TacticsThe Art and Science of Success, London: Pilot Productions Ltd., 1985, Fontana, 1991, Harper & Collins, 1993

Edward de Bono’s book Tactics is a thoroughly empirical study on the subject of success and the various factors that contribute to a person experiencing success. Together with a team of researchers, fifty-five highly successful people from business, finance, sports, art and fashion were interviewed.

The excerpts of these interviews together with the author’s very original classification of success into various categories and subcategories make the core of this most unusual and highly readable book.

To be true, the book is a treasure! The information you get out of it is among the most valuable you can obtain not only for your business career but for your life as a whole. Most of the people interviewed show really uncommon views, high originality, and a daring, non-conventional, high-spirited, intelligent and bold approach to life, an approach that is never, in this form, taught or encouraged in school or university.

Let me start this review by having a look at the main characteristics that the author found to be valid for success in life and business:

—Creative style;

—Energy, drive and direction;

—Confidence and self-confidence;

—Stamina and hard work;



—Ability to cope with failure;


These were found to be the positively stimulating factors of success. Interestingly, not only the positive stimulants such as power, money or self-image were found to be contributing to success but also negative stimulants such as anxiety. The latter view is uncommon. Especially the exponents of the positive thinking movement seem to suggest that a well-directed life is one free of anxiety. Nope! Very successful entrepreneurs such as Robert Holmes à Court speak another language. Let me quote a passage in which de Bono summarizes the findings collected from different interviews on the matter of anxiety:

It is interesting that with successful people the anxieties are propellant rather than retardant. The anxieties push the entrepreneur forward rather than hold him back. There does not seem to be a search for the easy way or for security as such./60

Edward de Bono lists several traditional positions that he has seen to play a major role in success, such as—

—Being lucky;

—Being a little mad;

—Being very talented;

—Operating in a rapid growth field.

An important part of the study deals with the way ideas are relevant for practice and for successful action. Let’s see what one of the interviewees has to say on this subject:

Lord Grade

The ideas you want are real ideas; they’re not fantasies. There is a difference. The real ideas can be put into action. They are not dreams; they’re something real. And what gets the team confident is that the entire team, the whole company, is successful./38

The question of style emerges boldly in this study. De Bono observes that changing one’s personal style and imitating somebody else’s style is not a success formula. De Bono states that success is based upon polishing and refining one’s style, even though it may be a style that few people possess. In a paragraph entitled Characteristics of Typically Successful Styles, de Bono gives examples for energy, drive and direction as being one successful style among many. This is what David Mahoney, named in Fortune Magazine as one of the ten toughest bosses in America, has to say about this subject:

David Mahoney

I just keep moving every day as hard and fast as I can. High-intensity and high-voltage. Light comes from that, not from passivity. I insist we all do our best every day. I’m intense in everything I do and I expect others will be, too. There may be timing factors in it, good luck and fortune factors, but the question is, do you utilize it? Some of it you can’t control—some of it goes against you—it works both ways. You run to daylight—where you see the break you go. Most people aren’t even aware of what’s happening around them. Two-thirds of the people don’t know what’s going on to them, personally./39

There are of course other styles, such as the creative and inspiring style of Alex Kroll, president of the world’s largest advertising agency, who transforms every challenge into a game-like arrangement that is inspiring himself and his staff for finding creative solutions. In addition, there are the managerial and the entrepreneurial styles. The question is if ego-based styles or can-do are original styles or if they are just attributes to other styles?

Chris Bonington who climbed Annapurna II, the Eiger North Wall, Kangur, Ogre, Annapurna South Face, and South-West Face of Everest says that it’s also the great drive to find something in yourself, or the curiosity of finding whether this can be done. The question if one can achieve something daring and difficult is a constant tenor in ambitious people’s life. There is no security in this, no conviction. There is only intuition, and it can be very strong, as in case of Paul McCready who incarnates the can-do style or attitude. This man made the first plane that flies only by using muscle power, without any motor, and he says:

Paul McCready

I went single-mindedly and with considerable assurance towards the goal./41

Nolan Bushnell, creator of the billion-dollar video game industry, worth $70 million after the first decade of running a company with a $500 investment, says that he always feels like there is a solution. There we are indeed in the realm of anticipation, of sixth sense, of intuition.

Another style or style element is self-confidence and a certain amount of conceit. Roy Cohn, described by Esquire Magazine as a legal executioner … the toughest, meanest, vilest and one of the most brilliant lawyers in America says:

Roy Cohn

You also have to have a certain amount of conceit, which leads you to believe that you and you alone can get things moving./42

In this chapter, de Bono examines all these possible styles and gives examples from the abundant material that the interviews provided to this purpose. He summarizes:

  • Develop your personal style and refine it;
  • Build on your strong points or characteristics;
  • Do not try to alter your weak points or characteristics;
  • Make sure that every choice or decision comply with your style;
  • Choose the circumstances that best fit your style;
  • Be bold and egocentric;
  • Use failure as a shadow that gives dimensions to the picture.

And the author to comment: ‘An inflated balloon is vulnerable, but that is the only way it is going to fly.’/57

The following chapters of the book deal with what triggers success, and what are the factors that may have a more subtle impact upon success. Part II of the book teaches how to prepare for success and Part III points out six factors that are important to practice for everyone who sets out to be successful.





—Strategy for people as resources;

—Tactical play.

I can only express my admiration for this careful and precious study that has enriched my life in an extraordinary manner. Every time I read again chapters from this book, it reveals me new insights, horizons and hints for my life, and in addition lets me participate in the lives of highly successful people.

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