Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of argues that an obsession with solving problems can cause us to ignore other potential areas of improvement.

Problem Solving & New Ideas

We have very adequate ideas all around us. So how can we decide which ones we should challenge to make an improvement?

In some modern cultures, such as the US, all thinking is labelled as problem solving. It is deemed that arriving at any desired end-point is ‘solving the problem’.

This way of thinking is dangerous because people begin to think that only ‘problems’ need consideration. An example of this line of thought is the expression ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Something might not be broken but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon.

I advocate the use of a ‘creative hit list’. This is a list of areas, subjects, situations and, indeed, problems for which creative thinking could be of benefit.

Real problem solving might be necessary, or the area in need of attention might be something like cost. Maybe it would be an area where hardly any attention had been paid or where very little new thinking had been done.

Some of the subjects on the creative hit list will probably be obvious while others might be more obscure.

At seminars, I sometimes get participants to compile such a list for their own organisations. On average they come up with about six items, but the areas in need of creative thinking should always be clear in people’s minds.

Of course, it shouldn’t stop you being creative about any area or subject not on the list. The creative hit list should simply acts as a series of permanent focuses. So instead of sitting around saying, “We are all creative, what shall we be creative about?” you have a list of defined needs.

Everyone needs to develop their own creative skills. You can do this by practising and using the formal tools of lateral thinking, based on an understanding of the brain as a self-organising information system that makes asymmetric patterns.

The world we live in is founded on logic, mathematics and certainty, and this leads us to undervalue the role of possibility. This is understandable because action requires certainty.  But this obsession with certainty has limited our creative skills. Creativity works in the area of possibility right up to the last moment.

Even then it could be necessary to try things out.

There are three aspects to the achievement of practical creativity:

  1. Possessing the intention and the will to act and think creatively.
  2. Selecting the focus, rather than just looking for ‘problems’.
  3. Deliberately using the formal tools of lateral thinking.
Use creativity to make improvements in any area you can rather than just solving obvious problems.

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.