Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of argues that concepts and strategy are different and that different people should be involved in producing each.

Value Concepts

Whose business is it in a company to look for ‘concepts’? Because concepts can occur to anyone at any time, it is everybody’s business to look for concepts. However, those that will make a difference are the ‘value concepts’ which can be designed and delivered.

Creative ideas do occur by chance, but the use of deliberate creative techniques such as lateral thinking can significantly increase the production of such ideas. In the same manner, direct focus in a Concept R&D department would greatly increase the production of new concepts.

The Concept R&D department would highlight concept needs both in response to other departments and in its own right. Such concept needs could be expressed in vague terms to begin with:

Once the focus has been set - and it can be very vague - then the first approach is to seek standard ways of delivering that concept. These don’t have to be very original or very creative. If these methods are known to work, then the risk of a new idea is reduced.

What may result is a specific idea that has instant value. More often there is the ‘beginning’ of an idea which needs a great deal more work before it shows clear benefits.

‘Value sensitivity’ is essential, as it is in all creative and design work. How can you know that you are moving towards an important value? How can you know which values you are giving up in order to get other values? A small modification of an idea can result in a great increase in value.

There are occasions when a concept itself provides a strategy. Or a strategy becomes a way of delivering a particular concept.

More frequently, concepts are ingredients. Strategy is baking the cake. Concepts are the ingredients that go into the baking process. That is why it is worthwhile separating the ‘strategy process’ from the ‘concept development process’.
If a strategy is developed, then concepts are supposed to fit that strategy. This is a worthwhile approach in itself. At the same time, it could limit the development of new concepts, since the strategy may be based on old concepts. If a really new concept emerges directly (not as part of the strategy process), then the whole strategy could develop in a different direction.

Who should make up the Concept R&D department? The simple answer is people who are comfortable dealing with concepts. This doesn’t simply mean ‘creative’ people. There are plenty of creative people who are uneasy with concepts. There is an element of analysis in clarifying and defining concepts in order for them to become tangible. Equally, there is a need to go beyond just defining existing concepts.

It is necessary to create, design and develop new concepts. This requires creative skill, but it needs design skill even more. A certain amount of trial and error might be necessary before the right people for the job are found.

So there should be a small core group that would then interact with other groups, such as those responsible for strategy, marketing, new product development, R&D, etc.

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.