Key takeaways from Edward De Bono’s "Serious creativity"

Let us have a look at creative thinking!

5 min read


By Dag Frode Solberg


December 2, 2019

In his book, Serious creativity, Edward De Bono presents his knowledge from more than 50 years of research on creativity. In it, he presents creativity as a skill that can be taught. The following are some of the key takeaways from the book.

The definition of creativity

We all have perceptions, concepts, and boundaries, creativity is about challenging these. Creativity is about breaking patterns and giving us an alternative approach to logical thinking in pursuit of solving problems. With creativity, we move beyond what is and into what could be.


We have many misconceptions when it comes to creativity; some of these are:

  • "Creativity is something you're born with; it can't be learned."
  • "You have to be artistic to be creative."
  • "Creativity is crazy and illogical."
  • "Creativity requires particular conditions."

These represent a narrow, incomplete view of creativity and are holding us back. Take the last quote as an example – the thought that certain conditions make you creative is not entirely wrong. Everyday hassles can inhibit us from being creative. But by eliminating them, it can become more comfortable to be creative. Conditions are, therefore, not a prerequisite for creativity. Neither is "being artistic." It would seem that many see creative vs. logical as two extreme traits on an identity spectrum and would, therefore, identify as logical over creative.

Logical vs. creative thinking

Logical Thinking

Creative Thinking

To find the difference, we first need to know a bit about how the brain works. The brain is a self-organizing information system. That is, it collects and organizes information on the fly. Previous knowledge as well and the order of new information affect how this new information is stored.

Knowing this shows that our concept of "logical thinking" is fragile. In logical thinking, we start with a problem and navigate the information we have about that problem until we find a solution. This usually is efficient as we have solved similar problems before, but when there are new problems, we might get stuck in limiting patterns.

Creative thinking helps us break free from these patterns and navigate our knowledge in different ways. By using techniques such as "random input" and "provocation" we can change where we start our thinking process and therefore end up with other solutions than we could by logical thinking.

Creative techniques

Then how do we break these limiting patterns? There are many techniques we can use to trick our minds into thinking creatively, including "Provocation" and "Random Input".


Provocation works similarly to random input. By providing a provocation that might seem illogical, and taking the time to think about the implications of the provocation, you can come up with ideas outside of our usual patterns. This can be thought of like 30 seconds of madness.

Let us try it! We are getting close to the holidays. What about:

PO: we do not buy each other presents this year

Does that statement sound like madness? A bit. Let us see what we can come up with if we accept this for 30 seconds and think about what effects it could have.


  • Maybe we could buy ourselves presents? We know what we want and need and can spend our own money on it.
  • Maybe we could make stuff for each other?
  • What about spending the money we would have used on presents on a trip instead?
  • Or maybe give it to a good cause?
  • Or use it on the house/car/other big things we need fixing
  • Or invest it so the money can grow for a few years and be used as part of mom and dad's retirement?

We could probably go on for some time. Just be accepting the provocation and trying to figure out how it could affect our lives instead of resisting it, we can come up with new ideas that might bring value as they are. Or we can find a middle ground that is more realistic.

Random input

Random input is a method where a list of random input, usually words, but photos could work too, is collected and shared one item at a time. The person ideating thinks of a problem and uses the random input to affect the ideas they generate. The random input helps you break the logical patterns you are used to following and forcing you to take detours through other topics that might seem unrelated but can spark new ideas.

How can we use this in practice? Let's say we want to give someone a present and are stuck. We can then create a list of topics related to gifts.

It can look something like:

  • Sports gear
  • Activity
  • Clothing
  • Necessities

This list could have been more random, but as we are are looking for gifts, this should be enough. By writing down 5 ideas or as many as you can come up with for each word, you should be able to come up with a few ideas that should solve your need.


  • Football
  • Bike
  • Going to the movies
  • Laser tag
  • Sweater
  • Socks
  • Shampo

Applying some of these techniques and the knowledge that creativity is just a way of thinking lets us see more solutions and, therefore, often solve problems better. Creativity challenges let us our perceptions, concepts, and boundaries. Our understanding of creativity affects how we use it. Knowing creativity is a skill that can be taught and used in serious situations enhances our options when solving problems.