The Invisible Mentor Interviews Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, Founder of the School of Thinking

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How often do you spend time thinking? Were our teachers on to something when they told us to put our thinking hats on? This week we present Michael Hewitt-Gleeson founder of The School of Thinking where he teaches people how to think. If he could deliver one message to you, he’d like you to absorb the statement, “The current view of the situation, can never be equal to the better view of the situation.” So what does that mean? Say for instance you are facing a challenge, any challenge, there is someone in the world who has faced and successfully resolved that same challenge. If you are open, and accept the fact that your view of your current reality is not the best, you can use a search engine such as Google to discover what others have done in your situation. Choose the best option, and now you have a better view of the situation. This is a simple yet profound piece of advice.

As usual, while you are reading the interview, take notes, you will easily five takeaways to apply to your life. Let me know what your five takeaways are by writing them in the comment box at the end of the post.

Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: Apart from the fact that I’m incredibly good looking (A big smile comes through the headset), I’m Australian, born and grew up here but for many years I lived overseas, mostly based in New York and North America. I run the School of Thinking, which is the largest program in the world for teaching thinking as a skill.

Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: Like most people, while I’m still in my pajamas, I head straight to my computer and start looking at some of my emails that have come in, then I do about an hour’s worth of work on the website where I run The School of Thinking. (I’m running it from my iPad as well, which could be a trap because it means I could be taking it into my bedroom). After that, I make a cup of tea and depending on the day, sometimes I have meetings, which means I get ready and go to those. Other times I might be working from my office which is right across from the beach here in St Kilda in Melbourne. The typical day if I’m not with a client or giving a talk somewhere then I’m doing research, writing, and running the School of Thinking on the internet.

Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: It’s a very good question, but I am motivated because I like what I’m doing. There are odd days when you ask yourself if you are wasting your time, but overwhelmingly I like what I’m doing, it’s enjoyable, and it involves a variety of things. I get enough feedback from people around the world that makes me think that it’s worthwhile. I don’t have to do much motivating.

Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: I wouldn’t waste so much time. Always in retrospect, you can see the amount of time that you’ve wasted. The posting I just put on the website is about the amount of time every one tells me that they waste in business meetings. You go along to the meeting, the truth is never told, no decisions are ever made, you play along until the meeting ends, and then you rush off to your next meeting. Fortunately since I run my own show, I don’t attend a lot of meetings, but I do begrudge the amount of time that gets wasted. I try to look back on things that I’ve done and do them differently and not waste so much time. Maybe I’d spend more time at the beach, reading and enjoying some other things than just wasting time. But mostly I’m pretty happy with the way my life has progressed.

Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: I’m still thinking about how I’m going to write about this, but the realization of how much of what we do is sort of looking in the wrong direction. For example, Jack Welch of General Electric once told me that he had to hide on the way up all of the skills he needed when he became chairman, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten promoted. It’s sort of like the elephant in the room. Most of the time we are talking about a, b and c, when really it’s about x, y and z, and the older you get, the more you realize that so much time and effort is spent on the traditional standard belief, and ways of doing things. It’s obvious that they don’t work, but we go round and round. I’m trying to figure out how to write about this, and how to find an interesting and very clear way of working this out. This is what I am thinking about most these days. I talk to a very big mining company here in Australia where people have to make multi-billion dollar decisions about the big holes in the ground where they dig, and the sort of training programs that they go to, and the business school they attend, are all teaching stuff that doesn’t work, but how do you tell people this?

Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: In my industry which is education, the biggest thing is what you and I are now doing online, escaping from traditional places like classrooms. I just saw a quote this morning where Bill Gates feels that within five years most universities will become obsolete. In other words a $50,000 university education, most of those lectures, and probably better ones can be accessed online for less than a couple thousand dollars. So certainly since I’ve put the School of Thinking online in 1995, we send out more thinking lessons to 45 countries with only one or two staff. The rest is outsourced, and you are guaranteed about 100 times more effective training than when I was running a program in New York with 120 live instructors nationwide and doing things the traditional way. To me, in other industries, the internet, the worldwide web technologies and this kind of technology (Skype) with you in Toronto, and me in Melbourne, and these kinds of developments have been the biggest changes for me.

Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson:

  1. One threat is the lack of reliable information, and the amount of time and effort you have to put in to try and uncover the great truth than what is given. Most of the stuff you read in the media, and most of the stuff you get from people who set stuff up, are either flawed and incomplete, or flawed in intent and design. And you have to make to get past that, or remind yourself of that, and try to find out what’s really going on. The threat of disinformation in countries like Australia, America and England are dominated by a particular media and in many cases by one person. So it is trying to remember this and working around it, otherwise you’ll get caught up in disinformation.
  2. Another threat is that I am getting older and don’t have as much energy as I used to have. There are ways to operate more efficiently and cleverly which helps.

Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: We teach thinking, and what I mean by thinking is the ability to escape from your point of view and find a better point of view. Most of the western educational systems teach you to defend your point of view because we use the Greek right or wrong system. Our parliamentary system have people on one side who think they are right and everyone else is wrong, and all the people on the other side think they are right and everyone else is wrong. In our educational institutions you are taught to get right answers and to avoid wrong answers. Well if you work in a business, and you go out and present offers to customers, you are taught to get yeses and avoid nos. So it’s the ancient 2,500 year old Greek right-wrong system that sorts information into boxes – that’s right, that’s wrong. We don’t teach that, we try to go beyond that and teach thinking strategies, and brain software based on science and things we now know about how the brain works. There are very few people who do that, and the other thing is that it’s free, so people don’t have to pay for it, and they find it very difficult to believe, so that is also unique about our service. We are independent and do not have corporate sponsors so we can actually say what we want to say. Most organizations have shareholders’ expectations to meet, corporate sponsors and religious affiliations, so it’s very rare these days to find an independent voice.

Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: There aren’t many people in my field who are claiming to teach thinking, although we have worked very hard to get on the school curriculum as a subject over the past 25 years, and it has become an educational fad and in the US and it is called critical thinking. It’s no surprise that it’s what they were already teaching. There is a feeling that we are teaching thinking, now isn’t that good, but in fact there is no change they are teaching what they were already teaching for the past 2,500 years. The problem is that they do not realize that they are doing that. And this is now happening in business schools since the global financial crisis. I’ve just read several articles that at Harvard and elsewhere, business schools are feeling the pinch, and less and less people are going to business schools because after all how could there be a global financial crisis if all our executives knew what they were doing. These executives went to business schools so there is a crisis of confidence in business schools so they are making changes and are going from teaching growth to teaching ethics and ethical leadership. There is a report just put out by the Melbourne Business School that they are going to teach Christian Ethical Leadership, now that’s the very system that has been used in business school for the past 50 years so how can you change things and go back and do the same things? I think it’s very difficult for them to change their point of view to something better.

Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it.

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: The challenge was to provide a global school that anyone, anywhere, any time can access the lessons that we teach on how to be a better thinker with as little impediment as possible. This is an ongoing challenge and the way I resolve it is through finding, learning about new technologies, testing, and experimenting with them and as they work I add them to the system that we use. This has been going on since 1995, but in a very deliberate way. We are also always thinking about how we can broaden access, keep it free and keep it interesting and in so doing we have evolved in different ways and we get more and more feedback. Our students tell us every day what they like and don’t like. We ask for feedback on a daily basis and we listen – we do a GBD, a good, bad, better, so what’s good, what’s bad and what we can do better, so this allows us to evolve a lot faster.

Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: One big break was from a famous man in America, Professor George Gallup who started the Gallup Poll and invented market research. He is the fellow who discovered the statistical sample. If you measure a population you can get their point of view and of course that is difficult and expensive to do. If you measure a statistical random sample of 1,200 people, you get the same point of view as if you measured the population. And of course it’s possible to measure a sample and get a small deviation plus or minus. The Gallup Poll has predicted the outcome of every US Presidential Elections since the mid 1930s.

At a time when we needed some help and advice in getting The School of Thinking going, in breaking through the education system, someone of that stature as Professor George Gallup lent his name to it, and he said that what we were doing was possibly one of the greatest things in the world. He in a sense became my mentor, the supervisor for my PhD. He wrote the foreword for one of my books. He was a very nice and encouraging gentleman. He was in his 80s at the time, and I was a much younger man and he extended a hand. I was very gracious with his hospitality and would visit him at his farm up at Princeton. Looking back, this was a huge break and very practical one, and I’m very grateful because it led to a cover story on Readers Digest in 1993. It was an international edition with over 70 million readers which put the school of Thinking on the map. At that time, it was like being on Oprah today.

Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: When I started the school, I started it with Edward de Bono, and we worked together for about seven years. We were very successful on a number of projects and ventures. We published the first book on thinking called Learn to Think and co-authored it, then we had a disagreement which was over a program we developed at the School of Thinking called Thinking Hats. Edward published the book Thinking Hats, which was his most successful book but did not give any attribution to the School of Thinking. This led to a disagreement and ultimately we split-up. We went separate ways and at the time that was certainly to me a disappointment, and it caused some distractions. Though we didn’t go to court, it was very close.

From my point of view I then developed a new syllabus for the School of Thinking. I couldn’t use the name Thinking Hats, and at the time the very first personal computers were coming out, and I was doing a lot of work for IBM, in the mid-eighties in Europe. It was a new development so I coined the phrase necktop computer, that’s a million times more powerful than a desktop computer, but what we don’t have is software. We are accustomed to using the old Greek logic software, that’s 2,500 years old. The importance of your desktop computer that you’ve got is the software, surely we need software for our brain. I wrote my book Software for the Brain, which became a bestseller. And in a sense because Edward and I became what you might say competitors, things worked out good not only for him and myself, but also for the market because competition is a good thing and now people have choices. So this is something that at the time I thought was a failure, it was distracting, negative, disappointing and hurtful, but it evolved into something that was stronger, and I was then able to run the school the way that I wanted to do it, and we do things quite differently. Both programs are quite useful for the people who use them, but they are quite different, and people now have a choice.

Avil Beckford: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: As I get older, I realize the importance and value of friendships, love and relationships, loyalty and those times you sit with someone, whether you have a glass of wine or sit on the beach, listen to music or just have a chat with your friends, family or partner or anyone that you are close to. That’s what it is really all about. The upside is that when you form those relationships and you enjoy them, we all have them. Fortunately I have some longstanding friendships, but obviously if some of those relationships for some reason, you don’t nurture them or something goes wrong like what I just described with Edward de Bono – they are very disappointing and you always feel regretful that the relationships that were important sometimes bend or change. That happens in business and in every thing.

Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: In the military and the trauma ward they call difficult decisions triage. When you choose one thing, you have to un-choose another. The whole process is selection and rejection. We’d like to eat our cake and still have it but we cannot. That means we have to give some things up. I always find that to be the most difficult decision, when you make choices. For example I had a career in New York, and it was getting better and better, and bigger and bigger and we had some very big breakthroughs, but at the same time, my father in Australia was getting older and I’d spent a long time away from home and was realizing that if I didn’t spend some quality time with him, in a few years time he would be gone, and I would regret it so I just packed up, left New York and returned to Australia. That was the end of that aspect of my career, and I’ve made a much smaller mark here. I spent seven years with my father before he died. He was the greatest influence in my life, so you have to give up one thing to get the other. It’s not a decision that I regret, but from a career, commercial or other point of view, I think we are all faced with decisions where you have to choose. The famous, terrible movie, Sophie’s Choice was the worst possible decision to have to choose between two children. So sometimes you have to make choice, whether it is to do this, or that, and often those choices mean rejecting another option and sometimes that’s very difficult.

Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: When I was about 20 in 1967, they put some marbles in a barrel in Australia, 366 marbles, one for every day in the year. They pulled the marbles out of the barrel and if you were a 20 year old man who was born on that particular day, May 22nd, then you went into the army. In the US they call it draft of national service. I was drafted for the Viet Nam war so I spent a year in training and a year in Viet Nam, and at the time I was halfway through a degree at Melbourne. In a sense you were plucked from your family and life, and taken off on to a tangent to something that changes your life forever. Like anything in life, there are pluses and minuses. I received lots of training that very valuable – leadership training that has lasted all my life, which a young man at 20 wouldn’t normally get. It had a huge effect on my life, and there were negatives as well. I can’t honestly imagine what my life would have been like without that experience. That was one of the biggest events that changed my life.

