How new ideas can challenge complacency


There is a lot you could say in defence of complacency. If you want to challenge complacency, you need to make a strong case. Simply claiming that 'things could be better' is too vague.

There should be a willingness to challenge complacency. This willingness can come from considering the benefits of the challenge.

Sometimes the benefit of thinking about alternative approaches is that it can actually confirm the current approach is indeed the best one. This confirmation could of course be of great value.

Another benefit is that concepts, factors and values that are discovered in the course of thinking about alternatives could be useful when you think about the matter in the future.

If someone's thinking is challenging the current situation, there is always a fear they will be less enthusiastic and less competent in running that system. This is a fair assumption and it might be the reason why executives are reluctant to challenge complacency. Admitting that there could be a better way which has not yet been found must reduce the conviction that the present way is the best available.

The culture, idioms, values and methods of an organisation are absorbed by everyone who works there. This means the 'main track thinking' is very effective. While this is necessary, it does make it difficult to move away from the main track and challenge the complacency which needs and utilises this main track.

Even in cases where there exists the individual motivation to challenge complacency, there is difficulty because of the silent absorption of the concepts and values of the organisation. So sometimes you need an outside thinker to see things differently and challenge complacency.

You always encounter the twin aspects of risk and value when exploring any new idea. You have to question whether the new idea will work, if it's feasible, what it will cost and what the disruption effect will be.

The most important thing is the value that might be delivered by the new idea. What form does this value take? Is it about saving money or increasing simplicity? Is it perceived value or customer value? Who are the beneficiaries of this value? Is it just a brief novelty value or a durable value?

It is useful if there is a possibility for the new idea to be tried alongside the existing idea without causing disruption. It can only be perceived as a high risk if the new idea demands a total switch from the old idea.

If you believe that there cannot be a better way than the current one even before you look at alternatives, then that is simply an extension of complacency. If you try to find a better way and fail to find one, then that emphasises the value of the current idea – but another attempt to find a better way can be made later.

So there is a need to challenge complacency in all situations – not because of dissatisfaction with the current idea and not because of confidence in finding a better idea.

If for no other reason, we should challenge complacency because failure to find a better idea is a vindication of the current system. Complacency can be justified, but only when an effort to challenge it has failed.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono is a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.