Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of considers the difference between analysis and design.

Fat man versus thin man

What happens in a race between a fat man and a thin man?

Obviously, the thin man will win in most cases - but, writes Edward de Bono, the simple question and answer can involve very different approaches to thinking.

In the CATEGORY APPROACH we put the fat man into the relevant 'fat man' category - and fat men tend not to run very fast. This approach is favoured by psychologists, psychiatrists and business executives. Most important, pinpointing the category instantly indicates the required action.

The GENES APPROACH is even more basic. Here we reason that the fat man has 'fat man genes'. The situation is out of his control. So he had better adjust to the scenario and forget about trying to compete with thin men. Why bother to try something that is impossible? A pragmatic approach is called for. Assess the actual capabilities of your organisation and yourself, and then play to your strengths.

This can quite easily translate into: 'be content with the current situation and do not strive to change it'. Complacency can result. A lot of organisations adopt this strategy, even though they would rarely admit it: 'You cannot change your genes - so it is a waste of time to try.'

The ANALYSIS APPROACH comes from the way in which we are taught to think at school, at university, in business schools etc. We analyse the situation: the fat man cannot run quickly because he is fat. We now look to put things right. We analyse some more. Is he over-eating? So we employ a strict diet.

Analyse the scenario. Discover the cause and then remove it. You have now amended the situation and solved the problem. This approach works quite frequently. At this point we might believe that we have covered all the approaches. However, the best approach is still to come.

In the BICYCLE APPROACH we provide the fat man with a bicycle, and he can now surely beat the thin man. The approach is not analytical, but the approach of 'designing the way forward'. Here is the scenario. How do we design a way forward to reach the conclusion we want?

Design is quite different from analysis. Design means putting together what we have in order to deliver a value we desire. At first every business is a design. Then maintenance and problem-solving take over, and the design element disappears. Analysis is concerned with the past. Design is concerned with the future.

About the author
Edward de Bono is the world's leading authority in the field of creative thinking and the teaching of thinking as a skill.