Geographic location: I was going to work with Edward de Bono in Cambridge, England when I left Australia. I visited New York on the way, really for a weekend, but I ended up staying there for 14 years. I went on and did a PhD there, and also started the School of Thinking, but I also experienced the fun and pleasure of living in New York in the seventies and eighties. Living in New York was a huge change for me. Had I not lived there, I would have lived a completely different life. I was lucky to be there and enjoy it.

Technology: If the right tools are available at the right time, the computer, internet and more recently the iPad and the apps we are developing for our stuff that can have a huge impact on your life. Just like the printing press came along for Martin Luther, without it, no one would have heard of him. So different tools that have come along at different times in my life have had a big impact and directed which way I headed.

Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: It has to be the School of Thinking. One of the disagreements that Edward and I had was that I wanted to make the School of Thinking free to anyone and everyone at anytime, and the alternative is to have something that is quite expensive. There is no right or wrong here, I often buy things because they are expensive. I own a Bentley which is quite expensive so I see there is nothing wrong with charging money, especially if you provide value, and Edward does, but I thought the School of Thinking was something that should be available to everyone for free and that was part of the argument, and part of the reason that we split up. I took the School of Thinking and kept it going. I’ve worked hard and funded it myself out of the monies I earn from consulting, and it’s the first school on the internet. It’s the biggest and longest program for teaching thinking. It’s gone on for 30 years, sometimes it’s been easy and sometimes it’s been difficult, but I’m proud to say that it’s flourishing and doing well and still available to anyone in the world who can get online and it’s free of charge. It’s something that I meant to do 30 years ago and I’ve stuck with it for 30 years. I guess I’m proud of that.

Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: There are people who come along, and sometimes they encourage you, or tell you what you do not want to hear. So one category are people who are wiser, often older and in a different circumstance, who are able to give you good advice, direction or point things out if you are willing to listen. Professor George Gallup and Edward de Bono were great mentors for me. Edward de Bono was my tutor for my PhD, he had one student, me. I am the only one in the world who has a PhD in lateral Thinking, and Edward de Bono and George Gallup were my examiners. They were two extraordinary individuals who spent a lot of time with me, and I have built a whole career around that.

Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: From Edward, professionally the message was to escape from your point of view, what he calls lateral thinking. It’s a methodology that was invented in science by Francis Bacon and others and it’s called the scientific method. For the religious method, we have the truth, and much of the intellectual effort is defending the truth, and it doesn’t matter which religious truth it is, it is I’m right, you’re wrong and we’ll defend the truth to the death, my death or your death if necessary. So that’s one longstanding historical model that we are all familiar with. The scientific method is that there are no absolute truths, there are just truths that are more likely than other truths, and how do we know? They are based on measurements and observation. Science and technology move so quickly because a younger science will come along with better tools for measurement, and now we say that this truth is more likely than the previous truth so science can move ahead. Mr. Bono taught me that, and to put it succinctly, thinking is escaping from your point of view, finding one that is 10 times better, not defending it. That was a big thing that was given to me.

Avil Beckford: As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: The one sentence that has taken me my whole career to learn and understand, and the whole School of Thinking is based on this sentence, and my books are based on it, “The current view of the situation (CVS), can never be equal to the better view of the situation(BVS).” I’ve taught this for 30 years, and I’ve taught it to millions of people, and I have had a lot of feedback from around the world. I’ve seen the impact that it’s had on people, so I know that it’s not hollow motivation because I get the feedback, and whole companies have changed their way of operating, and relationships have been saved. So if I could only teach one thing, that’s what I would teach.

If you sit down and get your head around this, the current view of the situation can never be equal to the better view of the situation, so whether you’re caught up in a relationship, an illness, a business, and having a problem, someone has already solved the problem. Nations have solved problems that other nations are struggling with, if we could just escape from our current view and search for a better view, they are out there. But most of the time, we spend so much time defending our current view that we get trapped and we don’t escape. So in the middle of this sentence, which I have been teaching, a $20 billion search industry has popped up, so now all you have to do is press a button in Google or other search engines and find all sorts of points of view from all around the world and choose the one that is better, providing you escape from your point of view. Google only works if you write something in the box and press the button, but most of the time we don’t write things in the box.

You can download a free copy of Michael’s book  Software For Your Brain here.

How can you use this information? What do you have to add to the conversation? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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