A man who taught people how to think, the late Edward De Bono’s immense contribution to lateral thinking and the science of creativity will go down in history.
But who was the man himself and how did he grow up to become one of Malta’s most famous people?
Two of his biographers have penned detailed tributes to De Bono, which were published on his website after his death was announced.
Piers Dudgeon, author of ‘Breaking Out Of The Box’, noted that De Bono’s parents were distant from him early on, speaking in Latin when they didn’t want him and his brothers to understand them and making them eat meals in the nursery.
De Bono was taught self-discipline from his nanny and went to boarding school at seven, experiences which Dudgeon said made him learn self-reliance and detachment from a young age.
De Bono was a child when the Second World War broke out, with Malta suffering severe bombing from the Axis forces.
However, the horror helped shape young Edward’s mind in an unexpected way.
“As there were no new toys (because nothing could be imported), he began looking at his old toys and eventually at everything – on the dinner table, in the street, wherever he found himself – with an eye to alternative ideas for delivering better value,” Dudgeon wrote.
Meanwhile, at school he designed a map through the cellars and into Mdina, making keys to open the iron gates.
“When the older boys wanted to go for a beer they had to come to him for map and keys.”
De Bono studied at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and published his first book ‘The Use Of Lateral Thinking’ in 1967.
“His book was in tune with the liberating ethos of the late 1960s,” Dudgeon wrote. “While a generation was demonstrating against apartheid and censorship, Edward was bent on liberating the world from the judgmental and prejudicial thinking which lay at the heart of these, believing that the sort of thinking we employ will determine how we stand in relation to the world, and the kind of world we can bring into being.”
Sarah Tucker, author of De Bono’s upcoming biography ‘Love Laterally’, described the man as a genius and said ‘genius’ was actually his university nickname.
She said that while he was frustrated at the way academia was taught at university, he thoroughly enjoyed the non-academic aspect of it.
Indeed, he used to play polo with the likes of the late Lord Mountbatten, uncle of the late Prince Philip. Lord Mountbatten later asked De Bono to lecture the British troops on lateral thinking.
He also met Prince Philip at the Sandringham Polo Club, striking a friendship with the royal which Tucker said he maintained until the prince’s death this year.
“From the late HRH Prince Phillip, to family friend musician Peter Gabriel, to Baroness Helena Kennedy, who wrote the introduction to his biography, Edward’s influence structured their thinking and attitude towards thinking,” Tucker wrote.
“His magnetic and creative communication skills enabled him to reach and enthuse the five-year-old school child with thinking ideas, as the hard-bitten CEO who had heard and seen it all, and completely changed their mindset when they listened to him speak.”
Several leading politicians in Malta paid tribute to De Bono too, with Prime Minister Robert Abela sharing one of his most powerful quotes – “a memory is what is left when something happens and does not unhappen”.
“We may have lost his physical presence but his thinking will continue to inspire us to do better,” Abeala said.
Edward de Bono once said that a memory is what is left when something happens and does not unhappen. We may have lost his physical presence but his thinking will continue to inspire us to do better. – RA
— Robert Abela (@RobertAbela_MT) June 10, 2021
Opposition leader Bernard Grech hailed De Bono as a man who inspired a new way of thinking.
“I have no doubt that your work will continue to live on in studies all around the world,” he said. “Thank you for making Malta proud to call you one of its own.”
Rest in peace Prof Edward de Bono.
Having inspired a new way of thinking, I have no doubt that your work will continue to live on in studies all around the world.
— Bernard Grech (@bernardgrechmt) June 9, 2021
Innovation and Research Minister Owen Bonnici said Malta has lost one of its best thinking minds.
“A philosopher and inventor who was established worldwide, Edward De Bono has given humanity a whole legacy of extraordinary works. May he rest in peace!”
We have just lost one of our best thinking minds. A philosopher and inventor who was established worldwide, #EdwarddeBono has given humanity a whole legacy of extraordinary works.
May he rest in peace! pic.twitter.com/kjueASy4kh
— •Owen Bonnici (@OwenBonnici) June 10, 2021
PN MEP Roberta Metsola said De Bono proved there’s no limit to the potential of the people of Malta.
“He inspired us all to be better, to think outside the box, to not be held back by geography. Malta lost one of her greatest sons last night. The world lost one of its greatest thinkers. Farewell Professor.”
Edward de Bono proved there’s no limit to the potential of our people. He inspired us all to be better, to think outside the box, to not be held back by geography.#Malta lost one of her greatest sons last night. The world lost one of its greatest thinkers. Farewell Professor. https://t.co/mwazdWINV4
— Roberta Metsola MEP (@RobertaMetsola) June 10, 2021
Cover photos: Left: A young Edward De Bono (Photo: debono.com), Right: Edward De Bono in his older days (Photo: Edward De Bono – Facebook) Inset: Prince Philip (Photo: Steve Punter via Wikimedia Commons)