent is by no means passive. On the contrary the emphasis is on action and effectiveness.

The revolution of Karl Marx was inspired by the unfairness of the steam-engine technology of the industrial revolution. The positive revolution is inspired by the opportunities offered by the electronic age of information.

The Positive Revolution

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