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




The CoRT method of De Bono is sometimes called ‘spectacles method’. If a person is short-sighted and you give that person the appropriate spectacles then the person will be able to see more broadly and more clearly. The person’s reactions will then be suited to this better view. The person can still apply exactly the same value system as was used before — but now it is applied to a better view. The thinking tools, like PMI, perform the function of the spectacles in allowing us to see more clearly and more broadly. We then react to what we see.

One thirteen-year-old girl told how at first she thought the PMI was very artificial since she already knew what she felt about a subject. She then told how, when she had, nevertheless, put points down under P and M and I, she found herself reacting to what she had put down and her feelings changed. That is exactly what one would hope to achieve. Once an idea has been thought and put down under any of the headings, that idea cannot be ‘unthought’ and it will come to influence the final decision.

On one occasion (refer to part 1) one boy said that for yellow cars it would be a ‘Plus’ point that they would need to be kept cleaner. Another boy declared that the cleanliness was actually a ‘Minus’ point since he ‘had to clean his Dad’s car’. Both were right. The boy who saw the cleanliness point when looking in the Plus direction was correct. The boy who saw the cleanliness point when looking in the Minus direction was also correct. In the PMI we are not looking at the values that reside within the point itself. It is not a value judgment. We look to see what points are to be seen when we look in one direction or another. This difference is vitally important.

One girl looks towards the south and sees a church spire. Another girl in a different part of the countryside looks towards the north and sees the same church spire. Is the church a north church or a south church? Clearly it is both. It is exactly the same with the PMI. ‘P’ represents a scanning direction in the same way ‘north’ does. We look in that direction and see what we see, we note what we see. Then look in the next direction. The intention is solely to scan effectively — not to assign values.

Some people would ask whether it is in order to go through the points as they arise and then to judge each one and dump it in a category box called ‘Plus’ or a box called ‘Minus’ or another one called ‘Interesting’. This is quite wrong and defeats the whole purpose of the PMI. To judge the points as they arise is a judgment exercise. To look in one direction after another is a scanning exercise. It is even conceivable that the chemistry of the brain is slightly different when we set out to look in a ‘Plus’ or positive direction from what it might be when we look in the ‘Minus’ or negative direction.

Because it illustrates scanning so well, the PMI is almost miniature thinking course just by itself.


The ‘i‘ or Interesting element of the PMI has several functions. It can collect all those points and comments which are neither positive nor negative. (It might be noted that if a particular point is seen both in the P and in the M direction it is quite in order to include it under both headings.) The ‘I‘ also encourages the deliberate habit of exploring a matter outside the judgment framework to see what is interesting about the idea or what it leads to. A simple phrase which is useful for carrying through this I scan is: ‘It would be interesting to see if…‘ The thinker is thereby encouraged to expand the idea rather than just to treat it as static.

Another aspect of the ‘I‘ direction is to see if the idea leads to another idea. The ‘movement value’ is on another topic discussed by De Bono under Lateral Thinking. (Will be posting soon)

Finally the ‘I’ trains the mind to react to the interest inherent in an idea and not just to judgment feelings about the idea. A thinker should be able to say: ‘I do not like your idea but there are interesting aspects to it…‘ It is a common enough experience that this sort of reaction is highly unusual.

Use of the PMI

Many people would claim to do the PMI anyway. This is possibly true for those situations about which there is a great deal of indecision. But that is not the main purpose of the PMI. On the contrary, the PMI should most especially be used when we have no doubt about the situation but have instantly decided that we like it or do not like it (like the Sydney schoolboy’s reaction to the $5 a week). As a habit of mind, the PMI is specifically designed to force us to scan in those situations where otherwise we should deem scanning unnecessary.

For example, you can ask someone to ‘do a PMI’ when that person has summarily dismissed your suggestion as valueless. You can ask someone to ‘do a PMI’ when there seems to be a prejudged reaction to a situation. The PMI is useful because it is more oblique than direct disagreement or confrontation. In the PMI you are asking the person to exhibit his or her great intelligence in doing a scan of the subject. This is totally different from asking a person to reverse an opinion. Normally the person so asked is not afraid to do a PMI because he or she feels that this will only support the view that is already held.



De Bono one carried out an experiment with 140 senior executives. He divided them into two random groups according to the date of each person’s birthday (odd or even). He then gave each group a suggestion to consider and decide upon. One group got the suggestion of ‘a dated currency so that each year the currency would have the year on it and there might be exchange rates between these different dates’. The other group were asked to consider ‘that marriage be a five-year renewable contract’. The initial decisions were collected. The problems were now switched. This time the PMI was explained and each person was asked to do a PMI before making a decision. If everyone had been doing something of the sort in the first place no change would be expected (assuming the groups were random). But there was a change. Before the PMI 44% were in favor of the dated currency, but after the PMI only 11% were in favor. The opposite happened with the contract marriage suggestion: before the PMI 23% were in favor, but after the PMI this rose to 38%.

Doing a PMI is not really the same thing as listing the ‘pros and cons’ which tends to be more of a judgment exercise. In addition the ‘Interest’ direction allows consideration of those matters which would not fall under either pro or con.

Two Steps

So instead of just reacting to the situation and then justifying the reaction, the thinker now goes through a two-step process. The first step is deliberately to carry out the PMI operation. The second step is to observe and react to what has been turned up by the PMI scan. It is not unlike preparing a map and then reacting to what is on the map.


Because the PMI seems so very simple, its effectiveness should not be underestimated. It can turn a fiercely emotional meeting from prejudice towards a consideration of the subject. Once perception is directed in a certain direction it cannot help but see, and once seen something cannot be unseen.

The key is practice. Practice doing the PMI yourself and practice demanding it of others. It can become a simple shorthand instruction. The strangeness of the lettering is important in order to give focus. Mere exhortation to someone to look at the good points and bad points is much too weak to be effective.

For practice, a PMI can be done on each of the six practice items De Bono has listed below. Three minutes should be allowed for the whole PMI in each case. The items can be done on one’s own or in a small discussion group.

  1. What do you think of the suggestion that everyone should wear a badge showing his or her mood?
  2. Should every child adopt an old person to look after?
  3. Are weekend prisons for young offenders a good idea?
  4. Should everyone be allowed to indicate where they would like their taxes spent?
  5. Should an internet connection contain a special program that does not permit violent videos to be shown?
  6. Should cars be banned from city centers?

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