Edward de Bono—the inventor of ‘lateral thinking’—died recently. I interviewed him a number of times on my radio show (he was a frequent visitor to these shores), and I once had him lead open line callers through a ‘lateral thinking’ game to solve their problems. Among his many achievements de Bono is one of the very few of our contemporaries to coin a phrase that made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. (A rare accolade he shared with J.R.R. Tolkien, whose ‘hobbit’ also elbowed its way into the OED). Here’s how the Oxford lexicographers define ‘lateral thinking’: ‘a way of thinking which seeks the solution to intractable problems through unconventional or seemingly illogical methods’. The ‘lateral’ part of de Bono’s expression has been part of English since at least 1425 and comes from a Latin source word meaning ‘issuing from the side, or sides’. Which is exactly what de Bono did: he taught people to look at a problem sideways. Those of us who have done creative work (in writing, advertising or media) know how solutions can surprise us, springing from some obscure corner of the mind when least expected. That’s the ‘sideways’ thinking de Bono taught us to develop. Which leads to the following question: where is the ‘lateral thinking’ being applied to the current pandemic? Given that Covid will be with us forever (just as influenza is with us forever, even with flu vaccines) where is the leader thinking outside of the ‘lockdown/shut state borders/face masks/QR code’ box? We will have lost some basic freedoms forever unless some politician somewhere learns how to use de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. (Perhaps some philanthropist would like to send copies of the book of that title to all our leaders?).
Sydney police recently swooped on an alleged fraudster named Jeffrey Revelle-Read at his four-bedroom mansion at Darling Point. He is alleged to have stolen around $130 million dollars in a ‘boiler room scam’. And that made my linguist’s ears prick up: what is a ‘boiler room scam’? So I did some digging. The term ‘boiler room’ was first coined in America to describe the rooms hired by political parties at election times, packed with volunteers speed-dialling prospective voters. In recent decades it has become a byword for the cheap, over-crowded offices where fraudsters sit in close proximity serially calling lists of potential share buyers to flog them worthless stock. Typically, they get their lists of potential victims from from the share registers of legitimate companies. They target people who are not wet-behind-the-ears novices. They are typically older, many of them retired and include sophisticated investors with considerable sums. But they are still amateurs when it comes to share trading. And the shyster sitting in the ‘boiler room’ has a smooth and persuasive line of patter. Allegedly Revelle-Read was the mastermind of just such a ‘boiler room’ based in Madrid, cold calling potential suckers around the world and flogging worthless American stock. Something to bear in mind: that nice, helpful young man or woman on the phone, offering you a pathway to millions, may be calling from a ‘boiler room’ surrounded by a whole team of fellow shysters. But I’m sure Speccie readers never fall for this stuff!
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