Thinking Method: The PMI Approach (Part 1 of 2)


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Exhorting people to take a balanced view is not very effective. The exhortation wears off almost at once. Most people even claim to take a balanced view all the time. In practice they do not.

So the first simple thinking tool is concerned with a broad scan. The tools have to be practical and usable. There are certain aspects of the design of thinking tools which may not be obvious at first sight but do have a reason for being there.

De Bono said in an interview, “I once asked seventy very bright young adults to write an essay on the suggestion that marriage be a renewable five-year contract. Sixty-seven of them wrote their opinion of the idea in the first sentence of their essay and then used the rest of the essay to support that opinion. There was no exploration. That is sometimes the style that is recommended for essay writing.”

In addition he mentioned, “One of the biggest faults of thinking is the use of it to back up an opinion that has already been formed (by first impression, slight thinking, prejudice, or tradition). This is one of the major faults of the intelligence trap, and highly intelligent people suffer from the fault eve more than others. They can so ably defend the point of view that actual exploration of the matter seems a waste of time. If you know you are right and can demonstrate it to others, then why explore the subject?”

The PMI is a powerful thinking tool that is so simple that it is almost unlearnable — because everyone thinks he or she uses it anyway. The letters are chosen to give a nicely pronounceable abbreviation so that we may ask ourselves, or others, to ‘do a PMI’.

stands for Plus or the Good Points

M stands for Minus or the Bad Points

stands for Interesting or the Interesting Points

The PMI is an attention-directing tool. In doing a PMI you deliberately direct your attention first towards the Plus points, then towards the Minus points and finally towards the Interesting points. This is done in a very deliberate and disciplined manner over a period of about 2 to 3 minutes in all. The PMI sets the mood of objectivity and scanning as what will be described later on.

 

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De Bono was once asked to demonstrate his CoRT lesson (The PMI Approach) to a group of educators in Sydney, Australia. Before starting the lesson he asked the group of 30 boys (age 10-11) to tell him what they thought of the idea of each of them receives $5 a week just for going to school. All of them loved the idea and began to tell him what they would do with the money (buy sweets, comics, toys, etc.). He then explained the PMI and asked them to go through Plus, Minus, and interesting points with regard to the $5 suggestion. They were to do this by discussion in groups of five. After three minutes a spokesman for each group gave the output. Many points were turned up.

  • The bigger boys would beat them up and take the money.
  • Parents would not give presents or pocket money.
  • The school would raise its charges for meals.
  • Who would decide how much each age level was to get?
  • There would be quarrels about money and strikes.
  • Where would the money come from?
  • There would be less money to pay teachers.
  • There would not be any money for the school to buy a minibus

At the end of the exercise the class was again asked if they liked the idea. Whereas thirty out of thirty had previously liked the idea, it now appeared that twenty-nine out of thirty had completely reversed their view and now disliked the idea. What is important to note is that a very simple scanning tool, used by the youngsters themselves, had brought about this change. De Bono made no further intervention and never said a word about the subject matter itself.

Suppose you were asked to do a PMI on the suggestion that all cars should be painted yellow. Your output might be something as follows:

P

  • easier to see on the roads
  • easier to see at night
  • no problem in deciding which colour you wanted
  • no waiting to get the colour you wanted
  • easier for the manufacturer
  • the dealer would need less stock
  • it might take the ‘macho’ element out of car ownership
  • cars would tend to become just transport items
  • in minor collisions the paint rubbed off on to your car is the same.

M

  • boring
  • difficult to recognize your car
  • very difficult to find your car in a car park
  • easier to steal cars
  • the abundance of yellow might tire the eyes
  • car chases would be difficult for the police
  • accident witnesses would have a harder time
  • restriction of your freedom to choose
  • some paint companies might go out of business

I

  • interesting to see if different shades of yellow arose
  • interesting to see if people appreciated the safety factor
  • interesting to see whether attitudes towards car changed
  • interesting to see if trim acquired a different color
  • interesting to see if this were enforceable
  • interesting to see who would support the suggestions

Carrying out the process is quite easy. What is not easy to direct attention deliberately in one direction after another when your prejudices have already decided for you what you should feel about an idea. It is this ‘will’ to look in direction that is so important. Once this is achieved then the natural challenge to intelligence is to find as many P or M or I points as you can. So there is a switch. Instead of intelligence being used to support a particular prejudice it is now used to explore the subject matter.

At the end of the exploration of emotions and feelings can be used to make a decision on the matter. The difference is that the emotions are now applied after the exploration instead of being applied before and so preventingexploration.

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