Teach Yourself to Think

Teach Yourself to Think Edward de Bono Book Preview

Edward de Bono created five terms (TO, LO, PO, SO, GO) to explain his five steps to productive thinking. There is so much information in the book that reading it once is not enough. It is more of a manual that helps when one is stuck in the thinking process or needs guidance in how to think productively.

Five steps to productive thinking (details of each step in the notes below):

  1. TO: What do I want to do?
  2. LO: What information do I have (and need)?
  3. PO: How do I get there?
  4. SO: Which alternative do I choose?
  5. GO: How do I put this into action?

Five Stages of Thinking Canvas

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The traditional thinking system is inadequate:

  1. It does not adequately deal with “perception,” which is by far the most important part of thinking in everyday affairs.
  • Perception is the way we look at the world. The way we carve up the world into chunks we can handle.
  • Perception chooses whether to regard a glass as half empty or half full.
  1. An argument is a poor way of exploring a subject and sets up unnecessary adversarial positions.
  2. The “boxes” derived from the past may not be adequate to deal with a changing world, which is very different from the past.
  3. An analysis is insufficient to solve all problems. There is a need to supplement it with design.
  4. The notion that criticism is enough and that somehow useful progress will be made is absurd.
  5. There is insufficient attention to the generative, productive, constructive and creative aspects of thinking.
  6. The huge importance of the possibility system is largely ignored.

Five steps to productive thinking [in detail]:

1. TO (“To where”)

Where do I want to go?

The word “to” implies destination and purpose.

We always assume that the purpose of our thinking is obvious. Hence, this is one of the parts of thinking that people do very badly.

The first stage of thinking is concerned with purpose:

  • What is the purpose of my thinking?
  • What do I hope to achieve with my thinking?
  • What am I thinking about?


  1. Define
    1. “Right now the purpose of my thinking is”
  2. Redefine
    1. “How else can I define this purpose?
    2. Can you break down the larger purpose into a smaller purpose?
    3. Can you break down the smaller purpose into a larger purpose?
  3. Change – consciously change your definition of your purpose if the original purpose is too broad or too specific

2. LO (“Lo and behold”)

The Information Stage

The LO stage is to do with gathering information, perceptions and feelings as the background and basis of our thinking.

Sometimes we need to direct our search for information with guesses or hypotheses. We should record the information but also note the quality of the information.

There are times when more information will do our thinking for us. There are times when more information will not do our thinking for us and we need to develop ideas, possibilities and designs.

3. PO (POssiblities)

What are the possibilities?

The purpose of the PO stage is to produce multiple possibilities for achieving what we want from the thinking.

There are four approaches to generating possibilities.

  1. The search for a routine approach means looking back into our experience to find out what to do.
  2. In the general approach we define the needs in very broad and general terms. Then we seek to make these more and more specific until in the end we have a practical way of achieving what we want.
  3. In the creative approach we set out to generate ideas. We then examine these to see if they meet our needs. We seek to modify the ideas to serve our purpose.
  4. In the design and assembly approach we put together different elements to build up what we want.

4. SO (So what? So what do we do)

What is the outcome?

The purpose of the SO stage is to take the possibilities delivered by the generative PO stage and to reduce these to a single choice – to something that can be acted on.


  1. Development stage – ideas are developed further
  2. Evaluation stage – each idea is now evaluated.
  3. Choice stage – one idea must be selected from the number of available ideas.
  4. Decision stage

5. GO (Let’s GO!)

The GO stage is all about making things happen.