To my mind, Edward de Bono is one of the grand masters of creative thinking. In this book, he covers the how and why of creative thinking through the framework of lateral thinking, which is his major contribution to this field. De Bono explains why the brain is not geared to be creative; rather it is geared to be conservative, as it is a pattern-seeking machine whose main objective is the survival of the person within whom this brain resides. Patterns help us learn quickly and adapt; they keep us from having to learn the same thing repeatedly; they help us identify danger. But patterns also become ruts and as a result we end up doing the same thing over and over, or building from the same base. To be creative you need to break from those patterns, and the best way to do that is through lateral thinking. Analysis, de Bono claims, will not help us create because analysis simply looks at what is, not what could be. The mind needs to be jarred, in some sense, out of the old patterns to see things anew. De Bono offers his lateral thinking techniques for this: provocations, concepts fans, and escapes are some of the main techniques de Bono teaches. For example, provocations may be created via the use of a random word, which then generates associations that may result in useful ideas, or a provocation may be created by reversing a relationship.
The other major message which de Bono delivers is that creativity is not just for the gifted, but for anyone who is willing to apply the structured techniques he teaches; thus, creativity is a skill like any other skill. Also, de Bono stresses that being creative is not just a matter of loosening inhibitions and getting wild and crazy, which is what some creativity gurus encourage via brainstorming. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn the skills of creative thinking.